After making it halfway through music school this semester and doing everything I came to Nashville to do, I’d worked myself into the ground.  I’d run out of creativity, because I’d had to expend so much energy on trying to get through the semester.  I could no longer write any music, no matter how much part of me still wanted to do it.

So I took a break from trying to compose.  

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In the nine years I’d been composing, I’d never really taken a break for any significant length of time.  Even on vacations, I often crammed my keyboard into the trunk of the car so I could keep working at the destination.  I spent many plane trips with Finale open on my laptop as I notated whatever was in my head.  I even kept (and still keep) staff paper next to my bed so that I’d never miss an idea that came in my sleep.

For years, composing never felt like working.  The idea of truly taking a break—even for one week—seemed outrageous and unnecessary.  If I enjoyed it, why stop?

But this summer, I realized that, without rest, over the years, it culminated in burnout.  Rest is necessary in order to take full advantage of the time when you work.  If you don’t rest, the wear and tear of life builds up, and you can never catch a breath to repair yourself.  Before you know it, it’s too much.

It was difficult to take time off from composing in May, but in June, I finally sat down at the piano again.  For the first time in months, I began to look forward to composing.  I did it for hours at a time, and though it wasn’t always easy, I was able to keep pushing through whatever roadblocks came up.

Amazingly, after nine days of composing, I finished the string quartet I was assigned to write for the Wintergreen Summer Music Festival.  (If you’re in the area, you can come hear the premier on July 28!  More info here.)

I initially called the piece “Elude” simply because it has a strong air of mystery to it.  But now, I think I subconsciously chose that name because, in writing the quartet, I finally rediscovered the joy and inspiration that had seemed to elude me for so long.  Finishing it reassured me that I really could still compose.  If anything, the difficulties led to a weathering and maturing of my skills that I wouldn’t have otherwise gained.

So, readers, all is well in my composing world now.  More music to come soon!

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About Shelby Rawlings Blalock

I'm a 22-year-old composer, pianist, audio engineer, student, and GRAMMY Camp 2012 alum––a Charlottesville native making my way in Nashville! I write music for orchestra and small ensembles, but my debut solo piano album Airborne is available now on iTunes.

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