December 16 was Beethoven’s 245th birthday. Sirius Radio’s Symphony Hall celebrated with a full day of his music.
Why do I care about Beethoven’s birthday? Because I’ve spent years with him, decades even, learning his music. Even today I will spend at least an hour with him.
He was a prolific composer. In my own moments of heightened creativity, I cannot imagine how he composed such quantity, quality, and variety of music. And by the time he was my age, he’d been dead for 13 years. And his most admired pieces were composed in the last 15 years of his life, after he’d gone deaf.
I’ll never be a pianist or composer or genius like Beethoven. I’ll never be a writer like Marcus Zuzak or Cormac McCarthy or Maya Angelou. But that’s not the point.
The point is that people like these show me it’s humanly possible to create excellent books and inspired compositions. You probably have your own list of admired people.
I don’t have to be like Beethoven and Zuzak but I can allow their work to inspire me, to help me know myself better, and to show me that the effort, the process, is worthwhile. They keep on keeping on. They persist in spite of set backs and hard times.
It’s often tempting to compare ourselves to the creative geniuses of the universe, and say to ourselves, “Next to them, my work is nothing. Why even bother?”
I’ve said the same words in reference to my mentors and teachers and my slow learning.
However, we can make a different choice. We can decide to learn as much as we can from the masters. We can read about their lives, learn what made or makes them tick, and explore their sources of inspiration. The purpose is not to replicate, but rather to know their lives, and in the process better understand ourselves.
What makes you tick? What gets your creative juices flowing? What inspires you to become more than you’ve been? What drives you to write better, to improve your music playing, or to expand your learnings and experiences?
Rather than compare my piano playing to Beethoven’s artistry, I compare my practice today to an earlier time when the piece looked too difficult, so difficult in fact I refused to begin for several days. I’ve studied the musical notes and nuances, and I’ve practiced individual measures until the notes flowed in sequence. I’ve learned the value of controlled playing to bring life to the music, perhaps close to Beethoven’s intentions.
Rather than compare my writing to Zuzak’s lyricality, I study his writing, trying to learn how he puts words together. I copy his sentences, then create my own using his rhythms and cadences. I practice writing metaphors, making connections between items and images. While his style is not mine, his writing has increased my awareness of careful word choices.
Infinite talent and creativity exist in the world. The abundance that some people possess does not detract from what is available to each of us. Your job, and my job, is to continue creating, continue exploring, and continue using our sources of inspiration. And continue putting our butts in our chairs to do our work.
Then, without apology, allowing the world to experience our creation.
Until next Tuesday . . .