But there is a modesty that is snobbery and one that is laziness, but a much more common form is just plain timidity. Anyone who can read music can write it too – and should. It doesn’t have to be performed, and it may not be very inspired, but to be totally divorced from the act of creation risks making us neighbours rather than relatives to the works we play. And, by the same token, composers who never perform risk writing music that is impractical and even unplayable. (It should be pointed out that the worlds of jazz and of the church organist are two areas where creating and performing have always been indivisible.)

The article is about musicians. Those of us who play and don’t compose at all. And that’s a lot of us, of course.

I actually do “invent” things. I wouldnt’ call it composition because I don’t write anything down, but I invent music on the spot because 1) it’s a great way to escape playing by memory when doing a sound check for musicals 2) it keeps me feeling creative 3) it’s good to know how to do this in case I suddenly need more music (for, say, a wedding) 4) I even used the skill once during a show when I got water in a key and knew I had to ignore one note completely … one that would have been prominent had I played the written page.

Mostly I do it because I can. And so can anyone else. I have my students do this because I would like to free them up. I love playing written music, but there’s a very freeing feeling when one just invents.

Besides, there are no mistakes. Only wanderings. And you can find your way home. Really. The journey can be quite fun, too!

Prisoners are Creative Too …?
This article is about prisoners and opera.

Yep. You read that right. And I say, “Why not?”


  1. I have to agree! I think we as musicians don’t dabble in the sound possibilities enough. The 21st Century could use a few more Fritz Kreislers and Rachmaninoffs – not that sappy romantic musical style – but violinist and pianist composers.
    Interviewing Josh Bell a few months ago, I was pleased to hear him say he was doing some composing.
    I think its interesting that “historically informed” practioners improvise cadenzas (and movements – I just read in the NY Times a review where a group had the theorbist (or some such continuo player) add chords as a bridge into each slow movement!) – and yet rarely do we change a cadenza in a more modern work.
    Kudos to Alarm Will Sound for remixing Philip Glass!

    my two cents…

  2. Patricia Mitchell

    I think we’ve been taught to be so darn perfect that we forget to create. I think we’ve been told to stick so much to the page, that we never veer into that wonder that is music.

    Not that playing the page isn’t a good thing … but surely we can do more …?!

    I used to play in Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra and we had a pianist who invented his cadenzas on the spot at each performance. It was great fun, as he’d insert little jokes sometimes that not all would hear. He was creative. He kept our attention. And it was just incredible.