When The Well Runs Dry

Song-A-Day is always a big challenge. Producing a brand new piece of music every day and posting it for everyone to hear is a pretty good recipe for crazy-making. There are moments of doubt compounded by exahaustion that make you wonder why you ever signed up in the first place. That’s par for the course, and you find a way through and are usually happy that you did.

But the other night, I ran into something I’ve never experienced before, and hope not to again anytime soon.

The family had gone to bed and, as usual, I sat down at the keyboard to
start noodling around and generate some material to work with.

I stared at the keys, with my hands were resting on my lap, not moving. They didn’t know what to do.

I forced myself to pick them up and put them on the keyboard. But I didn’t start playing. Why? What was going on? And then it suddenly hit me: there was no music in my head.

There were no rhythms to plunk out, no textures to emulate, no shape of a melody, no feel of any kind. Just dead silence.

Sometimes I’ve gotten stuck because I didn’t feel like I had any good ideas. This wasn’t that. I had no ideas, not even bad ones.

I can’t remember this ever happening to me before. My head’s been filled with bad ideas, other people’s ideas, ideas I’ve had before, but never absolute silence. There’s always some kind of music happening inside me, but in that moment, there was nothing.

I got myself to start moving my hands on the keys, and of course some sounds came out; if you press a key on a keyboard, you’ll make a sound – even my cat can do that. But what I was playing didn’t sound like music – it was just disembodied sound. There was no there there.

I got up and walked around a bit, but still nothing. Music, it seems, had just taken the night off.

I probably could have just let it go and gone to bed, but I have OCD tendencies when it comes to this stuff and didn’t like the idea of having a blank day in the middle of Song-A-Day. So i did the musical equivalent of throwing a Hail Mary pass. I loaded up a drum loop at random, added an absurdly simple bassline, hit record and just started playing. I gave it a quick mix, saved it, posted it to the Song-A-Day site and went to bed.

The next morning I no recollection of what I had done the night before. I had to go to the site and play the track to jog my memory.

To me, this felt like a near-death experience, because I had never experienced complete silence in my head. But I talked to a few other Song-A-Day’ers who said it happens to them all the time. I decided not to worry about it too much and just be grateful it doesn’t happen more often.

Fortunately, the condition turned out not to be permanent. The next day I had sounds floating around in my head again, and my work session felt much more like normal. Music had come back from vacation.

I’m not so crazy about the song I wrote that night. It actually makes me blush a little when i hear it, but I’m glad I did it. I feel some degree of pride that I worked through it, rather than walking away from it. I did my job: I showed up and gave the muse everything I had. It wasn’t much, but I did what I could.

Still, I hope I don’t find myself in that position again anytime soon.

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