Potential problems

I’m a sucker for potential. I see it everywhere and get all optimistic about what fantastical things could be wrought from something base and common. Deep down, I believe that each of us could be the greatest fill-in-the-blank that we could be.

Potential is something I see in my students’ compositions. They bring me seeds and I see how they could flourish into a multitude of flora. There are so many possibilities sometimes! I try to tell my students what potentials I see in hopes to unlock whatever potential they see.

In my own work, though, I’ve been trying to shun potential, at least once the piece is going. I view multiple options as a problem. It scatters the energy of the piece, fractures it, and I want my pieces to be…inexorable, I suppose is the word I’m looking for.

When I see potential in something, a poem for example, there aren’t a multitude of options for me to compose. There is only one. Other people can see different potentials in the same poem, and they should, but there is only one “right answer” for me.

I used this analogy with a student recently and I think it illustrates my point: Imagine someone coming up to you and saying “Hey, I’m going to Shin’s for lunch. You want to come?” Your reaction and conversation is very different than if that same person says “Let’s go get some lunch. Where do you want to go?” Suddenly, in the second scenario, you have choice. Then you have to think about what sorts of places you want to go, what kind of food you are in the mood for, negotiate those tastes with your friend, and finally end up someplace that doesn’t really satisfy either of you.

For me and my music, there aren’t choices. If I’m listening carefully to my piece, really attending to what it is and what it wants to be, then there is no potential. All I have to do is let the piece be what it is. Seeds have potential, yes. But rose seeds aren’t going to produce oak trees. I need to be sensitive enough to my music that I understand what can grow where and then just enjoy the flowers that bloom.

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