Piano, polymer clay, rugs, carving, painting, and now perfume? I just finished reading The Perfect Scent, by Chandler Burr, and recommend it to anyone who’s interested in either perfume or professional creativity. The book is a documentation of the creative process, at least as expressed through a commercial product. It’s hard to find artists who can speak clearly about how they get from idea to finished product; the big decisions that get made early and the increasingly constrained and refined adjustments along the way; the contribution of deadline and budget to the final product; the changes in thinking and ability that occur across a lifetime. Personally, I ponder why and how I can follow the same path—idea to finished product—effortlessly for some media, and not at all for others.
My nose does not work very well; I am not likely to pursue a career in perfumery. At my age, professional music is also unlikely, but the keyboard calls. I have been fumbling around for two weeks now and just found what may be a new way into music: http://www.pianofundamentals.com/, a site written by Chuan C. Chang. His book presents a different and to me, unintuitive approach to practicing piano. There are other books that teach approaches to learning, some via chord mastery into playing popular music; others graded lessons designed to advance technical skill in playing classical music. So far, I haven’t seen any that address the mechanics of practice to the extent Mr. Chang does.
My initial take-aways: learn each hand separately, by memorization, and then work on putting the parts together. Study the music and figure out the repeating patterns, and master the hard measures (there are usually a few much harder than everything else) first.
I have given one practice session to this new method, and I came away with an intense headache and a sense that I had made more useful progress than I had in 10 days of mucking about. It could be that the headache was related to the late hour and the pitchers of diet cola product I’d consumed at dinner, but I suspect it was also driven by a different approach to learning, with the sense that it was my neurons screaming “We’ve used up all our neurotransmitters—send more!”
I am forced to confront, again, somewhat reluctantly, the difference between “knowing about” and “knowing,” a topic I’ve written about before and one which will probably dog me my entire life. It’s not too hard to “know about” any particular song, given an arrangement written for “easy piano.” I can bumble through and get reasonably smooth on the tricky places with a few sessions’ attention, and I am also improving in my ability to bumble through initially difficult pieces. But I’m not seeing “polish” or “mastery” or “reliable” anywhere on the music horizon.
I suspected memorization would be a part of the solution, but in Chang’s eyes, it’s at the heart of mastery, not “a part of.” With only 20 minutes invested, I can see how this works. I can sight-read sufficiently well to keep up with an easy-piano arrangement. But I’m not actually LEARNING the intervals, the distances between keys, the sound / intervals. I’m reading and looking ahead and keeping up, just like singing with the radio. (Quick: How much of Hey Jude can you sing without radio backup?) As I played and tried to learn “by heart” the various parts, four or five measures at a time, I heard the music differently, too. “Oh: THERE’S the pattern! Look, it does THIS, and then THAT, and …”
As I said, after 20 minutes I was done. I haven’t gone back to see if the effort “took,” or what I could play today. Will test later. I had the same achy feeling in my head that I got when I went from QWERTY to the Dvorak keyboard layout, something I identified as neurons wrenching themselves into new connections. I imagine, without any real data, that recovering from a stroke must feel something like this. I hope, again without real data, that any significant laying down of new neuronal connections in adulthood provides some protection against Alzheimer’s or other brain aging disorders. Easy to hope and a touch self-serving when my gene pool doesn’t run to that manner of death, however.
So, what does this have to do with perfumery, or painting? It is “a way in.” Music is an enormous art, and I was born with some raw ability. I can sing, but don’t, because I never found a way to connect to the music that suits my throat (contralto) and personality. The guitar is a bridge and I’ll be back to that in a bit, perhaps, as I come to understand what’s going on with chords and keys (scales) and melody. Doesn’t hurt that Bruce Emery is the most accessible writer on music theory I’ve found, and he’s from Raleigh so I’m supporting the local economy when I buy his books.
Let this into my brain; load that table in the “everything I know” database, and see what happens the next time I generate a “give me an idea for art” query.
Possible branches in this essay: Memorization software. Later.
Somehow, I have “the way in” for knitting and fiber etched into my brain. I can’t remember not knowing how to think through what needed to happen to make a textile idea take shape. I have two llamas’ worth of fiber on the porch and it will turn into something. I have never processed raw fiber into yarn, but that doesn’t seem to be any barrier at all. I’ll read a book and talk to some people and I’ll have yarn, or felt, and a finished product, before terribly long.
This does not happen with painting, or polymer clay. I have the materials, and the desire, but somehow the “idea into product” pathway remains obscure. I read the books, subscribe to the magazines, ponder the problem at regular intervals, and make no apparent progress. It’s not a block against “color,” per se, because I have pretty decent mastery over color when it shows up in a yarn. At this moment, I am clueless. Some paths into art are wide and level; others blocked almost completely. (Yet others voluntarily closed off, I should add. Most metals work. Quilting.) Had thought perhaps music was in this category but now it opens.
More to say on this, too, but that’s going to have to wait for another post.