Overcoming “Composer’s Block”
Maria Schneider is a Grammy Award-winning American composer. Born in Windom, Minnesota, she became widely known through the orchestra she founded in 1992. They appeared at Visiones in Greenwich Village every Monday night for a stretch of five years. The Maria Schneider Orchestra has since performed at festivals and concert halls worldwide, and she herself has received numerous commissions and guest-conducting invites, working with over 80 groups from over 20 countries.
Schneider's debut recording, Evanescence, was nominated for two 1995 Grammy Awards. Her most recent recordings have brought two Grammy Awards, the first for 'Concert in the Garden' (Best Large Ensemble Album; the first record to win a Grammy with Internet-only sales) and the second for 'Cerulean Skies' (Best Instrumental Composition). Schneider's most recent work, 'Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories,' was commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for soprano Dawn Upshaw. She is currently working on a piece commissioned by the Kronos Quartet for a 2010 premier.
Question: Do you ever get “composer’s block”?\r\n
Maria Schneider: I do. I do sometimes get that feeling. And a friend recently, they shared this story with me and it was really powerful, it was a story about a teacher he had, named Jack Troy, who was a ceramicist, or is a ceramicist, a really world-renowned one. And he described to me something that this teacher did in their class where he brought, shared with the class his favorite bowl he'd ever made and he described, you know, how the bowl was red and it had beautiful lines, it felt like it could breathe, everything about this bowl was so beautiful. And then he told the whole class, okay, you have to make 100 bowls and in the end you're going to pick your favorite bowl, you put them on 10 boards of 10, your favorite bowl is going to be on the end of each board and then you pick your best of those 10 best, and you present it to the class. And so they all do it and it takes, you know, weeks to do it and the teacher, Jack Troy, looked at them all and he was so proud of them, he said how beautiful they were. Then he brought in the front of the class a burlap sack with a hammer and he started breaking something that was in the sack. And when he opened it, it was his red bowl. And it was in pieces. And the students were just like, "How could you destroy that bowl?" You know, they were really upset, and he said, "An artist must always, must never compare today's work to what they've done in the past and they have to always trust that their best work is their work to come. And that the day that an artist kind of ceases to compare what they do to what's in their heart presently, they cease being an artist or cease believing that they can do their greatest work." And that person shared this story with me with regard to when I had writer's block. And so ever since hearing that, I realized that a lot of it is fear. It's fear of not coming up with something as good as what I did before. And that I really have to believe that the richest things in my life are what's yet to come.
Recorded on December 11, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen
Creative juices dry up when artists fear their best work is behind them. As a potter once taught Maria Schneider, the solution is to "break your bowls" and move on.
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