Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Composing 101

I wrote a piece, complete with a 4-part jazz arrangement, in 2 ½ hours the other day. While I was writing, I kept a diary of what was gong on in my mind, to help give you, the reader, insight into the compositional process. Now you, too, can begin to understand the steps one must take in writing music, the problems that must be solved, and the mind games one must conquer:

Step 1) Try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, try, succeed!

Step 2) Move on to measure two.

Step 3) Try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, say “ah-ha,” cross out measure one, rewrite.

Step 4) Notice I said “cross out,” not erase. (VERY IMPORTANT)

Step 5) Repeat Step 2.

Step 6) Hum what you have written.

Step 7) Cringe.

Step 8) Tape record yourself humming, and listen back.

Step 9) Cringe more.

Step 10) Play what you have written on the piano.

Step 11) Smile a little.

Step 12) Accidentally figure out the ending, then stew over the middle section for hours/days/weeks/months.

Step 13) Speaking of accidents, another VERY IMPORTANT step is the Leap of Faith. Close your eyes and land on a chord or key you never would have chosen. Say “oops” then say “hmmmm?”

Step 14) Speaking of accidentals, a sharp or flat here or there may really punch up your melody!

Step 15) That idea you crossed out earlier? Try using it in bar 105. A perfect fit!!

Step 16) Spend a minute (or a year) thinking of a title.

Step 17) Carefully (I suggest using a ruler) draw in some double bars, and you’re finished!

Now, friends, you can see why writing music is so pleasurable, so. . .addicting!

Moral: You will fail many, many times during the writing process. You will also succeed in many ways. You will learn to trust your instincts. You will learn to make good choices. You will find a way to finish. And (hopefully) you will enjoy the process!

Becky Archibald

Friday, July 23, 2010

I Followed My Own Advice, and. . .

I followed my own advice, set a deadline, and made two songbooks! (It didn't hurt that both kids were away this week.) Heading off to France today to present the new tunes at the Dordogne Jazz Summer School in Monteton. I'll be sharing the stories at www.beckysblogfromfrance.blogspot.com.

Friday, July 9, 2010


I’ve shared stories before about my friend Dave, an amazingly talented ad writer (who unfortunately passed away a few years ago.) One of the first things he said to me, when he wanted to write some zingy phrases for my promo materials, was that he couldn’t be creative at all without a deadline. I was surprised and confused. I felt very uncomfortable imposing a deadline on someone who was doing me a favor. I just wanted to say, oh, just whenever, you’re a busy guy, I’ll just be thankful whenever you can squeeze it in! But he demanded a date, so I handed him one.

I was asked a few months ago to write a piece of music for my grandmother’s 90th birthday party. Luckily, I had a deadline, or the piece would have never been born. I did put it off as long as possible, until panic set in. It’s not that I didn’t try – I actually started on a few ideas. I just couldn’t get anywhere with them.

This week (by the way, the party is in two days) I really put some effort in. I had written a kind of outline of an idea, and then decided to write variations on the chord structure. I noticed that I could make decisions much easier with the deadline looming. A surprising peace and calm came over me. From measure to measure, I improvised a few notes, and wrote down what I liked. In what seemed like no time at all, I was done. Not because I worried myself with choosing THE RIGHT NOTE. I was just happily jotting down something that worked for me in the moment.

This is something I really must consider, regarding a few of my projects that are up in the air. Maybe if I set some deadlines for them, they will actually happen!!

(I’ve set a deadline to finish this post before dinner, so out it is going, no time to edit!)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Demanding Work

I’ve had a lot of demand for my work lately. In fact, my daughter is calling to me right now, “Mom, write me another story!” In the past 16 or so days I’ve written 13 stories – that’s three short of the goal, because Delaney wants a new one each day.

It’s a tough gig, because of the demands she places on me. I have to include her favorite friends. I have to write about the topic she has chosen. And I have to I put enough challenging words in it to keep her interest. If I get it just right, she will read the story 20 or so times in a row until she’s mastered every word.

