27 June 2020

Shake It Off—Move On!

Two years ago, I participated in the Rapido! Contest, a biennial event sponsored by the Atlanta Chamber Players.  In brief, the idea is that the participating composers have two weeks to write a piece. Not all contestants win, and I was one of the non-winners. I've made note of this already, so I am not writing to complain, today. One of the specs for the entry that cycle was, music related to dance, so I wrote a set of two:  Dances of Exhilaration and Nonchalance . . . consisting of Revere’s Midnight Reel (War Dance) and the Boston Harbor Heave-Ho (Tea Party Dance)
One reason not to complain about not having won is, I am pleased with what I wrote; indeed, I arranged the latter for “my band”

Was my piece perhaps too “retro” for the judges?  No matter.

If at first, you do not succeed . . . so I enrolled for this year’s Rapido! cycle.
As a rule (under normal circs) writing a piece of the scale required in that time-frame is a task I do not find unduly trying.

The difference, this year, is that I am in therapy, recovering from my stroke.  So I undertook the challenge, on the understanding (which operates for me, but which will be irrelevant to the judging process, of course) that I would pace my efforts, and not overwork in order to write the piece.

So, I got a good night’s rest Sunday, 30 May.  The e-mail with the specs came in at 9am Monday, 1 June.  The requested scoring is right up my street. And as the piece needs to be 4-6 minutes in duration, I figured I could compose 30 seconds of music per day, and have lots of wiggle room.  By the time  I set myself to a relaxing Tuesday evening of watching James Bond, I had written 60 seconds of my piece, and I was quite pleased with the start I had made.

Although I rested well Tuesday night, on Wednesday morning I felt tired.  when I have talked with my Occupational Therapist about the question of my returning to work, I had to report that, while my stamina is generally good (I certainly have steam enough for a walk around the pond, generally 50 minutes) I find that my body requires a nap at periods too frequent for me to consider resuming a spot back in The Workplace.  The brain's efforts to re-map the neural connections are indeed an expenditure of energy; and I am diligent in my therapy “homework.”  And my weekly P.T. sessions, whose activity sends a great deal of input to my brain, typically require a couple of days to “recover.”

So, Wednesday morning, my feeling was, that not only would I not compose that day, but that I should simply rest, and leave off any thought of composing until I felt completely recharged.  I understood right away that this threw my “plan” off the rails, but I was morally prepared to abandon the contest, if I did not feel up to the work: there will be other opportunities.

Days of rest (for which my body was grateful, went by.  At last, on Sunday (the seventh day of the contest, and thus the half-way point of the contest period) I felt myself again, and thought I might resume composing.  I trimmed my scheme for the piece, so that, with a stricter rest regimen, the project would be achievable, and I opened up the Sibelius file for the first time since downing tools.  What I found was that, although I had felt that those first two days’ work had been good, I had messed up the cello line with an errant mouse-click.  This was, is if anything, confirmation that I was too tired towards the end of that work period.  The fact is, too, that even under good conditions, I sometimes make such a mistake, so it was not anything to impute to (say) my still-compromised left hand.

Well, that discovery, and dismay at the prospect of recovering the material, came close to convincing me to throw in the towel.  However, I thought to pour out my tale to fellow composer Mark Gresham, who had originally informed me of the contest. He reminded me that Sibelius auto-saves backup files (something, admittedly, which I ought to have known) So, on the early side of that Sunday evening (I think it was) I went back into Sibelius, and managed shortly to set my score to rights again.  And I shut down the computer and got a good night’s rest.

Quite probably buoyed by the successful restoration, I awoke fresh and ready on Monday morning.  All through the week, I remained true to keeping the work periods brief, and getting ample rest.

I did, indeed, finish the piece, both to my entire musical satisfaction, and in time for the deadline.

And, Gentle Reader, since anonymity is one of the conditions of the contest, that is all I shall say, until I know the result.

All I shall add is, whether or not I succeed in this contest, my piece will be heard. That is a promise.

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