For the past twelve days I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy the company of my adult son who lives overseas. Many hours were spent catching up as once again the family gathered under the same roof, relaxing, laughing and sharing meals like old times.
On a flying visit home to obtain his work visa, he was required to complete some part time work for his employer. Within an hour, the dining room table was turned into a make-shift music studio as he unpacked his gear in anticipation of his instructions being emailed.
For me, this was an unexpected bonus as over the next 12 days I spent hours observing his creative process. As I watched, I became aware of the many parallels in creating a piece of work for the enjoyment of others despite two very different mediums.
As a writer, I begin with an idea. I ponder the plot and mood of the novel, for example, will the story be a light-hearted romantic comedy or a tense romantic thriller? I choose a premise, develop my two main characters and think long and hard about the beginning and end. After deciding on a few main turning points, I know I have the ‘bones’ of a novel. During the writing process many layers are added. Characters are given a goal, mannerisms and a voice unique to them. A sense of time and place is described. Internal ponderings are added so the reader is aware of what’s going on in the character’s head. Backstory is inserted sparingly to avoid the dreaded ‘information dump’. Pacing is addressed and emotion layered in. Ideally, every chapter ends on a hook to entice the reader to keep turning the pages until the end of the book.
Similarly, a composer can begin with the ‘bones’ being a drum beat or piano chord progression which sets the tone of the piece. In this particular instance, the music was being composed to accompany animated film. Strings were added, then horns, followed by more piano. A choir was introduced. A glockenspiel. Sound effects were chosen to hit points in the video. Over the ensuing hours the notes that made up the melody were shortened, lengthened, deleted and manipulated. They were made louder, softer, some were faded out. Key changes were made. Like the layering process the author uses to create a novel, the chosen instruments built the melody to a final, rousing crescendo.
Like the author who submits the completed novel to an editor for approval and publication, the composer exports the music file. If approved by the hierarchy, an orchestra is hired so a live recording can be made.
Similar writing processes.
A very different end product.
The public left to enjoy and judge.