Delaney likes it when I throw in something humorous, too. The line that always cracks her up is, “It is just for high school, not middle school kids,” in the story I wrote about the church youth group retreat. (That line wouldn’t be as funny to her if she were still in middle school.)

I’m particularly proud of the opening paragraph of the one called “Mom Got Stung:”

I don’t like bees. They sting.
Mom got stung at the cabin.
But not by a bee. By a scorpion.

(Delaney had a good laugh about that one, too.)

It’s interesting that even for an audience of one, I strive to take all the elements necessary for a story and weave them into a satisfying whole. (Even with a five-minute deadline, and the “boss” yelling from the next room, “Mom, hurry up!”.)

Because of Delaney’s learning disabilities (she has cerebral palsy) it has been difficult to find the right reading material for her level. Printed books with words she knows can be quite boring, so she prefers to get out the school yearbook or church directory and read her friends’ names. It’s been amazing that by giving her these stories with the right mix of challenge and comfort, I have seen her grow leaps and bounds in her reading ability.

Challenge and comfort. Comfort and challenge. I had never thought of it that way before, but I think it's what I strive for when I write music, too.

Friday, May 21, 2010

If You Only Knew - The Rite of Swing Story

Bonjour mes amis, (Hello, friends!)

If You Only Knew how much Monteton means to me. That tiny village in southwest France, home of the Dordogne International Jazz Summer School. Two years ago, I arrived as a student, thanks to a Creative Renewal Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis. Within a week’s time, this classically-trained pianist and composer learned how to play jazz with new friends from all over the world. While there, I also wrote my first jazz piece, Midnight at Monteton. It was a week of hard work and little sleep, a time to truly focus on music. And yet, there was still time to share lots of laughs and make deep friendships. It seemed like I had just arrived, and then, Just Like That, it was over.

When I returned home, I definitely had the Monteton Blues. I talked to my closest friends about my experience, and it was a No Brainer – I had to go back. I wrote to Dorian, the director of the school, suggesting that I return as composer-in-residence. It would be a risk, he said. Jazz musicians are more comfortable playing standards from the 40’s and 50’s. But he loved the idea. It would be a first for them – a focus on composition with a living composer presenting her work. In order to make it happen, The Rite of Swing was born.

Through the support of Global Peace Initiatives, Inc. and a host of friends here, I went back last summer, to teach composition and perform my music with students and teachers from around the world. Seven pieces, some world premieres. The risk paid off, and the students were truly inspired by the new music. I worked hard and hardly slept. I felt like I was on top of the world (or at least, on top of a hill, overlooking the gorgeous French countryside.) Of course, I had moments of rest with my friends, sipping wine and eating local delicacies such as roast duck, foie gras and Egg, Chips (and Beans). (Ok, admittedly, I’m not really a fan of foie gras, and egg, chips (and beans) is a UK thing, not a French thing, which happens to pertain to the composition class I taught there, but I Digress. . .)

Is This The Real Thing?, I wondered. Is it something I can only experience here? Or is it something I can attempt to replicate in my home town? My time there gave me energy to start thinking about new projects.

When I returned home, I had some obstacles to face. I didn’t know if I could possibly get back to Monteton. Life kept handing me lemons, so I decided to make Lemonade. I threw myself into my writing. . .and. . . I’ve been invited back to present the new material! I hope you can join me on Thursday, June 10, for the second annual The Rite of Swing, a presentation of my latest work and fundraiser toward this composer residency. In case you’re wondering what we’ll be performing, you’ll see some of the titles in bold in this note. I will also be sharing my dreams about upcoming music education projects here in Indianapolis.

See you soon,

Please visit my homepage at www.beckyarchibald.com for more info!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Uncharted Waters

I really don’t like it when I can’t follow my own advice. I’ve been avoiding blank pages like the plague. And I have a lot of writing that must be done. When I’ve somehow allowed myself to be out of the habit of the daily stare down, I often feel that the solution is to make myself a schedule. I go to a quiet place, and draw up a chart with days across the top and hours down the left-hand side. I neatly fill in times for composing, piano practice, teaching, marketing and music biz stuff, exercise and writing. I step away from my creation and say, “That is good.”

