Know it all, forget it, then write music.

Having classes in Germany, I told Stephen Melillo that I didn’t understand how I wrote all that music, it felt effortless, as if the music was coming to me. In return he told me an anecdote about one of the great composers who was found crying on the stairs, after a successful concert, because he did not know how he wrote that music. He had no idea how to do that again.

The source of music is an interesting and returning topic for composers. Composers name ‘the inspiration of nature’ or ‘angels in the universum’, ‘holy numbers’, or ‘their muses’ as their sources. But I think, my music comes from a very different source. This is how I found out:

Stephen Melillo pointed out that I should listen to Debussy. So I randomly picked some string-quartet (G-minor, opus 10), not knowing where to start…

..and I remembered who I was, without all the thoughts I have forgotten today...

I recalled the dark purple carpet of my room, the smell of our home, how free I felt musically. How light and empty my brain was, how easy it was to be open to anything. And I remembered the cassette: As a child I recorded Debussy’s string quartet on a cassette, but because I recorded it from the radio and I was out of tape, I wasn’t able to record anybody saying what it was. There was just this string quartet on tape….that triggered my love for music. And it dawned to me that:

The source of my new music is all the music I forgot.

Let me explain what I mean by discussing the essay ‘Slordig onthouden: een vergeetdagboek‘ (‘Remembering sloppy: a forget-diary’) by Adriaan van Veldhuizen in literature magazine ‘De Gids’ (2019/4) The essay states that:

What we forgot defines to a greater extend who we are, than what we remember.

The father of a friend of mine has Alzheimers disease. She says: “He is a shadow of who he used to be”. I think that her father not only lost the active memories that guide him through everyday life, but also everything he had forgotten. There is much more damage to his personality than not remembering her name, he doesn’t remember who he is himself because he also lost everything he had forgotten.

My music comes from all the music I have forgotten, the music that made me who I am today.

This explanation fits the effortless way in which I write music: The new music is already there, it is all the music I forgot mixed together. The best strategy for my newest composition should be:

Know it all, forget it all, start writing.

The essay also states this very interesting point that ‘A writer forgets what he wrote down’. We all experience this benefit when we write a diary, it cleans our mind from troubling thoughts. After writing them down, it is easier to forget them. But while comfortably forgetting them, they become part of all the forgotten memories that form our personality.

While composing, I write a lot of music that doesn’t make it into a composition. But it will all end up as a forgotten musical memory and turn into a new composition some day. It will show up even faster, because I did write it down, as in a musical diary, and that made me forget more easily.

Now, let’s reconsider the thought that ‘composing is consciously knowing what not to write’. Imagining in your head the music you decide not to write, means that all the musical ideas you do not use will become forgotten musical memories. The music you decided not to write, will somehow turn up in your future music. Consciously not writing music is a creative process that helps your brain think of the opposite of what you like to write and then forget it. So you can use these not written forgotten musical memories in new compositions effortlessly.

You must think about what you want to forget, because it will turn up in your composition some day.

So, I decided not to study modern randomly sounding, atonal music. I try not to listen to it, I will not write it. Because the forgotten memories of this music will turn up in my newest compositions. They will make me write emotionally dis-functional music that people don’t feel connected with. Understanding this music and forgetting it, will turn me into the composer I choose not to be.

I want people to feel me, understand me in my music and trust me. So I can take them by the hand from ‘here’ to ‘there’ to everywhere. And they will remember my music, and forget, and the music will add to their personality and end up in the music they will consciously not write some day.

By Anneloes Wolters