Time to Pause…

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One measure of a successful blog post is how many book recommendations I receive in response to it. On this basis, I consider my recent reflections on the value of downtime in rehearsal to have been particularly effective, in eliciting suggestions for two books with distinctive takes on the value of downtime in life.

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less makes its case through an argument that mixes reports of research in psychology and health with anecdotal accounts of the working and resting practices of various famous figures with productive track records. There were some things that made me want to shout back at the author - not least the essentialising way he wrote about ‘creative types’ as if they special, different people, at the very same time that he was documenting behaviours that facilitate creative work. But I got over myself enough to find his analysis interesting and useful.

There was a point early on that I remarked that the chapter headings were actually a pretty good description of my life: in particular I felt affirmed by the the combination of morning routine, daily walks and regular napping as valuable behaviours to support productive activity. It was also reassuring to discover that in drying up for useful thought after 4 ½ hours per day I am actually normal, not a flake. And it’s probably just as well this is the case, or you’d never get any admin done.

Do Pause: You Are Not a To-Do List is much more focused on praxis, and on the quality of an experience. It also works a good deal by anecdote, but its focus is much more on encouraging the reader to reflect and experiment than in persuading them of the validity of its case. And whilst there were some significant overlaps in content between the two books – on the regenerative effects of retreats and sabbaticals for instance – a pause is a more active, textured experience than a rest. It got me thinking about the moment before a choir’s inhalation to sing, and the magic you can create there.

One outcome of thinking about these two books is that I have decided to take a break from accepting arrangement commissions once I have finished the current queue, in order to take the chance to explore some projects of my own. I have been interested in the various possibilities of 8-part writing (i.e. double chorus/quartet, mixed voices) since around 2007 when I arranged Summer Nights for the combined LABBS and BABS youth choruses. However, apart from one other chart completed in 2008 and never yet sung, I have not yet gone back to develop these ideas because I have been arranging to order pretty much constantly ever since.

Reflecting on what ‘sabbatical’ can mean in my portfolio, freelance lifestyle, I realised there are opportunities to create a pause in one part of my life while the others continue. So, for the first half of 2020, the time I have usually spent creating music for other people’s needs, I intend to spend exploring 8-part textures. I would be surprised if this didn’t result in at least a couple of complete charts to publish on Sheet Music Plus, but I’m also going to indulge in the luxuries of spending time studying other people’s work, and arranging fragments. You don’t have to do a complete song to work through the primary artistic and technical problem-solving it presents.

One of the side-effects of spending over a decade arranging to order is that I am woefully out of practice at coming up with ideas of songs to arrange, as I have basically not needed that skill. Fortunately, I have developed quite good techniques for crowd-sourcing ideas from other people, which I am about to demonstrate here and now:

If there’s a song you think would work nicely in SSAATTBB, drop me a note to suggest it. I’ll put it on my to-listen-to-and-think-about list for the New Year. Thank you!

Since scheduling this post, I have also decided to press pause on publishing blog posts until the end of November. This is simply because I have two papers to present during November and rather too many adventures between now and then, so writing time is at a premium. Hopefully I'll be able to catch up on blogging about at least some of the adventures thereafter.

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