Break me off a piece of THAT!


“My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us, the world is full of it and you simply take as much as you require.”—Edward Elgar

The mountains, gorgeous; the rivers, majestic: the lakes, peaceful.  Just having returned from a family vacation at the Tetons, I am reminded of how important it is to take a step away to recharge.  I’m not “really back” yet, but I thought I’d share a few quick thoughts.

Jonah Lehrer writes about this in his new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works.  (It’s a very good read, by the way).  In the opening section he talks of how Bob Dylan was burned out from touring and simply quit, disengaging from his career.  He moved up to a cabin in rural New York and simply dropped off the radar.  That is, until the muse hit him again.  Being a creative person he couldn’t avoid it.  It was the hustle-bustle activity of touring that blocked his creative focus.  Thankfully, he dropped back in after resting.

Rest is not the point, even though it is a nice thing to experience.  It has more to do with providing the space to allow the creative process to happen.  Classical music is filled with stories touting the effectiveness of getting away.  Mahler escaped the rigors of a conducting career in Vienna to compose at small Komponierhäuschen or composing hut in the Austrian countryside.  Also inspired by nature, Beethoven took frequent walks.  John Cage would meditate on the I-Ching.

Lehrer’s book cites impressive research that explains why this works in the brain.  But while understanding the science tells us how it works, our commitment to the personal experience confirms why it is important.

“It is always the same with me; only when I experience something do I compose, and only when composing do I experience! After all, a musician’s nature can hardly be expressed in words.”—Gustav Mahler

About 30 years ago, I received an interesting summons from a professor.  I was a senior in college, on the road to a musical career, and was a serious overachiever.  This professor, Dr. Donald Hamann had done important research on musician burnout.  He saw in me the potential for success, and the potential for burnout if I wasn’t careful.  If not for him, I may not be doing what I do today.  He told me to make sure I spent a part of each day, week, month and year “not” doing what I thought I needed to do.  Interestingly, he encouraged me to make a routine of it.

So, whether it’s off to the wilderness or off to walk the dogs, I gladly take the respite to recharge the batteries.  Thanks to Dr. Hamann, all those years ago.  Now…where did I put that score I was studying?

Copyright, 2012 Robert Baldwin


2 thoughts on “Break me off a piece of THAT!

  1. I first read Jonah Lehrer in The New Yorker when his article, “The Eureka Effect”, was published. I experienced his article as a word of permission for the smallest of withdrawals – pushing back from the computer at night and going to bed. More times than I can count, I’ve wakened in the morning with a word, a sentence, or a new bit of structure in mind. I like to think of it as my mind working the night shift.

    When I left my profession to begin varnishing boats in 1990, I had no idea the great, unintended consequence would be gaining that space you mention. Once I began writing in about 2007, it became apparent. The silence and isolation of work on the dock gave me hours every day for reflection and thought, leaving the evenings for reading, music, conversation and writing. Now that I’m no longer responsible for caring for my mom, who died a year ago, I’m in the process of shaping all this into a better and more creative discipline.

  2. Thanks for these thoughts. I find that sometimes it does take a complete change of routine and other times a slight tweak is all that is necessary. It probably depends on the person and the situation, like everything else. So for Paul Gauguin it was the South Pacific. Sounds like I need to travel and do some research!

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