How to be Creative?

This question greatly occupied me in my younger years. Where do original ideas come from? What can one do to make them come? Something I have discovered with age is actually that this problem is generally not one worth worrying about.

In fact it is not difficult to have original ideas. The main thing that creativity requires is time: you need to be prepared to set aside time to explore whatever it is that you are trying to create, whether it is a piece of art, music or literature. It is no good trying to force things, but, from personal experience, I normally do find that if I decide to make the time to work on my music, something will come. What is required is a willingness to explore one’s own ideas, to see where they are going without being excessively self-critical.

There are some things that are the enemies of creativity. Firstly tiredness, it is no good trying to do anything when you are simply exhausted, much better just to get some sleep. Anything that befuddles the senses, such as strong liquor and illicit substances, is a killer of creativity. I know that there are people who fondly believe otherwise, but I think that this is because creative people sometimes have a strong personal attraction to drink or drugs. But if they manage to create original work  it is usually in spite of the substance use, not because of it.

The other enemy of creativity that I touched on above is excessive self-criticism. We all need that inner censor, who tells us when an idea is rubbish, and not worth pursuing. But the censor should not be allowed to wield excessive power, we should not allow it to cut off ideas before they can be explored. When I try to compose music I don’t know ahead of time whether what I write will be good or not, in fact one of the joys of composition is the constant surprise at what comes out.

Sometimes when I make a start on a piece I have a good idea of what I am trying to achieve, for example the Partita for Solo Flute  is something that I had in mind to try and write for some years before I actually got around to it. I had a fairly clear idea of what I was trying to achieve before I started. However just as often I really don’t know what I am going to produce, it just happens. Of course it doesn’t really, I guess that the ideas are being mulled over somewhere in my unconscious mind. The important thing  is to get into the habit of writing regularly, to make oneself product something, good or bad. The more it becomes a habit, seemingly the easier it becomes to tap into that unconscious source of creativity.

So make time: practice your art. It is not difficult. There are other things that harder in my opinion, like how to find your own authentic voice, which I may write about some other time. Sorry if you were expexting something more profound, but I think that the big secret is that there is no secret.

Crow and Moon

Crow and Moon

Meanwhile the last word from someone who really did know about being creative:

Violin Concerto In D Op. 61 Part 3

Open College of the Arts


For the past two years I have been studying a course in advanced music composition at the Open College of the Arts. I want to strongly recommend the OCA to anyone who wants to study music (or the other arts) in a creative way.

For my course I composed an extended piece of music, a fantasy for the orchestra based on three Somerset folk songs. The thing that the OCA gives, which is invaluable, is feedback about the work from a practising composer. In my case my tutor was the composer Patric Standford. His critique was always exactly to the point, proving (if it were needed) that a few well chosen words from someone who really knows what they are doing are worth far more than any amount of ill-informed opinion.

You can hear the piece here:

Folk Song Fantasia

I attended an OCA music composition workshop in Barnsely on 12th November. It was fascinating to finally meet the other music students. We were a very mixed bunch, but I think all very creative and serious composers – I was very impressed by the quality of the compositions, all were good, and a couple were really beautiful.

Flautist Carla Rees gave us a very interesting tour of the modern techniques of flute writing. Some of them I don’t really see the point of I have to say, but I do really like the concept of a quarter tone flute, and may well try tackling a composition for it in the future. I do love the sound of quarter tones, they are commonly used in folk music around the world, also in blues, as ‘blue notes’. I was very interested in Irish music for many years, and I think quarter tones are sometimes used there, often by older more traditional players, perhaps unconsciously. So quarter tones are not necessarily alien.

Travelling up to Barnsley and back was exhausting, but worth the effort. I hope that the OCA will do something similar in future, and I will be able to attend.





Remembering Laura Bruni

Today is the first anniversary of the death of my sister Laura Bruni. She is still much missed.

You can read her obituary in the Guardian here:

It is still very hard to come to terms with. Looking at the great woman she became it is clear that it was a sad loss to the Labour Party and to us all.


On a more personal level the loss is still raw. She was my little sister, and I wanted to take care of her and in the end I could not. The only thing I could do was be with her when she died.

She was motivated in her political career by a desire to help others and to be of public service. Those who knew her will remember her as a woman of personal integrity with a strong sense of social justice.

I will remember her as my beloved sister.


Autumn has been particularly beautiful this year.

Red Leaves of Autumn

Red Leaves of Autumn

A couple of weeks ago I took a trip to Westonbirt Arboretum and took some photographs of the trees. Many of the trees were still green, some had turned a rich red, others were in the process of turning. Spectacular!

I suppose it should be a depressing season – winter is just a few weeks away, another year will be over. I will be a year older and will have accomplished little with my life, and will have that bit less of it left.

Yet I also find that first slight hint of a chill in the air invigorating. Before the really bad weather sets in,  this time of year often produces days of astonishing beauty. The light is a rich golden glow rather than the harsh glare of summer.

Partita for Solo Flute

This is a new composition, written for a workshop at the OCA on writing for the flute.
As the name suggests, this piece is inspired by the great flute writing of the baroque period, particularly JS Bach and CPE Bach, also Telemann. Therefore it is a mixture of baroque and a more contemporary styles. I have had the idea to write something like this for a few years, it has been nice to have the incentive to finally get around to it.
The piece is based on dance forms, but I have substituted a tango for the first movement which of course was not a dance of the baroque era.
Movement 1
This movement mixes passages using whole tone and half tone scales with more traditional tonal passages to product two contrasting themes. It should be played at a moderate pace, about that of a normal tango.
Movement 2
This movement has the character of a sarabande so I have called it that. However unlike a
traditional sarabande it is in 5/4 time. The thing I like about this time signature is that it can be played as a group of 3 beats followed by 2, or as a group of 2 beats followed by 3.
This movement should be played at a slow pace with a strict tempo, and relatively little dynamic variation. The mood is one of calmness and serenity.
Movement 3
This movement has the character of a gigue, so I have called it that. While mostly in 3/8 it plays around with the time signature a bit and like the first movement uses both whole and half tone passages as well as more traditional tonal ones.
The mood is light and bubbly and it needs to be played fast.




These files have been updated (June 2nd 2012) to reflect revisions in the piece.