I found myself on the defensive once again in a conversation with my wife. This was not really contentious but merely an after dinner conversation. I was for the umpteenth time supposed to remember something that was planned or had happened or was going to happen that we had talked about recently. But once again I had no clue about the incident. My mind was a blank. This has mystified me for a while now because it has become a regular occurrence. Things that I should know, but don’t, won’t resurface into my consciousness unless I really concentrate on a particular time, event or conversation. And this requires a key word or event or date which I rarely have.
Just recently I was talking with someone else about writing and arranging music. I said casually that when a piece that I had worked on for maybe weeks or months or even years, and that I knew intimately was finished, and I went to work on another piece for another period of time, I totally and completely forgot the previous piece. This allowed me to completely concentrate on the new piece without the interference or distraction of the previous themes or keys or structures that might cause confusion. I believe that this has allowed me to stay mentally balanced or even sane.
When I started writing and arranging for bands in the middle 50s, I wrote constantly. I filled music pads and folders with ideas. My school notes were filled with musical doodles which I would try out on our piano when I got home. When these ideas were more formed, I tried them out at rehearsals with small bands and bigger bands that I was playing dances with. My notebooks kept my ideas organized. Everything was there for my referrals. But when I started arranging for more bands in the 60s I fell into a new process. There was no time for notebooks. My mind had to keep things organized. I was writing for dance bands, sometimes whole books of 30 – 40 songs. I was writing arrangements for jazz and stage bands for high school and college concerts and events. And I was writing for high school and college marching bands and the occasional drum and bugle corps. Eventually I did over 40 pieces for publication for all of the above bands and ensembles including a tuba sextet.
After college I took a position as band director at a small high school in Ohio. I became immediately aware that the arrangements that I was buying did not always work for me. They were rarely the current songs that I wanted to perform. So I started arranging the most popular songs of the day for my band, then other high schools, and then colleges. At first I was doing just single arrangements of pop music from the radio. Then I started doing entire halftime shows which had a theme or some kind of continuity. At my peak in the summer when everyone was preparing for their fall shows, I was doing 3 or 4 arrangements a day just to keep up with the deadlines. Ultimately I did over 500 arrangements of deadline work until the demand came to rest in the late 70s.
The only way that my mind could process all of this work was to “shut the door” on each previous arrangement. I would completely block it out of my consciousness. When I wanted to return, I had to revisit the arrangement itself. How else could I do 10 or 12 arrangements of MacArthur Park or a Chicago or Beatles song that everyone wanted, and keep them all different? So closing the door on previous information became a lifelong habit, and a lifesaver for my mind. And closing the door on previous projects has also helped me in doing work of any kind, but particularly work involving a mass of material or schedules, events, etc. This has saved my mind and my life.
On the other hand, closing the door can be very inconvenient when my wife asks me about an event that has happened or is going to happen and I don’t have a clue what she is talking about because I have closed that door. Because, (and here is the kicker), I finally figured out that marriage is an “open door” commitment……… And implementing this means that: “Our Love is Here to Stay!”