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After finishing “Out of Ashes,” this is how my workspace was… And my life!

With the completion of my orchestral piece, “Out of Ashes,” last month and my submission of it to several competitions, I could finally exhale for the first time in weeks.

While you might think I’d be overjoyed at my work and celebrating everything I’d just accomplished, instead, the opposite was true: I found myself fighting post-composition depression.

For weeks, I’d poured my heart and soul into the project.  I’d hardly slept.  I’d barely left my room.  I’d intently studied many orchestral scores and orchestration textbooks to gather ideas and learn new techniques.

While working on the piece, I wasn’t tired.  Sometimes, when I get really involved with a composition and the creativity is flowing, I can thrive on four hours of sleep and focus for hours and hours at a time—and this is what I did with “Out of Ashes.”  Many times while composing it, although what I was doing was difficult, it didn’t feel like work.

While still writing “Out of Ashes,” I’d even begun imagining my next composition. I had no intention of slowing my blistering pace when I finished.

But what goes up must come down.

The day after I completed the piece, I tried to start another project.  But understandably, I instead fell asleep at my workspace and then slept for ten hours that night.  I’d given “Out of Ashes” everything I had, so with it finished, I had nothing left for myself.

In the days that followed, I had no interest in doing anything at all (music-related or otherwise), I began to doubt my abilities as a composer, and it took all my willpower to make myself open Finale and try to compose.

You see, when you’ve poured your whole being into something for so many months, and then it’s all over, you suffer a loss—a loss of what you were most passionate about for so long.  You have to find something else to structure your life around.  You have to figure out what you’re going to do with yourself next.  You have to deal with the everyday things that fell by the wayside during your intensely creative period.  You have to move on.

Since then, I’ve made progress on a new piece—a work for SATB a capella choir.  I got through my dry spell of composing by spending a lot of time applying to festivals and competitions, because these can be great opportunities for advancing one’s career and sharpening skills.  I ended up being rejected by some of what I applied to (which didn’t exactly help my spirits at the time), but I did get accepted to study at the Charlotte New Music Festival’s Composers Workshop this summer, where I’ll have two new pieces premiered.  So I’m thrilled about that and greatly looking forward to it!

At the end of the day, I’ve seen again and again that composing can be a roller-coaster.  Sometimes, you strike gold and are unnaturally productive and creative, and you churn out something like “Out of Ashes.”  Other times, you finish “Out of Ashes” and need some time to recover after having given it your all.  And then, sometimes you lose competitions with that piece, you don’t get into festivals, and people tell you that the work your most proud of isn’t quite “good enough.”

But this weekend, I got some incredible news that more than makes up for the post-composition depression and the losses and rejections I’ve had related to “Out of Ashes.”  What’s happening is so exciting I can’t even stand it, so I can hardly wait to share the news with you!

For now, all I can say is that, sometimes, what comes down must go up. 

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About Shelby Rawlings Blalock

I'm a 21-year-old composer, pianist, music producer, audio engineer, and GRAMMY Camp 2012 alum. My neoclassical, self-produced piano album "Airborne" is available now on iTunes.

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