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Creative Explosions in Youth & Old Age


"Creative Explosions in Youth and Old Age" studies the meaning of creativity in the lives of composers and how this applies to all of our creative potential throughout our lives.

Why creative explosions occur: No one really has basic knowledge of why a particular individual composes music or even how the inner music creating is achieved. In that basic sense this will always remain a mystery, yet we can try to illuminate some causes of why these explosions occur at all. Some of the motivators may be either intrinsic or extrinsic to the composer's ability to perform.

Besides the obvious examples of life status influencing a senior's production, age brings an easy familiarity with a histo-panoramic viewpoint of time and events that was unattainable when one was young. A now natural personal fluidity with the course of time makes possible an interesting historical understanding causing ever newer perspectives to the mature creator.

This excitement generated by these fresh slants seems to me quite similar to that quality as seen in the young creator. I also had a strong sense of these qualities emerging at the end of Vivian Fine's mid-life. Factors influencing the older composer are most likely not the same as for the young composer owing to the great dissimilarities of the psyche and the physical that the passage of time bestows on its survivors. A very few of these changes may be: great increases in knowledge, both environmental and self knowledge; desires to pass on this valuable learned awareness to new generations of composers; ease of access to the practical needs of music, grants, colleagues, venues, recordings, etc., in other words what many of us wish for.

Some comment must be addressed to the obvious: the valleys between the peaks of creativity shown on the graphs of the composers works. The popular overemphasized concept of pathei mathos or knowledge through suffering, imagines the creative artist as in eternal agonized struggle. This painful image dates to early times and is described by Aeschylus, from Agamemnon:

“...Men, must learn by suffering.
Drop by drop in sleep upon the heart
Falls the laborious memory of pain,
Against one's will comes wisdom.
The grace of the gods is forced on us
Throned inviolably.”

In our era at least some difficulties of life could provide the emotional data base, or be an incubation for the next creative period. In writing, some writers have proposed that misery, or down time, is really just new material. Of course, this doesn't mean we all have to go out and have an emotional disaster in order to spur our creative muse. Of great importance to the younger composers is to realize that when the creativity departs, and it will happen as surely as our computers will crash, he or she has not just used everything up in their own early creative explosion. After a time of quiescence, or depression, there may be an even higher peak of creative productivity awaiting the composer later in life.

Can the rigors of the creative process keep the Composer's mind vigorous? Creativity may very well be a process that feeds upon itself. Many of us are aware of this aspect of our music creativity: there is a dry period with little of interest to compose, or so it appears. Then, after exposure to some exciting idea for a work, we get started composing again. Now it all seems quite easy, after we have “greased the gears” of our process. But what's really happening? When will our own creative explosions happen? Will we ever be able to predict them? Or better yet, how can we cause a creative explosion to happen?

Sound arguments for numerous other rationale underlying the composer's or artist's lost creative productivity or valleys throughout their lives exist.

Subjectively, some of us might experience a heightened sense of creative flow, a kind of inspirational focus or being “in the zone;” all seems right and the work seems effortless. Those who have been in that zone know immediately what it is: it is the creative explosion. There may be short or long periods of little, perhaps regular, steady creative performance in between the peaks. One moving example follows taken from the life of Villa-Lobos, an extraordinary creative person.

HEITOR VILLA-LOBOS, b. 1887, d. 1959
He composed in many genres, including many songs. He lived until age seventy-two composing over five-hundred sixty compositions He kept working at his music almost to his death. Charting just the number of his works is interesting in that the largest creative explosion, an enormous burst of the great man's creativity begins in his early forties, lasting to about age sixty. Most of his music just springs from the very center of his life in a pyramid shape. There is clearly a youthful explosion as well. Then, rather poignantly, another brief burst of his music just two years before his death.

This type of study is a simple way to view the creative life, but its value lies in this very simplicity. It is just another method, an uncomplicated tool, to see a bit beneath the surface of a composer's world. It is a new way of seeing at least a part of the process.

© copyright 2009, Judith Cody, all rights reserved