Back Then, The Muses
Indulge me here, please. It’s all about The Muses, and some things you might not know about them. If you couldn’t possibly care less, then skip down to – And Now, Simply “Inspiration”
But I hope you stick with it, some pretty interesting stuff, and the Greeks back then were pretty darn creative.
Googling The Muses, we found – “MUSAE (Mousai) In Ancient Greek Religion and mythology, the Muses are the inspirational goddesses of literature, science and the arts. They were considered the source of the knowledge embodied in the poetry, lyric songs and myths that were related orally for centuries in Ancient Greek culture.”
“In painting the Muses are usually presented as ethereal women with divine beauty, holding laurels and other items depending on their faculty.” (Like a lyre or the weights of justice)
“According to the Greek Myths, God Zeus bewildered the young woman Mnemosyne and slept with her for nine consecutive nights. The result of their encounter was the Nine Muses, who were similar to everything.”
“Μnemosyne gave the babies to Nymph Eufime and God Apollo. When they grew up they showed their tendency to the arts, taught by God Apollo himself.”
“They were not interested in anything of the regular human everyday life and they wanted to dedicate their lives to the Arts. Apollo brought them to the big and beautiful Mount Elikonas, where the older Temple of Zeus used to be. Ever since, the Muses supported and encouraged creation, enhancing imagination and inspiration of the artists.”
“According to the Greek Mythology, two Muses invented theory and practice in learning, three Muses invented the musical vibrations in Lyre, four Muses invented the four known dialects in the language – Attica, Ionian, Aeolian and Dorian – and five muses the five human senses. Seven muses invented the seven chords of the lyre, the seven celestial zones, the seven planets and the seven vocals of the Greek Alphabet.”
And Now, Simply “Inspiration”
As far as I can tell, over time the idea of the Muses has slowly morphed into a more simple concept of, well, inspiration. Not that it’s a bad thing… I just never have heard a fellow composer say “The Muses were sure with me” in responding to a compliment on a recent work of theirs. No, now it’s simply creativity, imagination, in the zone.
But it’s far too easy to attribute our creative ideas to simple inspiration. We don’t seem to pay much attention to the process, but rather are satisfied with being proud of the result. For me, however, the creative process, the journey, is everything. That’s right… the process, that’s the real thing. And that’s where my undying respect for The Muses (and those Greeks, for that matter) come into play.
You see, I have a muse. I’ve always had a muse, whether I knew it or not. I finally realized it during my years working at Doppler Recording Studios in Atlanta. From time to time we jingle writers would be given assignments of several minutes of original music for maybe 10 or 12 instruments, and would have to create the music and the individual musician parts, then have the client approve it and have it all ready to record in… 4 days!
The first few of those took my breath away, until I completed them successfully and realized it was possible, when necessary, to “find another gear” for the challenge. I remember sitting in my condo one Saturday morning with my coffee, after one of those barn burners, wondering how in the hell did I actually get that baby done? Where did those ideas really come from?? And then it hit me… of course! The Muses!
Now I’m not sure which one of the beautiful and wickedly creative muses is mine. It might be Euterpe. Muse Euterpe discovered several musical instruments, courses and dialectic. She was always depicted holding a flute, while many instruments were always around her. Needless to say, I love my muse, whichever one she is, and I would worship her if I could, but she’s far too intangible to ever grasp. The closest I could ever come to her would be to capture her as she rattles my few remaining brain cells with ideas and thoughts I could never have on my own. But it’s okay, because my muse knows that I listen to her, I follow her, and that’s all she requires to stay with me and feed me when I’m hungry and searching.
You might think that all this sounds like a big bunch of bull. Too bad, because that only “inspires” me to continue with this, to try to convince you that The Muses really exist, for far greater artists than I can attest to them, and have done so for centuries.
“All the ancient writers appeal to the Muses at the beginning of their work. Homer asks the Muses both in the Iliad and Odyssey to help him tell the story in the most proper way, and until today the Muses are symbols of inspiration and artistic creation.”
My favorite poet, Robert Service, writes this in his diary in his Paris apartment in 1914 – “It is for that I have stayed in my room all day, rolled in my blankets and clutching my pen with clammy fingers. I must work, work, work. I must finish my book before poverty crushes me. I am writing not only for my living but for my life. Even today my muse was mutinous. For hours and hours I stared at a paper that was blank. Nervously I paced up and down my garret. Bitterly I flung myself on my bed. Then suddenly it all came. Line after line I wrote with hardly a halt. So I made another of my Ballad Of The Boulevards.”
I don’t know hardly anything about my muse, but I know these things – she doesn’t give me genius ideas, or even brilliant ones. What she does give me is “better than average” ideas and does so quickly and with remarkable consistency. She doesn’t care if I’m sober or drunk, she doesn’t care anything about my appearance or my momentary circumstances. She doesn’t care whether I’m composing music or writing a blog post, she”s right there with me. What she does care about, and deeply, I’ve discovered, is what my motivation is for trying to create something. If I’m doing it for the money, my muse is often nowhere to be found. As long as I’m doing it only for the art itself, my muse is all in, always feeding my need for a new idea, often surprising me with leading me down a road not taken, always with a positive, successful result. As long as I listen to her, honor her and respond to her, she never deserts me and almost never disappoints me.
But how do The Muses, and my muse in particular, work? Allow me to explain. Any artistic creation begins with a thought, an idea. Whether that initial thought is also muse-generated, I’ll never know. Probably not, as I’ve had bad ideas that were not worth pursuing, ideas that not even a powerful muse could save. So for me, probably my muse shows up after I’ve documented a fragment of an idea. Those fragments, in music, are usually a five or ten-note theme, a theme of enough quality that it’s worth it to chase it, refine it, develop it and see where it leads. Not knowing where it might lead is where my muse seems to jump in with delight, almost saying, “Me, me! Let me tell you where it goes… I know where it goes, just listen to me!”
Yes, it really seems to be just like that. All I have to do is sit down with the thought of developing whatever fragment I’ve started with, and the thing begins writing itself, knowing where it wants to go, even where and how it needs to end. The ideas begin streaming in, and all I have to do is honor those thoughts and put them out into the tangible world. That process in itself seems to satisfy all my muse’s needs. And that process damn sure satisfies mine.
I’ve asked my muse why she doesn’t make me a Mozart, or a Hemingway. She answers me in a most unsatisfactory manner, a la Popeye, of “I yam what I yam” fame, by telling me “You are what you are. I’m simply feeding you all you are capable of processing.” Fair enough. Unsatisfactory? Yes… but fair enough.
My muse knows me far too well, I think. She especially knows when my ego drops in and tries to drive the bus. That’s a big no-no in Museland. The ego is a total block of the muse-stream, and the sooner a budding artist figures that one out, usually the better for them. Many creatives fear the dreaded “writer’s block” and many of them have experienced it, and suffered under it. Not me. And I would ordinarily be a prime candidate for such a depressing experience, but my muse has always silently assured me that as long as I start something new with an open heart and the best intentions, she will never desert me. And she never has.