Category: Insights

Surviving Bliss


Lorenz with fellow MacDowell residents, May 2010


It is difficult to describe the MacDowell Colony experience to someone who has never had it.  After spending five weeks there this past spring working on a viola concerto and on a flute duet, I could simply say that it was heavenly.  MacDowell is so absolutely blissful that at times I felt embarrassed to be enjoying such privilege.  The hundred year old colony, a baby of Miriam and Edward MacDowell, feeds three healthy meals a day and provides a cozy live-in studio complete with a grand piano to every resident fellow.   The property looks and feels like sacred fields of woods (hundreds of acres of them) filled with virtuosic bird songs courtesy of the Hermit Thrush.  Upon deeper and more sincere pondering, however, one’s perception of the colony changes depending on the time of the day and, perhaps more crucially, on the stage of one’s creative work while there.  At times it feels like summer camp; at other times it resembles an annual scholarly meeting.  But on those days when work is not flowing right and the only thing one can think of is the looming deadline ahead, the MacDowell experience weighs upon one’s psyche like solitary confinement.  It is as though one’s relationship to the MacDowell Colony and to the fellow colonists is determined by the progress of the creative work as well as by how this progress relates to the overall expectations for the duration of the residency.  I guess I can say that I survived this strange yet magnificent state of bliss.  I hope to get the chance to survive it again sometime in the near future, right there, at MacDowell.


What stands between composing music and the world feels like a void that I simultaneously crave and loathe. On the one hand, I seek those moments when I am alone and self-absorbed over a score in progress. On the other hand, I reject the thought of being a loafer, oblivious of my surroundings, because in the end it is all about making a connection; it is about being in tune with the world.

The Creativity of Loafing: Ricardo Lorenz in Venezuela, May 2009.

The Creativity of Loafing: Ricardo Lorenz in Venezuela, May 2009.

What I mean is that composing music, like any other art, requires knowing when to immerse oneself into a vacuum and when to surface out of it. It requires negotiating between the oblivious attitude of childhood and the tenacity of someone running for government office. While it requires a marathon runner’s resolve and discipline to bring projects to completion, composing also relies heavily upon the creativity inherent in the act of loafing.   Being idle can cause surprisingly original and spontaneous music to emerge.

Inside of the void I care only about musical flow, elegance of gesture, rhythmic intricacy, and unexpected harmonic shifts. Outside of the void I strive to evoke human drama through music, often fantasizing that I can be an agent of change or that, in the least, my compositions are imaginary solutions to real problems, as Claude Levi Strauss described culture’s role in society.

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