Getting tired of yourself?

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Someone wrote a comment on a blog post from last week that asked these questions:

Have you ever got tired of listening to yourself by being yourself (musically as
a pianist)? Which I do. Sometimes I really liked what I did in my arrangement,
then the other times when I played it again, it sounded totally boring and dull
to me. So what do you do when if you find yourself in the situation like mine,
getting bored about your playing and need a breakthrough yet not to lose your

And surely nobody should try to play like another person that he/she is not.
The music should identify the artist as I’m sure you agree. So any thoughts on
how to break through and refresh your music yet manage to stay with your ID that
others would recognize it’s you.

Those are good questions.  Here are my thoughts.

Do I ever get tired of being myself?

Yes.  Musicians tend to be creative people and the last thing we want is to always sound the same.  But unfortunately, we know down deep that we often do always sound the same.

As a matter of fact, I have often experienced the situation you describe: liking an arrangement for a while and then all of a sudden discovering I hate it.  Listening to my recorded music is even worse.  In fact, I never listen to my own music for that reason.

Do I sometimes get bored with my arrangements?

Umm, yes!  Every writer and arranger does regardless of their skill level and talent.  I regularly hear musical geniuses bemoan the fact that the majority of their time is spent beating their head against the wall waiting for a breakthrough from the mundane.

Because we keep trying to come up with stuff that we think is really good, it takes most of us a lot of time to write arrangements that we actually want made public (for publishing or recording).  Only my friend James Koerts seems to apparently be able to magically churn out an astonishing amount of music.

What do I do when I feel the need to incorporate new styles?

Well, for me, the answer is simple: learn new styles.  I have been on a mission to learn new styles for several years.  But as the person asking the question hinted at, there is a danger of losing your identity.

In my case, I believe I have an established identity.  People expect a certain sound from me even if they can’t articulate it and they are disappointed if I don’t give it to them.  On the flip side, I am a musician who desperately does not want all my music to sound the same.

See the dilemma?  If I stray to far from my identity as a pianist to satisfy my creative urges, some people are disappointed. 

There is another danger as well.  The music that people associate with me happens to be the music I am good at.  I am not so good at other things.  If I diversify my music too much, the quality will suffer even if it does not all sound the same.

There has to be a balance there.  I don’t want to disappoint the people that have been fans of my music over the years.  So I can’t ever see moving completely away from the sound I am identified with as well as the sound I frankly am most comfortable with as a musician.

I am doing a lot more in the way of different styles these days as I grow as a musician.  My Christmas CD is an obvious example, though you will note that I recorded a simple project (Quiet Place) at the same time that is much more in line with what many people expect of me.

So to those of you that play in church, you might stick with what you consider your bread and butter most of the time but occasionally throw in some different stuff.  Getting outside the box will help you grow as a musician.

In the end of the day though, you have to do what you believe you need to do (and God wants you to do) regardless of what your listeners want.  I learned long ago that you will never please everyone. 

How do you break outside your box and refresh your style(s)?

Three things:

1) Being open minded to other styles (easier said than done for some that have grown up in musically-rigid environments)
2) Listening to different styles of music (preferably active listening)
3) Hard work. (I do think that hard work will naturally lead every musician toward creative diversity.  I draw a blank when I think of exceptions to that rule.)

One of the reasons this question is interesting to me is because right now, I am working on a large-scale project for next year.  In my mind, as I plan it, I am working through these issues.  I will be talking about these decisions much more over the next year.

If you have more ideas, I would love to hear them.