I seem to composing better for people and occasions than for competitions. Maybe I haven’t entered enough competitions to gather accurate data from which to draw such a conclusion. However, despite putting a lot of work into it, I wasn’t really happy with my entry for the St Paul’s competition in June. The last few weeks I’ve had in mind the King James Bible Composition Awards, which I scrape in as being young enough to enter. But despite taking time to select texts that are important to me and putting in a lot of effort, I just wasn’t getting anywhere with that, either.
On Thursday, I happened across a text that had a specific memory attached, with particular people involved, though they probably don’t remember same details I do. It’s a fond memory, and thinking about those words and how they (or another translation of them) were used on that occasion, I found myself composing quite easily. I think it unlikely that I’ll win this competition based on what I’ve written, but it’s worth a try, and I feel positive about the music as something that will be useful in a liturgical setting. I won’t post it online until I know the competition results, since that sort of publication could disqualify me.
That said, the process of writing a piece for someone or for a special occasion is also one that can be quite fraught. Until I’ve found the right words, I worry frantically about whether I’ll be able to find them in time. I try to keep texts in reserve, I often make a few false starts before finding something that’s just right. So perhaps my problem is not that I write for people better than for competitions, but that inspiration is not something I can control, just something to which I can try to remain alert and open.
Next up, I’m meant to be writing a Mass setting to use at St Andrew’s. Watch this space…