The next day, I wake up, smell the coffee, eat my breakfast and take a look at the chart with new determination. It’s 8:00, and today’s chart says I am to spend 30 minutes writing before I start composing. Do I do what is on the chart? Pretty much never. It’s like I’m saying, “Hmmph, no one’s gonna tell ME what to do.” Being my own boss, sometimes, I don’t want to listen to the boss.

I get things done, but I go out of order. I intend to practice, but then I get a song idea and start working on that. I intend to do paperwork and biz stuff, but I realize we’re out of Delaney’s favorite after-school snack and she’ll kill me if I don’t have it in the fridge waiting for her. Or maybe I intend to write words for 30minutes but it turns into an hour and a half and I miss my practice time. Or perhaps I want to make a witty response to a facebook post and end up wasting precious minutes perfecting a two-sentence email.

The thing is, during the act of creating, one never knows exactly how long it will take for the idea to hit, and how long it will take to work the idea out. Sometimes a composition is finished in two days. Sometimes, two years. To try to fit dreamy, creative thinking time into a rigid schedule often ends up being fruitless (for me, at least.)

Today I spent time with my friend P.J., as he designed a logo for one of my projects. I love being beside him when he works, watching the creative process unfold. Fonts were toyed with, then shapes and colors and sizes. He is always “in the zone,” quietly making decisions that always seem right. I didn’t know how long it would take, and I didn’t care, because it was a process that should not be rushed.

Even though I had the urge, I held back on my chart design this morning. Maybe some of you have suggestions on how to at least spend a bit of time on all the different projects that need attention in a 24-hour period. Or an 8-hour period. Or a 2-hour period if that’s all that is available.

Oh, gee, look at the time. . .


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

When No One's Around

“Manifest the wildness of an artist,” says author Eric Maisel. In his wonderful book, Fearless Creating, Maisel suggests “working naked” as one of the exercises. As in, literally. To help one toward raw, honest writing. Well, my piano is surrounded on two sides by windows, so that really isn’t gonna happen. But figuratively, when no one’s around, I do try to become more of my “animal self,” and really let loose when I’m creating.

Last week, I premiered a piano solo I’ve been trying to solve for about two years. The title: “When No One’s Around.” I wrote notes for the rest of the pieces on the program, but for this one, I just couldn’t think of words to explain it. Instead, I made the moment into “performance art.” I set the mood by lighting a candle beside me, just like I do at home, and covering my lap with my Peruvian alpaca wool blanket, just like I do at home. These props help me stay warm and stay put at the piano when I might otherwise let distractions take over. So now I will attempt to explain what the piece means to me.

I don’t want to lose you on the first sentence, but . . . the opening string of seven whole note chords are fashioned out of rootless minor 9ths with major 7ths. Let’s try to say that another way. They are slow and full of tension – minor (sad/dark) fighting with major (happy/light) and the tone that gives the listener a clearer understanding of the key or home base is missing, so it leaves one with a feeling of instability, like a nomad who can’t stay put in one place. I’ve been playing around with this group of chords for two years, and they still intrigue me. They don’t sound like anything I’ve written before, and they make me want to know what will happen next. They create a distinctive mood that is not entirely unfamiliar, but definitely unpredictable. This series of chords (and various variations of them) appear over and over throughout the piece.

The next 8-bar theme (we’ll call it the “B” theme) is like a jazz song, and I play it slightly different each time. This was one of the hardest parts to write, because I wanted to put something down that would sound improvised, then realized after numerous attempts that it only sounds right if I actually make it up on the spot. (I’ve made the score look different here, too, with just a tune and abbreviations of the chord names, rather than exact notes written out.) Next, I add a new melody to the “A” chords, then wind my way through a series of jazz harmonies to lead me to a completely new key and mood. This section gives me a chance to explore more with my left hand, kind of Chopin-esque, very busy and chromatic, dark and expressive.

