Very little of what I do is creative on a day to day basis. You’d think that being a musician implies an inherent creativity, but most of the time I find myself treading the well worn paths set out by others or by myself in the work of being a musician. It’s an easy trap to fall into – turning to recordings for advice on interpretation and ornamentation in a lot of the baroque repertoire I do, not looking beyond YAP tracker for singing opportunities, employing the same vocal exercises day in and day out, watching the same ten or so famous singers in the same ten or so famous operatic roles for my voice type. I would say I’m extremely uncreative 99% of the time, because 99% of being a musician seems to be admin.
But that’s why I love improvisation, and being able to take the bull by the horns in performance, in rehearsals, in conversations with people I meet at my day job, and basically anywhere and with anything that is not a solitary pursuit. And in these situations I find it very difficult to evaluate creativity, as for the most part I take it for granted that I myself and the majority of my colleagues are very creative people. I also feel like the more I learn, the harder it is to feel “creative” since so often creativity gets conflated with originality. And unfortunately, very little in the world is truly original, so I suppose the definition of creativity in my book is the ability to recombine existing elements in an unexpected way.
And part of what I take for granted is the amount of time I spend daily using my imagination. Which I notice more often than not at my day job instead of in my work as a musician. It usually isn’t until I’m asked to revise someone else’s copy for this month’s restaurant newsletter, or come up with fifteen untrademarked restaurant names, or photograph seven different presentations of a new menu item that I realize most people don’t spend 15 minutes daily pretending to be a Roman who’s just been asked to kill his best friend and set the capitol on fire. And that this is the reason it takes me about half an hour of work whereas for others it took two weeks to come up with five usable names, for example.
Still, when I think about the creativity of a musician, I think of an institutionalized creativity. There is so much of musical performance that is drilled and proscribed in advance of a performance that sometimes the main challenge of music is to breathe life into it again. As in any career, it’s easy to be buried beneath the minutiae of daily life and the weight of a need to attain perfection, when actually we need to stick a hand in a bucket of red paint and smear it on the walls. Not to mix metaphors or anything. Maybe I only need to remind myself of this today, but attaining a certain level of skill needs to lead to a creative freedom, though the process of gaining those skills can feel like a creative death. And maybe you need that reminder too.