Showing Them What You’re Made Of

It’s important to keep challenging yourself, to push yourself when you can and you have the opportunity to do so, to attempt things that seem daunting or, perhaps, even frightening.

It goes without saying that this also falls in the easier-said-than-done category fairly often. That, though, is down to the very nature of something being challenging. If these things weren’t challenging, pushing yourself through the (usually) mental stops that restrain you from attempting them wouldn’t be necessary – and when you do give it your all, when you do give whatever it is a genuine shot, it’s empowering.

Everyone has their own list of things that are challenging in this way. Perhaps you have an actual, physical list, or like many of us you have them tucked away somewhere in your head.

One of my personal challenges is writing for instruments like piano, organ, accordion or guitar. All of them capable of playing several notes at the same time and all of them quite hard for me to wrap my little head around. Whenever you write anything for an instrument or for voice, you need to take the instrument in question into account (as well as the performer, if you know in advance who will be playing) in order to write idiomatic parts for said instrument.

I got to meet the amazing Ukrainian accordionist Irina Serotyuk during this year’s Swedish Spring Music festival in Stockholm, where she gave a breathtaking concert, that also featured Swedish soprano Alexandra Büchel as a guest star. The concert is actually still available to watch online, which I highly recommend you do. I mentioned to Irina that I had not yet written anything for the accordion and she immediately challenged me to write something for her.

Irina Serotyuk performing at Folkoperan in Stockholm during this year’s Swedish Music Spring (Svensk Musikvår) festival.

Only a few days later, I started reading up on the instrument itself and how to write effectively for it. Idiomatically, in other words: How to utilise its strengths, avoid common (preferably also uncommon!) pitfalls, and in general just compose music that is specific for the accordion (as opposed to, say, imagining a piano and writing for the accordion something that doesn’t suit it at all).

During the following months, I have continued to make little sketches and take notes, collecting scraps of paper in something resembling a logical order. But only the other day did I start to actually write anything concrete down, actually give the loose ideas a more definite shape.

Why did it take so long? To be fair, I have been busy with other music as well. More than one piece, in fact. But another important factor behind this reluctance – yes, reluctance – to really get started on this piece besides sketching out ideas is the fear factor I mentioned above.

However, getting past this initial hurdle not only feels good but stands as proof that the first step is, indeed, the hardest. Past the threshold, fleshing out my ideas quickly became more fun than frightening and, albeit not entirely without trepidation, I really look forward to hearing Irina’s thoughts on what I’ve written down to start with.

Composing also distracts me from my body aching after five hours of mowing my lawn and another couple of hours spent raking up spillover cuttings. Also, mosquito bites. Mosquito bites everywhere. And gnats. Despicable creatures, the lot of them.