Then back to the opening minor 9/major 7 chord, but this time, I’m doing more variations with the one chord rather than the string of seven, and “improvising” something in the high register with my right hand. (“Improvising” in quotes means that everything is actually planned and written down, I’ve made all the decisions, and it just has the sound of improvisation.) When the tune of the “B” section returns, I improvise again in a different way. (Notice this time I didn’t use quotes, so I’m really making it up.)

For probably 20 months, this is where the piece ended. I was completely stuck. I tried writing more variations on the themes. I tried recording myself as I improvised, then painstakingly writing down each note, but ended up throwing these ideas out because, once again, as soon as I put them on paper, they didn’t sound fresh anymore. I didn’t understand how the beginning sections could work so well to my ears, but anything I did to try to propel the piece forward, completely. . .backfired.

And then it hit me, what this piece was about. Thirteen years ago, I started composing, out of the blue, based on my own improvisations. After years of classical training, I had found my freedom. People seemed to connect with the music, said it made them think. One man, who was smiling broadly throughout a performance, rushed to the stage afterward and said, “I finally understand what music is!” Two years ago, I started trying to uncover the mysteries of jazz. I had always been attracted to the sounds and spontaneity of jazz, but never understood how to write it, and especially, how to play with others. I attended a jazz school and also found a private teacher. Suddenly I was being immersed in a language full of rules that I was uncomfortable with. I didn’t realize what I had gotten myself into. Learning the laws has been tedious, and even, embarrassing. How could someone with “all” of my musical knowledge be so ignorant about jazz scales and chords and the organization of a jazz chart? But I was also to the point of feeling oppressed, like I was never going to find freedom again, never going to be able to be creative with my. . .creativity. I think this piece, whether I knew it or not, was depicting my journey into jazz territory, from improvising my own way, to feeling restrained by the rules of jazz, and then discovering that there are more than one or two approaches to improvisation. Finally, the bars on the cage that these rules had formed around me were starting to loosen.

Therefore, it was time to be the tiger. Time to be the wolf, the shark, THE BUFFALO. Time for my animal self to make an appearance. The next section, whether I was comfortable with it or not, would have to be completely improvised. Not just eight bars based on a planned set of chord changes. We’re talking 2 to 3 minutes of instantaneous creativity.

Once the piece was complete, I tried playing it front of my “classical” piano teacher. Couldn’t bring myself to do the “animal” section. I tried it in front of my “jazz” teacher. Same thing, couldn’t do it. I tried it in front of another musician friend the day before the concert. Ditto, no go, too embarrassed and scared.

But for some reason, in front of a crowded audience, with a blanket over my lap and a candle reminding me to stay with it, I let loose. I was relieved to be up there “naked,” without music in front of me (and without my reading glasses) just creating a moment.

My friend Maurice, who traveled all the way from Sacramento to hear the performance, was wishing so much for an explanation of the piece, and frustrated that I didn’t have program notes at the time. So, Maurice, thanks for asking, this one’s for you.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

If It IS Broke

We’re having a contest here at our house. To see how long we can go without things when they break. Three months seems to be the record so far. That’s how long it took to replace my Geo Prizm when it quit on me. With over 200,000 miles on it, surely it can last a couple more years, right? Fred at Glendale Auto said no. Melody, my little (yet tall) sister sent us to a place in Upland that sells used cars, and it took awhile before one came available. We kept borrowing vehicles from family members until we found out we had a February deadline – our niece Danielle would be getting her license, and could (finally) drive herself to all of her various musical and dramatic rehearsals.

Before we had a replacement lined up, the electric mattress pad stopped heating. Of course, at the start of a very long winter. Luckily I have these “hot things,” these bean-filled fabric-covered things that I can heat up in the microwave. A couple of these in the bed at least helped me get to sleep, although I didn’t enjoy waking up cold and smelling like beans. I finally broke down after two months. I was trying to make it until spring, but then the microwave stopped waving its waves.

