Composer in the studio

Winter is here, snow making the garden lovely in a new way. This is the season of lines and shapes, the bones of the garden.


The seeds and plants have been ordered while watching garden videos, the antidote to the bitter cold keeping me indoors. Zelda is sound asleep for the winter, adorned by a milky snow mustache. zeldasnow

Angel has been enjoying the snow in spite of the cold, running through the woods . . . angelsnowrun

alert to the sounds of birds and squirrels in the quiet days . . . angelsnowgarden

and trying to puzzle out why the snow is only on the south side of the trees. angelsnowtree

There have been days where my feet have not crossed the threshold into winter, as I have been in my music studio instead of the garden. The cello concerto is almost ready for rehearsals but so many details to complete! Someone asked me recently where I composed and on what instrument (thank you, Linda!), so perhaps many of you will find this of interest.

Composing begins for me with an idea that will work within the structure of the piece. I think about it for a long time, do extensive research and write many pages of notes. Often, I begin this process in what is perhaps my favorite room in the house, piano_rooma room lined with a wall of windows facing south where I can see the woods in all seasons. It is the closest I can be to nature and my garden while still being inside the house and is especially appreciated in winter when the light streams in and I can light a fire in the fireplace. Once the piece takes shape in my mind, I move from the cozy chairs to the piano. One of the great treasures of my life,  the piano is a Lindeman from the 1930’s and belonged to my Aunt June, who was a marvelous pianist. I spend evenings searching for the “soul” of the piece while improvising at the keys, finally sketching out musical themes and ideas with paper and pencil.

Armed with those notes, I move into my studio. A partially finished “bonus room” over the garage when we moved here, we eventually tricked out the room with a heating/cooling unit, added skylights and carpet and furnished it as my creative retreat to compose, to work on multimedia projects, and to just think. The music work station takes center stage and this is where I go to bring pieces to completion. Reference books on technology and orchestration line the bookshelves. Angel, ever my muse, sleeps next to me on the blanket on the floor or under the table.lynnstudio

Once I complete a section or movement, I retreat to my little sofa to listen to playback, marking rough drafts, taking notes. What works? What sounds unbalanced or incomplete? Putting some distance between me and the computer allows me to regain perspective from the minutia of putting notes to page and also encourages me to relax my back and neck from the inevitable computer strain. My first oil painting hangs on the wall and artwork of all kinds fill the space. lynnstudio2

In a few days, the score and parts will be complete and uploaded to the music librarian; rehearsals begin soon. I will share more about Watershed in my next post. In the meantime, stay warm and enjoy the stark beauty of the season.


24 thoughts on “Composer in the studio

  1. Thank you for the peek, Lynn, how nice to be able to move from space to space as the piece takes shape. I haven’t thought about it before, but there has to be a big leap between the composition and the first live rehearsal – even in this digital age, where I assume you can have all the “instruments” play their parts together in your studio, it can’t be the same as hearing them play live. I imagine you’ve become better and better over the years at mentally filling in the gaps, so that the first time you hear a piece live it’s closer to what you’re looking for than it might have been when you were newer at composing.
    You’ve had plenty of snow this year, I think….which is probably nice for the garden at least! Looking forward to your next post!

    • Lynn, you are absolutely right. While I use electronic mock-ups while I’m composing and orchestrating, hearing the piece in its final form interpreted by others is a real thrill. And yes, the inner hearing and the outer realization come closer together over the years.

      White mulch is covering the ground right now, very good for the garden for fixing nitrogen into the soil. And it keeps me in my studio and less distracted by glimpses of the garden when it is covered by snow 🙂

      • (Continued … accidently send) … As you know, the composer has a story with the music. Back in the day, the program at a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concert would tell part of the story … which I loved because it gave greater meaning to the music (well, at least for me).

  2. Thank you for sharing your creative spaces and process, Lynn. How lovely! Blessings as you complete your concerto, and a special smooch for sweet Angel!

  3. I know the point of this post was to expound on how you use a particular physical space to embellish the creative process (and it was very interesting–thanks for sharing!), but I hope I can be forgiven for thinking about the exposure challenge presented by Angel in a snowy environment. 🙂

    • Ha, Kerry, yes it is a challenge! She is more of a silhouette with not much detail in her face. The photos were all taken on my iPhone SE in HDR mode, so I didn’t go through the effort like I do with my DSLR – just TOO cold to be outside with a good camera. I’m sad to say that I’ve become a fair weather photographer in winter 🙂 Also, I remember working with the Ansel Adams Zone approach back when I used B&W film – good training for photographing high contrast images.

    • It’s a pretty cool place, Jude. I originally was using a spare bedroom but it was so crowded that we decided to upgrade the empty space so that it was usable. I still want to replace that little window at the end with a big one so that I can see outside, but there is an advantage to getting natural light without the distraction of the garden calling me outside 🙂

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