Compose yourself


If you are a creative person, you’ll understand that rejection is something you cannot avoid and, the sooner you realize it, the better it will be for your self-esteem.

When I was in my teens, a close friend developed an interest in composing and had far more natural aptitude and skill for it than I. His goal, however, was for his first composition to be a symphony. He has now, sadly, passed on and ­ to my knowledge ­ has never written a symphony or had anything of substance published. That is not to say that he did not develop and use his talent for music. He did, penetrating the English classical music scene significantly.

I can remember having an urge to write music at a very early age. One occasion in particular comes to mind. For some reason the Singing Company pianist visited our home to work, as I vaguely remember, on a vocal solo with my eldest sister. I grabbed a piece of white paper, scrawled some lines on it and put some dots on the lines and spaces. I proudly told the pianist that I had written some music and she, graciously, played it on the piano and complimented me. It was, of course, rubbish!

Nevertheless, there was an inner urge to compose and ­ initially ­ a strong urge to be published. I was fortunate in that the then Head of The International Music Editorial Department (IMED), Colonel Albert Jakeway, took me under his wing, mentored and encouraged me. The first composition ever published was a song in New Songs For Young People. It was entitled “A Christmas Lullaby” and, to my surprise, was recorded a year or two ago on a CD by The International Staff Songsters. It is also the theme of “Rhapsody for Cornet” written for me by Lt. Colonel Ray Bowes (R).

However, after almost 45 years of writing and submitting music for publication by the Army my expectation of publication has lessened significantly. Rejection letters have been commonplace and, for an officer especially, can be very frustrating since ­ if the Army cannot (or will not) publish them ­ we have no other publishing outlet.

I have, nevertheless, adjusted my expectations and tend to play the “numbers” game. That is not to say that I “churn” out music (in fact, these days, I rarely write unless commissioned by someone to do so), but that I understand the chances of being published are greater if one submits more compositions. It says somewhere in the New Testament that if you want a big harvest, you have to sow a lot of seeds. It’s true! It is also true that if you sow few seeds, the odds of a great harvest are less unless the “seed” is of superb quality and the “ground” into which it is placed is fertile and receptive. Even then, one needs to be prepared for the “grim pruner” who will inevitably turn up.

It’s true of any area of creativity, writing and getting books published, for example. You have to be prepared for inevitable rejections… not necessarily because of the poor quality if a manuscript, but simply because there may not be a demand at that time for what you offer. It’s fatal if you refuse to write more until your precious first manuscript is published… you have to keep writing and refining your skill as you do so in order to improve the chances of selection and publication.

There are lessons here that perhaps we all need to learn in a different context at this time of visioning and strategizing. First, that to reap a big harvest, we have try lots of things. Secondly, that we need to recognize that rejection may come, but that success demands that we keep trying. Thirdly, that the needs of people determine the kinds of programs they will respond to, not our personal preference.

So, compose yourself! Write on

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