Writer’s Block スランプ


Just when things were starting to take off for me as a composer, it all ground to a halt. In the early 2000s I received two commissions. One was from the Mill Hill Music Festival. Another was from some of the musicians who played in the first performance of my Requiem in 2003. Both resulted in completed works and performances (The Mill Suite in 2003 and Concerto Grosso in 2004 respectively). But, then I hit a brick wall. From 2003 to 2017 I did not complete a single piece.

There were various reasons for music drying up during those 14 years. The main reason was that music took a back seat as I built my career in academia. But there was another issue: musical writer’s block. Around 2004-2006, I wrote one almost-complete and one half-complete movement of a piano concerto. I also wrote a short song. But, I just could not make the piano concerto work – and even if I could, a performance seemed unlikely. Music fell away. The situation was so bad at one point (around 2012, I think) that I did not know if I would be able to rescue the files of my half-completed piano concerto from a malfunctioning computer with both an obsolete OS and an obsolete version of my composition software.

Then in 2015-2017 a number of events got me back into music. My son started learning the piano. I also received a sabbatical (October 2016-March 2017) from Hokkaido University. Six months out of teaching and managerial work gave me time and space to think, not only about research but also music. The sabbatical coincided with two musical opportunities: a performance of The Mill Suite in London in March 2017, and a request to write a short piece from my son’s music teacher. The performance of The Mill Suite led to a suggestion for a Christmas piece (discussed in the blog post “Christmas Music”). Finally, I got back in touch with violinist Kanade Narihara. We had played together in the Nagaoka Symphony Orchestra back in 1998-2000, and she had organized a performance of Reflections, Rainy Day and Memories of Japan in 2000. This combination of occurrences seemed to be telling me to get back into music properly. Against this backdrop, the plans for the Chamber Works CD took shape …

But, dusting off old pieces is one thing. Restarting composition after a long break is something else and is more easily said than done. Composition, I find, is like research. I need it to be part of my daily life and the key is building and maintaining momentum. Once lost, momentum takes a huge amount of time and effort to get back. Research and musical ideas do not just appear out of thin air. They are the result of hundreds of hours of actively thinking about what to say and how to say it. Even so, I have days when there is no progress, despite great effort. Conversely, there are days when ideas appear out of the blue. But establishing the daily routine of research/composition is essential for creating the environment in which ideas take root and grow over time.

I got back into composition “gently” via two relatively straightforward pieces on a musical level. ABC is a short piece for children and was just great fun to write and hear performed. For A Christmas Carol, meanwhile, a lot of the thinking time went into writing the lyrics. Getting the lyrics right was the key because the music is a relatively simple set of variations on Christmas carols that mirror the mood of the lyrics. But what these two pieces did was to get me back into the daily rhythm of thinking about music. Both “comeback pieces” were performed in 2017, the year in which Kanade and I reprised our collaboration to record the Chamber Works CD that summer. But thereafter, I could no longer put off addressing the key reason for losing touch with music after 2004. It was time to return to that unfinished piano concerto sitting untouched for a decade and more in my computer’s hard drive.

I needed a fresh start, so I abandoned the idea of a piano concerto. There seemed little point in writing something unlikely to get a performance in the medium term. I considered various alternative scorings before settling on a trio for violin, cello and piano. After rescoring the existing sections, I set to work on completing the piece, helped by a new “story” behind the piece (a topic for another occasion). After half a year of working on it, Trio Concertante is now complete. It is a tremendous relief to have cleared my writer’s block. I can work on future pieces unburdened by the nagging presence of an unfinished (and for a long time what felt like an unfinishable) work. I am working on plans for a first performance, so watch this space! But, alongside the relief there is resolution: to keep the rhythm of writing music from now on. I deeply regretted losing composition from my life in 2004-2016. I want to ensure it does not happen again.

19 June 2019.

作曲家として物事がうまく進み始めたその時、突然の停滞がやってきました。2000年代初頭に、私は2件の作曲依頼を受けていました。ひとつは、Mill Hill音楽祭からの依頼で、もう一方は、「レクイエム」が2003年に初演された際に演奏して下さった音楽家の方々からの依頼でした。どちらについても、私は作品を完成させ、演奏が行われました(2003年の「ミル(水車)組曲」と、2004年の「コンチェルト・グロッソ」)。しかし、そこで私は壁にぶつかったのです。2003年から2017年にかけて、ただのひとつも作品を完成させることがありませんでした。


その後、2015-2017年に、私を音楽に引き戻す様々な出来事がありました。まず、私の息子がピアノを習い始めました。また、2016年10月から2017年3月にかけて、北海道大学からサバティカルを得ることができたのです。半年の間、講義や事務仕事から離れたことで、研究だけでなく音楽についても考える時間とゆとりを得ることができました。サバティカルの期間には、音楽へのきっかけが2回訪れました。2017年3月にロンドンで「ミル(水車)組曲」の演奏が行われたことと、息子の音楽の先生からの小作品の作曲依頼を受けたことです。「ミル(水車)組曲」の演奏は、クリスマス曲の作曲について打診を受けることに繋がりました(詳細は「クリスマスの音楽」というブログ記事にあります)。最後の出来事としては、成原奏さんというバイオリニストと再び連絡を取り合うようになったことが挙げられます。成原さんとのご縁は、1998-2000年にかけて長岡交響楽団で一緒に演奏したことに遡りますが、2000年には、「リフレクションズ」、「外は雨」、そして「日本の思い出」の演奏も企画して頂きました。こうした一連の出来事は、再びしっかりと音楽に取り組むよう、私に暗示しているように思われました。こうした状況のもと、「Chamber Works」のCDの計画が形になったのです…


音楽的には比較的簡単な作品を書くことで、私は作曲をそっと再開しました。「ABC」は、子供向けの小作品で、作曲する上でも、演奏を聴く上でも、純粋にとても楽しいものでした。一方で、「クリスマス・キャロル」は、歌詞を考えるにあたり、長い時間が必要でした。この曲の音楽には、クリスマスキャロル(聖歌)の比較的単純なヴァリエーションを組み合わせており、歌詞の雰囲気が反映されます。そのため、相応しい歌詞を書くことが肝要でした。なお、特筆すべきなのは、この2作品が、私を音楽について考える日常に戻してくれたことです。この2つの「復帰作」が演奏された2017年、成原さんと私は再び協力し合い、「Chamber Works」のCD録音を行いました。それからは、私が2004年を境に音楽から離れてしまった最大の原因を、これ以上放置しておくことができなくなりました。10年以上もの間、私のパソコンのハードドライブ上に放っておかれた未完成のピアノ協奏曲に、ついに向き合うときがきたのです。