A few months ago I composed about 15 minutes of electronic music of various instruments/synthesizers using FL Studio. I had a theme that connected all my pieces. I had a musical style going. I liked my work at that point. My intent was to get to 30 minutes and publish on Bandcamp.

But then about 5 weeks ago one of those weird, Karmaesque twists happened; by accident I stumbled upon a piano composing competition that left me with 5 weeks to meet the deadline. I had to compose between 10 to 20 minutes of solo piano music. So I had a choice. Continue with my album. Or stop the album, use any of its unpublished material that was usable, and work like a maniac to meet the deadline. The sensible part of me said "album" for which there was no deadline. The crazy part of me said "enter the competition! Do it! Do it! Do it..." 

Craziness won. Being sensible lost. I decided to take the composing competition route. So over 4 weeks I worked like a lunatic, often composing until it was 2 or 3 am and I could not keep my eyes open at all. My method was 100% Finale. I didn't touch a keyboard or piano.

A few days ago I finished it!!!!!!!!!!! Over 10 minutes worth of piano tune that did not exist before I had done it! I like [sincerely] what I did. It's the best thing that I have composed to date by a long way. Different. Interesting. Probably a form of post modern impressionism. I learnt SO much from doing it. More than I could ever learn from any textbook. Sure. Books are good. But what I know now is out of sight compared to when I started. For instance I could not do a key change before I started. Now I can do them correctly. I want to compose again. I don't know when. Because right now I want to turn my brain off after putting the manuscript in the post box [the comp required a hard copy].

But that was my choice. I chose to go the competition route. I think that it was the right one. It means that the album lost material and momentum so it will probably not be published. But that is OK. Because I learnt so much.

But for other people. Do you go down the album route to get better as a musician?  Or enter competitions either for composing or playing? 


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  • Thank you for sharing this very compelling story of a particular composing experience.  I greatly appreciated it.  Ultimately, I don't think anything other than the inspirational urge to actualize the music is paramount.  The pressures of competition or deadlines are external to the art itself.  The artwork has its own life, essence and ideal conception, within the mind.  Some kind of pressure, coming from outside, may accelerate the process, or appear to make things come together.  But it might just as easily stunt the work, and make it have to fit into a mold which might restrict its full expression.  There is always a balance between the exigencies of life and the satisfactory completion of any art form, which has to be sought out in real life.  But the ideal is the "formal cause" of the work, and the "final cause" of the work.  Time and circumstances are secondary, since what you want heard and perceived is the best possible instantiation of this ideal.

  • Myself, I have taken the album route, but at this point feel I'm good enough for any competition. So now (at 63) I'm entering competitions. In my life there have been experiences that especially contributed to my growth as a composer. One was writing a set of variations, actually 3 sets so far. I find the first few variations are the obvious ones and often get discarded, but if you push yourself to write a bunch at some point you find you have to really dig creatively. A second valuable experience was joining a community choir and composing music for the group. That's where the rubber meets the road, getting others to buy in to performing what you've written. I hope to be able to post a recording of a piece that we performed recently this week. It was a fun experience and a cool piece that turned out well.

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