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Creativity in music

Without creativity, there would be no music to perform, and almost all music of any period and genre will betray something of the historical period in which it was written.  Many musicians focus their creativity on the interpretation and technical presentation of the enormously rich repertoire of previously-composed music. To differing degrees, others perhaps focus rather more on creating their own music through composition or improvisation.  (I would count myself as being very much in the latter category.)  


The determining factors and motivations in these different emphases lie somewhere within the inner processes, mapping and neural connections of the brain...and indeed individual temperament too; the degree to which one wishes to be independent, and less reliant on the ideas of others, and having to follow a pre-determined script.  In the case of improvisation in particular, the strength of memory - of melodic and harmonic devices, and ability to structure these in terms of a consistent style - is key to this facility.  Of course, creativity cannot exist in a vacuum and must draw from influences of all kinds.  The rarest and most precious of gifts is to be able to go beyond producing music that is merely well-constructed and satisfying to the ear (valuable as this in its own right); rather, it is to be able to say something that nobody has said in quite the same way before, and that marks a clear and unique stamp of personality on their creations.


Improvisation is very much the area that is featured in these pages.  But why improvise when there is a vast amount of printed music available, ranging from that which bear the hallmarks of greatness, to music which is much less so, but may serve as agreeably functional music to the occasion?

Improvising skills is particularly useful for an organist as they can tailor the length of music to fit in mood and length a particular moment in the liturgy, perhaps in the process developing a hymn melody into a new or expanded guise.  Creating a different stylistic context to a familiar melody through a composition or improvisation could also be used as form of musical humour; the musical ear delights in charting the transformation of the familiar.  


Is there a point though in creating pastiche for its own sake...or is it like riding a unicycle - there are far more effective and easier ways of travel, but one enjoys and admires the skill of the person doing it?  However, if doing so results in music that has genuine character and memorability, then the answer is perhaps yes.  As Schoenberg once declared, "there were still many good tunes to be written in C major".  I do hope that the selection of my own creations answer that criteria, (not withstanding the non-correctable misjudgements of conception and execution that are a distinct hazard in recordings of improvised music!)

I hope also that the articles and guides in the publications section will give some useful practical ideas and encouragements in the pursuit of your own creations.

John Riley   May 2020

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