I have been thinking a lot about endings recently as I finish two choral commissions within two weeks of each other (I know, I'm crazy).
But seriously, how does one know when a piece is finished? For me, at it’s core, composing is about listening, about tuning in to what a piece needs and where it wants to go. Of course it makes sense that listening is important throughout a piece. But it is imperative at the end, because, well... let's just say, it’s good to know when to stop.
Beginnings, for me, often do not have to be coerced or enticed. It's more a matter of tuning in, and then trying to steady the flow. Beginnings can be exciting - although sometimes the information comes in too fast or I’m not in a place that I can “collect it.” That can be frustrating and I have to work with my muse to somehow remember it, or get enough of it down, or sometimes I make a deal with her to check in with me later.
The middle of the composition process is about listening too, but it is also about a lot of other stuff, like chocolate, and tea, and walks, and naps, and shoveling snow (at least at this time of the year).
While I'm in the middle of composing, I'll wake up with ideas spinning. I’ll hear a measure and I'll make a mental note that it needs to be looked at. Or sometimes I’ll hear a different piece and know that there are clues to be revealed in another score or recording.
Endings are different though. They are a more of letting go; they happen more slowly. Often, the ideas just stop coming in. It’s important to listen to the emptiness, to the absence of information, and to not keep making changes that may stem from worrying and overthinking. That’s not to say that there may not still be edits to make and places to clean up, but overall, the piece is saying it's finished. Sometimes it’s a little sad if it's a text I have especially loved. But deadlines and new projects are good. They keep me on track and moving forward.
As I say goodbye to these two pieces, I am looking forward to their new journeys as songs that only come to life when a choir sings them. It’s a simultaneous farewell and hello.