Make Better Music 56: Celebrating the Old

make better music. Trebuchet magazine
make better music. Trebuchet magazine

Celebrating the old as well as the new

With the recent passing of a young singer, and the imminent release of a new song by one of the elder statesmen of, well, whatever words you’d use to describe Tom Waits’ music, got me thinking about how the period  of life you are living affects the music you might create. An awful lot of the great creators who died young, seemed to embody a spirit in their music that required eternal youth – whilst others had the good fortune to grow old more or less gracefully.

While it’s relatively easy to be creative in youth – when the vibrancy and “newness” of life has perhaps not been dampened by the inevitable wearing out of that young body and mind – there is perhaps something to be said for those creative musicians who have kept the pace despite growing old.  Waits is a perfect example, although he’s admitted not ancient – I haven’t heard his new single yet, but looking over his career, he has not stood still, he’s progressed all along.

I wonder how it feels to be making music after fifty or even sixty active years. Some people have gone on even longer – Elliot Carter is about to turn 103 and is still an active composer – what can be left to say after such a time of artistic outpouring?

I sometimes feel like I’ve gone round full circle musically, and explored everything I can, but then I catch myself and realise I’ve only been working for 20 years or so, and I can have looked into a tiny, insignificant portion  of what is possible. Once that stale feeling passes and I lift my spirits again, I see that there is more to be discovered than can ever be experienced and it’s time to start exploring again!

There is a trend which I’ve never felt too obliged to follow, yet many do, which is to keep up with the latest music. Yes there is plenty of good work going on, but the constant outpouring of new material can distract from the infinitely rich history of music. There is over a thousand years of people earnestly expressing their feelings and doing their best to create something great.

Of course I’m biased towards orchestral music, as I love the sound of those instruments – no electronic music has ever come close to matching the beauty of those sounds to me. I don’t expect others to agree with that, but I would ask you to consider, if you don’t already, to celebrate the old as well as the new. It was all new once upon a time.

I think that to be at your best as a creator, you must have a wide and varied input. Garbage in, garbage out as they say, and also, if you specialise in a particular style or genre, nothing is more refreshing to the creative imagination than to listen to something different!

Nothing can restore the creative urge like suddenly seeing new possibilities and new combinations, and the quickest way to find that state of mind is to listen to the unexpected.

About Dave.

David Learnt composition (harmony, counterpoint and orchestration) to degree level through studying Schoenbergs Fundamentals of Musical Composition. He is a founder member of Avant Pop duo Cnut, and orchestral doombience outfit Regolith.

Make Better Music is updated every Tuesday. For previous articles search for ‘Dave Graham’ 
Image: Francesco Marino /

About Dave Graham 70 Articles
David Learnt composition (harmony, counterpoint and orchestration) to degree level through studying Schoenbergs Fundamentals of Musical Composition, the classic text on twentieth century harmony by Vincent Persichetti, Henry Mancini's Sounds and Scores, Rimsky-Korsakov's excellent books on orchestration as well as studying any scores that intrigued me. He is a founder member of two bands, avant pop duo Cnut, and orchestral doombience outfit Regolith, and have performed across Europe with them.

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