I am having trouble starting this piece. I’m almost done with it, in fact, but I can’t seem to get it started. It is a piece for an unusual combination, commissioned by the Amsterdam based ensemble, Hexnut, which specializes in a kind of jazz and world music inspired style of performance that is frenetic and more than a little theatrical. After a few false starts that led to a drastic change in the piece’s concept, I arrived at a solution of what the piece should be: a set of eight, short (none more than 2 minutes, one is only 15 seconds long) pieces each commenting on an etching from Francisco de Goya’s 1799 collection, Los Caprichos.
The piece has been written largely out of order, but, as the individual movements have been completed I’ve managed to collect them in a cohesive and I hope dramatically satisfying order. I still need, however, an opener, and that’s where I’ve gotten stuck. Ugh!
It’s not unusual for me to get stuck at the beginning. I used to compose from beginning to end. Certain pieces still work out that way, in fact, but increasingly I find it easier to pick up a piece in media res and build outwards from the middle, towards the edges. Working in this way helps me to organize my musical materials effectively and organically without having to work out the opening or ending of a piece right away. Endings are easy to write, for me at least, especially once I have the middle, since that tends to dictate the direction my pieces need to head towards. Openings, on the other hand, are quite difficult, I find. They need to both draw the audience into the performance of a work and set up the musical argument to come. A lot is made out of effective endings, but an effective opening is, if not more important, at least just as important .
How do you do it?