By Jenny Leigh Hodgins
Having grown up in Lexington, Kentucky, I moved to Florida to put myself through college. I worked as a performing vocalist/pianist, public school music educator, and ran a private piano studio in Florida for many years. My parents and other family members visited me in my Florida home, and I took regular trips to Kentucky.
My father battled cancer in the last years of his life. He called me periodically by phone and asked about my Florida life. He spoke about how proud of me he was and told me he loved me. The fact that he talked to me by phone, and expressed positive feelings toward me was a new and surprising experience for our relationship.
We had not been close. He had not been particularly warm, communicative or expressive to me until his final few years. His gruffness was well-known. This change in our relationship was and still is, one of the greatest treasures of my heart.
One day he made the comment that he’d like to visit Florida one more time. I knew that was not realistic. But we had a dreamy conversation about the peaceful, beautiful ocean and beaches. I described the warmth of the Florida sun, which he coveted, as he was notoriously cold-natured.
He talked about our fishing trips when I was 12. We spoke of my childhood family trips to beach cottages, and how we cooked family dinners from the catch of the day.
My father single-mindedly opened his heart to me, to assure I felt his love for me before he left this world. Whenever I think of this, I’m overcome with gratitude and love for my father’s effort to express himself. Even though that previously had not come naturally within our bond. He was selfless for my sake.
THE HEART OF CREATIVITY
As a creative person, I often start a project by searching my heart for what I can give to someone that is meaningful. I started thinking about my father and how positive our relationship grew to be in his later years. One Saturday afternoon, I reminisced about our warm phone chats. I decided to bring the ocean waves to my father through music. I sat at my piano and computer, recalling my father’s loving tone and wishful comments about the ocean.
I opened my digital audio workstation (DAW), Logic Pro X, and selected a piano instrument. I set a beat using a basic drum pattern and let it repetitively loop for 32 measures. I envisioned my father smiling while standing at the sandy shores of the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico. I visualized him enjoying the gentle ocean waving at him with rich blue and green smooth rolls of water.
CLEAR THE WAY
The first thing I do as a creative when I start any project, is clear the way of any censorship. I have a quick conversation with myself to set it straight; There will be no critique of anything I produce. The mode is create, not edit or review.
Once I clear the air of any self-judgments, I turn my attention to the creative process. I focus on what I want to communicate from my heart. That is all I focus on. I leave the rest to randomness and chance. When I allow myself this space, my creativity opens up and flows forward. I get out of my way.
Setting my intention to not look back, I pushed the record button on my DAW. As my father had done for me, I challenged myself to communicate to him through music.
I played my piano to capture the mood of my father enjoying our trip to the ocean. I aimed for my music to function as a kind of medium through which my love and appreciation for my dad could flow.
I focused on that mood, the ocean, what it would mean for him to see it, and the joy of being able to bring his wish to fruition. I played my heart through the piano. I let my fingers settle on whatever keys felt easy, natural, and in sync with the rhythm beating through my headphones.
USE WHAT YOU KNOW AND INTUITION
I had a music foundation to pull from, though. I played through a few chords until I discovered a chord progression that matched the mood. Sometimes musical theory knowledge aids my ‘discovery.' Often ideas arise from intuition.
I used a repeating chord progression to emulate the ebb and flow of ocean waves lapping onto the shore. I improvised piano melodic lines with my right hand. I followed the chosen chord progression with my left, or sometimes, both hands. After I recorded the piano part to the drum groove, I selected a guitar sound and improvised again on my keyboard. This added a new layer of sound to imitate waves on top of waves, rolling in from the sea.
The mood was relaxing and peaceful. Melodic lines rising and falling like the height of the waves rushing in and falling onto the beach. Next, I thought of the sun setting, and this inspired me to choose a flute to start a new section of music. I played a slower, more soulful melodic line. The flute represents the orangey-pink orb’s graceful, slow descent. The last moments of togetherness with my father, before saying goodbye.
I added a few ambient sound effects, including the gentle sound of waves crashing on the sandy shore. The ending subtly fades to a quiet stop, much like my father’s final breath months later.
ART STRENGTHENS RELATIONSHIPS
When I listen to this music, it reminds me of how intertwined we are as people, and how art strengthens that relationship. Even through time and space, our memories and what is in our hearts, keeps us bonded. The power of art opens this channel of communication between us.
I shared this composition at my father’s memorial, as my gift to him. I sense that he hears the ocean waving at him, and feels the warmth of the sand under his feet. We both enjoy how music still connects our hearts beyond this dimension.
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In my COMPOSING blogs, you'll find insights and tips for composing, get past musical and mental blocks, explore the creative process through composing at piano, and other composer strategies.