It’s funny (or not) that when some products and appliances stop working, our brains stop working. When the microwave wouldn’t heat anymore, my first thought was, “Oh great, now I can’t have soup.” I whined to one of my piano students, and she said “We don’t have a microwave.” Then I thought, wait a minute, we have a stove, we have burners with real fire under them. I CAN make soup! In fact, when I was a little girl, we didn’t have a microwave either, and we cooked all the time!!!

When we bake biscuits for breakfast, or cookies for dessert, we make extras and freeze them for the next day. But now, we can’t pop a biscuit in the microwave to reheat. So we put our thinking caps on and realized. . . that a biscuit can fit in the TOASTER OVEN! What a revelation! And it tastes better and stays crispier on the outside than when it is microwaved! A cookie, on the other hand, can’t be re-baked. How do we solve this important dilemma??????

You are probably wondering what this all has to do with music and creativity. Well, let me take The Thinker pose again. Creativity is about working within our limits and solving problems. Using our imaginations. Looking at things a different way. Perhaps even seeing our limits as our freedom.

It would make a better story if I said we skipped the car and bought used bikes, skipped the electric heating pad and wore layers to bed, and didn’t buy a microwave after all. The latter part is still possible – we’ll see.

Oh, and by the way, I've been thawing a fresh cookie for you all day.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I remember Dr. Leech, one of my favorite profs from Anderson University, talking about the pride we have in our own personal creations. The work we go through, the struggle to bring forth something unique from our deepest selves, and the satisfaction we have in admiring our product (and even sharing it with others). Dr. Leech wasn’t a professor of art or music – his forte was in psychology. And the creation he was referring to was something that each of us produces (or tries to produce) every day.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what sends me to the computer or the piano to start writing. What happens before the “idea” or the “light bulb.” It’s a lot more fun when it hits me full on, and I run to the blank page because it’s coming and I want to catch it in time. But often this only happens because I have practiced being present when nothing at all is coming.

A relative of mine, who was on a special med that caused constipation, was told by his doctor to find a time each day to sit there and wait. Make it a habit of waiting at the same time each day, for 5 or 10 minutes. Don’t give up, and eventually, the block will be released and everything will flow again.

One friend suggested that I write music in order to move people, but I’m not sure that that is true. I think that I write because I need to get something out, I need to work out an idea. Sometimes I feel a song coming on, sometimes I feel a story coming on, and I rush to the computer or piano (in the same way that we rush to the nearest bathroom when we feel the . . .need.) After I have "emptied" myself (and hopefully didn't make too much of a mess at the piano or the computer) then I feel compelled to share. And then I hope that people feel connected, feel that my work was honest, I hope that they are affected and moved by it, and hope that they feel inspired to be creative, too.

I know that sitting and waiting is such an important key. Being present with a blank page. Accepting the fact that something might not come. But you are there, just in case.

Keep practicing this technique, and be prepared to move quickly when the lightning bolt hits.

Gotta run,


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Solution To Your Musical Problems

Last Saturday I was rehearsing at a music store called Piano Solutions. I go there when I know I won’t be able to focus at home, or right before I have a performance, or both. The guys that run the place are wonderful – especially Brian, the owner. He always takes time to catch up with me and share a story or two. He had recently been to Japan for a piano convention and talked about how the concept of time is so different there. But that is how he always is with me, right here in the U.S. He rarely seems to be in a hurry and he gives me full attention when we talk. And he always compliments me on something or other, so that doesn’t hurt, either!

If it’s available he lets me play the even-bigger-than-a-9-foot-concert grand (I believe it is 9 feet, 2 inches.) Made by Bechstein, I say it has my name on it. . .It’s in a separate room from most of the other pianos, and I can play all afternoon, as long as other customers aren’t using it. If customers do walk in, I play quietly, or talk to them as if I were one of the salesmen, too.

