I recently performed at my daughter’s school for over 600 students (3 assemblies of 200+ students each). I was invited by her music teacher as part of their “Meet The Composer” series. Basically, this was an assembly to provide relief during the final days of school.
I wanted to give the kids (and teachers) more than a music performance… I wanted to INSPIRE them! Here’s a basic transcript of what unfolded for the next 50 minutes…
“How do you write your music?”. It’s a question I am continually asked… “Where do you get your ideas?”.
It all starts with “inspiration”. The word means to “fill with the urge or ability to do or feel something – especially something creative”, but also to “breathe in (air)”. So, literally, inspiration is necessary for life.
Whether you play sports or make music, inspiration can take many forms.
Imitation: think of your favorite athlete/musician/actor – hold their image in your mind. I bet there are certain characteristics about them which INSPIRE you! Think about the way they move, the way they talk, a special move or skill. Musicians are often inspired by previous musicians. One set of chords can inspire a new song based on the same set of chords. One melody can inspire a variation. At this point I played a song originally by Captain & Tennille called “Do that to me one more time“…and followed with “Locked Away” featuring Adam Levine. Go listen to the songs. Tell me the melodies aren’t identical!
Improvisation: Another way a composer can be inspired is simply through improvisation. Perhaps we hear a catchy melody (at this point, I played the beginning piano part of “7 Years“) – You can use this melody as the “foundation” or central idea and develop around it. “7 Years” is a catchy/cool song if you haven’t heard it yet…
Nature: Ideas can come from anywhere. I enjoy being outdoors and created an album inspired by “the elements”. It started with the Classical Greek Elements “Earth, Wind, Fire and Water”, but eventually led to a wide variety of themes and an entire album (“The Naked Piano: Elements“). I talked about “Water”. How it can be a solid (ice), liquid, or gas (steam). It’s necessary for life.It’s truly amazing. I then played my interpretation “Water“. I asked the students to listen for the “drops” of water in the music, which become a gentle flowing brook, and then a raging river and vast ocean…
History: Sometimes we can be influenced by music from a long time ago. At this point I played “Pachelbel Canon”. Did you know this piece was written in the 1600’s?!! And it is still played at many wedding ceremonies to this day. I played my composition called “Love’s Light” which was inspired by Pachelbel’s Canon – and had the students listen for the original melody.
Poetry/Stories: Poetry and stories can also inspire. I then quoted “I am the Master of my fate, the Captain of my soul” from Helmsley’s poem “Invictus” – which inspired my composition “Invictus” on “The Naked Piano Transitions” album. (not to mention the inspiration of the entire story of Apollo and Maria which I created as the back-story to the album!).
Mashup: Kids love “mashups”. So, I took the theme from Stairway to Heaven (the teachers loved that one), “Stressed Out” (the kids loved that one) and the Spanish Guitar Pep song you hear at many major sporting events. I put all three pieces in the key of A minor, and improvised while bringing the melodies of each song in and out. Everyone loved this…
Blues: There is so much you can do with a blues progression. The chord structure stays the same as you improvise on top of it. Endless possibilities for creativity. I played Miles Davis “All Blues” – starting with a bass sound in my left hand and adding some piano riffs in the right hand. If you’re an aspiring musician, try “jamming” on the blues for a couple hours – it’s lots of fun!
Instrumentation: Sometimes the same piece of music can be drastically altered just by using different instrumentation. I played examples from Star Wars, Phantom of the Opera, and “Faded” (my daughter’s favorite song) – first on piano. Then I played each using different instruments, adding a drum rhythm, strings, horns, synths, etc.. The notes were often identical, but the emotional feeling was remarkably different. Think of music you listen to during different parts of the day – pay notice to how the instrumentation affects the “mood”…
Theory: Sometimes we can create music purely based on “theory”. For example, we name the notes “A-B-C-D-E-F-G”. I once wrote a song for my son Gabe using the notes G-A-B-E. I played the melody G-A-B-E for the group, then played the composition so they could hear how it develops into a piece of music.
Rhythm/Percussion: We don’t even need to have pitches/notes to create music. We can use “rhythm”. I turned my keyboard into a set of percussion instruments and created “beats” with the students in the audience. The students clapped and tapped along. A couple even started rapping. At the end of one of the shows, one student invited me to create an album with him “anytime” 🙂
At the end of my performance, the students presented me with THEIR ARTWORK – created while listening to music from my “Elements” album. I was so touched and inspired by this gesture, I’ve been posting samples of the artwork to my Facebook Page. *the image on this post is “Water” created by my daughter Siena 🙂
I finished the presentation with this message: Inspiration can come from anywhere. However, inspiration is different for each and every one of us. What inspires me, may not inspire you.
At the end of the show, my final challenge to the students was this:
Summer is a great time to find inspiration. Read a book – NOT because it’s on your summer-reading book list, but because YOU find the topic or author inspiring; Create some Art – NOT to a set of rules or a teachers’ assignment, but because something is beautiful and you’re inspired to capture it; Make Music – NOT to be a professional musician, but because it’s FUN.
My challenge to you (the reader) is to be inspired like a 5th & 6th grader
-Enjoy your Summer!
Please leave your comments – I enjoy hearing from you…
You are by far one of my most favorite piano composers, Gary! Enjoyed the read 🙂
Thanks Lorraine – and you are, by far, one of my favorite supporters 🙂 So thankful to share stories and music with you!
Wow, inspiring just to read. I know it was great for everyone!
Thanks Tom! and I truly appreciate your support and feedback here and on my FB page. This experience with 5th/6th graders has certainly charged my batteries…
Always great to hear about your experiences and how you gather inspiration from even the simplest of things!! Something I need to learn to do and something I truly wish for my daughter! She just graduated from high school this past May and, while somewhat excited to be out in the “real world” and to be heading to college in the fall, seems to be viewing it more as a requirement for a successful future and is determined to “play and relax” this whole summer before a lifetime of WORK…. I think I will forward your “Summer 2016….Be Inspired” to her !
We are all in for a big transition this fall when daughter, our one and only, goes off to school…..!
Speaking of “Transitions”! After putting the CD in my car player I have not been able to play anything else – the music is so absolutely beautiful! ….. if the sheet music becomes available I would definitely buy the whole book!!! (if we have $$$ left after paying daughter’s tuition – hee, hee!)
Thank you for all your wonderful work Gary! Hope you & your family have a super summer too!
Thanks Carrie! Congratulations on your daughter’s graduation – sounds like a time of great “transition” for all of you 🙂
BTW, the sheet music for Transitions is almost finished – I have a couple more tracks to complete and then will have it on the website over the Summer.
Meanwhile, thank you for your encouragement and support – and wishing you abundance and inspiration this Summer…
All the best,