Music and Writing

It’s Tuesday night.  I’ve just finished a late dinner, after getting home from practice with a jazz band.  It’s my second band, with the first having practices on Monday night.  I’m a little bit tired, but I’m satisfied.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about writing and programming, but I haven’t touched on writing and playing music.

Music has been a part of my life longer than writing has.  I can recall times before I was literate where I’d play in the backyard, using a gardening pole as my makeshift microphone stand.  I can recall back even further, to a time when I was wearing a diaper and holding myself up in a playpen.  Ray Charles was on the black and white TV, and I was swinging my head back and forth the way he did, pretending I was performing.  (I have a really long memory)

Performing has been in my blood for as long as I can remember.  Music has always been a part of my life.

So how does my music life compare to my writing life?

Like writing, if I didn’t have music, I’d be depressed.  It’s easier to satisfy my music need, however.  If I wasn’t in two bands, I could turn a music player on and sing along in the car.

Both are creative outlets for me.  I can express myself in both writing and music.  It’s easier for me to convey certain ideas and emotions in writing than it is through my music, but music is more immediate.

Practicing music is a “cheaper” most of the time.  I can do writing practices and exercises in 5 or 10 minutes, but what I produce during that time may not be directly applicable to a larger project.  With music, on the other hand, I can spend 5 or 10 minutes figuring out a particularly difficult section, and that practice will apply directly to the next performance.  In fact, all of the practice I do with music can be additive towards a performance goal, while not all of the practice I do with writing can apply to a particular story.

Writing is solitary, while music is usually cooperative.  When I join a group for a write-in next month, there will be a sense of community and togetherness, but that fellowship only really exists in the time between writing.  Music can be solitary, but I mostly play with bands.  In band, we are all working together on the same project, striving to make something beautiful together.  Playing a chord with other people is a true blending of skill and talent with other people, while writing in the same room with some other people is an example of compartmentalization.

With music, I find less criticism.  There can be disagreements and personality conflicts, but the product of music is obvious to everyone involved.  It either works, or it doesn’t.  With writing, I can cross every t and dot every i, but still produce something that fails to please other writers.  What I’m saying is that, in general, writers are more picky with each other than musicians are.

Both writing and music have mechanics involved.  You can be technically skilled with both crafts.  With both music and writing, it is the addition of personality and imagination which elevates a dry, mechanical piece into something that soars and reaches the heart of people.

Music is transitory, while writing is permanent.  True, you can record music and play it over and over, but that’s not all that I’m talking about.  When I am touched by a piece of music, the experience is with me for a while, but quickly fades.  I can listen to the same music again, or perform the same music again, but the experience is different.  When a story moves me, on the other hand, I think about what I’ve read for years and years.  There are stories I read in High School that still impact me.


One of the most profound differences between my life as a musician and my life as a writer:

I can’t imagine myself as a professional musician.

I dream of being a professional writer.