Magnolia Star - Done! (Almost)

Today I'm putting the final edits on (all 38 pages! of) Magnolia Star, a new 6 minute work for wind ensemble. I will be posting more about the piece soon - what inspired it, an audio clip, etc.  For now I just wanted to share a bit about the editing process I have been doing this past week.  The bulk of the music was finished a couple of weeks ago, but there were still a few holes and spots I wasn't satisfied with.  So over the past couple of weeks I have been focusing on those spots and also looking at every element of the piece and asking myself, "Is this what I want here?"  And, "is this the best I can do, or is there anything else I can do to make this better?"

Now I have resolved most of those issues and have a fairly final score sitting in front of me on my desk.  I have also gone through each page zoomed in at 200% to make sure all the dynamics are aligned and no markings are colliding on the page.  I also made sure all the trumpet muting spots were marked, and that all the percussion instruments are marked appropriately.  Really, the piece is done.

But this is one of the points I always struggle with - as a composer, how do we really know when the work is done?  How do we know that we have created the work we intended, and that there is nothing left to improve upon? Or maybe that's not the point - surely there is something that can be improved upon.  But that's ok? We aren't striving for a "perfect" work, right?  That's probably a whole separate debate. I think of a painter - when they step back from a painting, put on a few more brush strokes, then a couple more, and then they are done.  Wait - how did they decide that they didn't need to add a few more strokes, or change something?

I think often times it is a mixture of things:

  • part letting go after obsessing in a detailed way over the work;
  • part "feeling" that the work is done, and;
  • part believing in the many decisions you have made throughout the course of creating the work.

Composers and other types of creators constantly question ourselves throughout the creative process - which is important and necessary.  But at some point, we have to lay down the pen and decide that the work is done.