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#088: Muses, Models and Mentors: Where Does Inspiration Come From?

music and meaning Jan 23, 2023

We call them lightbulb moments, those unpredictable flashes of brilliance that spark our creativity. Or perhaps our inspiration comes from others we admire. Common thought says inspiration is necessary for anyone in an artistic endeavor, yet we believe it is elusive and selective, showing up randomly and bestowing its gifts unequally.

What does inspiration mean to you? Is it outside you, meaning that something or someone inspires you in a certain way? Or is it inside you, meaning that our inner lightbulb has a secret switch that suddenly flips and makes that lightbulb moment? Both? Neither?

Music history is filled with stories of inspiration, particularly stories about musical mentors who have helped shape the careers of some of the most famous classical musicians. From the greats like Mozart and Beethoven to modern composers like John Williams and Leonard Bernstein, these mentors have passed down their knowledge and expertise to generations of aspiring musicians.

If you look at harp history in particular, you can find countless instances of composers who wrote for harp because their wife, mother or other loved one played the harp. One of my favorite composer-performer pairs is the French harpist Micheline Kahn and her son composer Jean-Michel Damase. Damase told of his early musical education coming from sitting outside his mother’s teaching studio. He learned the language of music through the repertoire of the harp. He clearly learned it well, as evidenced in the numerous and mostly very difficult pieces he wrote for the harp.

Of course, Micheline Kahn inspired other composers too, and she premiered many of the works that we now consider pillars of the concert harp repertoire, pieces like the Impromptu by Gabriel Fauré as well as his Une châtelaine en sa tour,  Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, and Caplet’s Deux Divertissements and Conte Fantastique.

In today's episode, I’m going to share my ideas and my musings about inspiration. (Oh yes, we’ll talk a little about those fickle Greek Muses, too.) I will discuss some powerful sources of inspiration that you have available to you and how you can harness that creative energy to add growth, interest and fun to your harp journey.

Why should we care about inspiration? Does inspiration really matter if we’re just normal everyday kind of people and not aspiring to be musical geniuses? Yes, it matters a great deal. Inspiration is what fires our imagination, propels us to achieve and accomplish. Inspiration is what keeps us going when the work is hard. Without inspiration, music would be dull and meaningless, and who wants that? So let’s be sure we know where to find it and how to use it.

Links to things I think you might be interested in that were mentioned in the podcast episode: 

Get involved in the show! Send your questions and suggestions for future podcast episodes to me at [email protected]


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