A dad and daughter were testing some pianos in the room, and the girl, Lauren, 5 ½ years old, gravitated toward me. She was an energetic goofball – bright, talkative and always looking for a laugh. I asked her if she was taking lessons and she said no, she was going to start by making up her own music, and then do lessons later. “Oh, that’s what I do,“ I said. “Why?” she said with a slight sneer. “Because it’s fun,” I said.

She flitted back to dad, back to me, back to dad, back to me. Lauren had long, dark hair, brown eyes and olive-y skin. She also had a rich low voice and laugh, like she hadn’t quite swallowed a bite of rich, dark chocolate.

As we talked I played, just improvising things under my fingers. She talked about running, so I made running music. She asked about an octopus, so I folded my thumbs in and said ”now I can be an octopus, I only have 8 fingers,” and started frolicking around on the keys. Lauren had a different idea and was using the full length of her arms to flop and mimic the tentacles.

Dad was worried that she was bothering me. “Stop being so shy,” he shyly said to her, and finally, they headed out of the store. “Bye, Lauren,” I waived.

When Lauren left and I was alone again, I became an octopus, my tentacles flopping from high to low on the keyboard. Then a dolphin, splashing and smiling and smirking and enjoying some dissonant half steps. The shark in me ate up some big strident chords and spewed them from octave to octave. I was “playing” again, and for that, I was thankful. I came upon some chords that I hadn’t thought about using in a particular section of a new piece I was working on, and had fun figuring out several ways to solve a problem I was stuck on.

I was wiped out from playing when I got home, and then my back went out the next day, and I still can’t sit comfortably at the piano today. But I’m looking forward to healing and listening again to what I created a couple of days ago. To see if all the puzzles of this new piece are starting to fit together. Thanks to a reminder to relax and play around, rather that stress over the unfinished product.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Here Goes Nothing

I'm filling out a blank page at Einstein's in Broadripple, a village-y place with good coffee and regulars who know my name. They know that when I have a pad of paper with me, I'm there to write, so we just exchange a few kind words before I park myself at an empty booth.

Before I arrived I was thinking that the process of staring at blank pages required practice, just like the ritual of writing words or musical notes. Because once I've started, I'm excited and energized and working mostly pretty happily. It's the moment right before that is most frightening. You wonder if an original thought has ever or will ever enter your head again. You question the worthwhile-ness of attempting to put your thoughts down. Or perhaps you feel empty -- like there really isn't anything to say.

In my last post, "Thoughts on Art and Chocolate," there was a moment of nothingness that preceded a flurry of activity and creativity. And following that nothingness, there was a gift from above -- an idea.

So I can see three parts so far:

1. Nothingness
2. Idea
3. Creativity and Activity

Now I'm wondering - What happens before the nothingness??

Is there a constant? A step toward facing the blank page? Aside from an inner need to express oneself, or a "should"?

I'll be thinking about it.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Thoughts on Art and Chocolate

Working in a creative field, I’m often asked about the importance of art in society. And when I’m not asked, I often ask myself about the importance of what I am doing. And wonder if it is important at all. And sometimes fear that I’m fooling myself by insisting that I spend time each day expressing myself creatively, as if this will make a difference in the world. And then I witness something life-affirming, something beyond explanation, something beautiful and meaningful, something that brought joy to someone’s face that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and then I happily resolve to continue fooling myself in hopes that what I want to be true, is true.

Last spring, my friend Kunda and I made an impromptu decision to appear at our friend Ingrid’s house that evening to celebrate her birthday. Alan and I showed up at 8:00, with freshly made brownies, and Ingrid’s husband David enhanced the indulgent experience with some gourmet ice cream. Kunda, Jack and their daughter Kyle brought fruit and flowers, and the table looked beautiful. Since most of us are musicians, we have many common bonds and stories we can share, and we were having a very nice time. Low-key, comfortable and nice.

And then Ingrid let us know that she was a little disappointed, because there was something that she really wanted to do for her birthday, but didn’t get to. I couldn’t imagine what it could be, and when she told us, I would have never in a lifetime imagined that that would be anyone’s birthday wish. Sky-diving, perhaps, or climbing a mountain, or getting a massage, or going to a favorite restaurant – maybe. What Ingrid wanted was to paint her face like the people of the Zulu tribe in the Omo Valley of Africa. She brought out a picture book, and showed us exquisitely beautiful photos of intricate face painting. Circles and lines and dots and multicolors, and it wasn’t just the face that was adorned. Giant piles of fruit or flowers in their hair, and elaborate costumes on their bodies. We read that it’s not something that they do just for ceremonies – it’s something they create every day.

We studied the pictures for awhile, sometimes in utter amazement, and sometimes enjoying a laugh on the subjects’ behalf.

And then we just kind of sat there.

I thought maybe Ingrid would bring some paint into the room, but she didn’t.

Beside me, at the table, I noticed that the plastic wrap I had peeled off of the brownies was covered with a thin layer of the rich chocolate glaze I had made (using 1 cup of semisweet chocolate chips melted with 6 tablespoons of butter, in case you were wondering.) Without thinking, I dipped my finger in the smooth, brown goo and swiped it across my cheekbone. Well, that was all it took to set Ingrid off. Next, I was covering her entire face with the chocolate “paint.” Dots and circles and lines. Ingrid was laughing and smiling and absolutely came to life. David matter-of-factly got out the camera and began snapping pictures. Ingrid ran to the bathroom to look in the mirror, and was not so happy with the results – she thought she just looked muddy. The rest of us continued to paint ourselves, while Alan made flower arrangements to put in our hair. Ingrid had left the room again, so I thought she must be washing her face. Then she ran back in, squealing and giggling like a little girl. She had added another dimension, dots and globs of a beautiful, iridescent aqua-blue. “What is that?” I ask. In her rich, Romanian accent, she excitedly announced “IT’S TOOTHPASTE!!”

In addition to being an amazing, passionate cellist, Ingrid is also an artist. So, back to work she went, and her next facial presentation included white highlights (the other kind of toothpaste.)

Afterward, Ingrid couldn’t stop thanking me for helping her do exactly what she wanted to do. If I hadn’t been brave enough to make that first swipe on my face, our party wouldn’t have become such a memorable experience.

When I’m asked about the importance of art and creativity and self-expression, I don’t like to give a pat answer. I have trouble with the 15-second “elevator” speech. I would rather share a story like this. And then it’s obvious.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Getting Started

It starts with a blank page.

Which can be the scariest part about attempting to create something out of nothing.

What if I don’t get any ideas?

How do I know people will like it? What if they don’t like it?

Over the past 13 years or so, I’ve stared at many blank pages. After a while, I got tired of staring and went ahead and jotted something down, whether it was words or music. Poetry or a piano solo. A short story or an orchestral score. A journal entry or a jazz tune. My process has evolved over the years from writing just piano music (over 100 solos) to writing for chamber groups (duets, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets and more) and in the just the past 18 months, I’ve been quite obsessed with jazz (18 jazz charts.) Add to that music for two films, about 30 songs with lyrics, and several binders of “ideas.” I haven’t counted the poems and stories yet – I’ll get back with you on that.

I’ve been thinking for awhile about starting a blog about the creative process. How the page should look. What stories I could share. Who I should reach out to. Discussions we could have. But I didn’t do anything. I couldn’t see the end result, so I didn’t bother with starting.

So, rather than flesh everything out, and hash it out and tweak and hone before ever putting anything “out there,” I’ve decided to just start. With a blank page.

I hope you will visit again. I plan to fill out a blank page once a week, so please follow me and hold me to it.

--Becky Archibald
Your Creativity Ambassador


Becky Archibald is an award-winning pianist, composer, recording artist and educator. Her piano CDs, Searching, The Long Ride Home, The Light at the End of the Blues, The Christmas One and Mood Swing are available at www.beckyarchibald.com. She also writes poetry and short stories – “Faith in Five Minutes” was published in Exceptional Parent Magazine, and in January 2010, “Miracle on 59th Street,” her play-by-play about her experience performing in Carnegie Hall, was published in Madison Magazine.