In the middle of a sweltering July afternoon, when the stifling air had wrapped into rippling waves of heat, I became a thief of sorts- a thief of music.
For the first time, I had created an original piano arrangement of one of my favorite songs. Not once had I resorted to the assistance of premade sheet music or video tutorials on YouTube. Using only my ears and iPod, I had transformed a mix of intermingling sounds and intricate melodies into the tones of a single instrument; I had unwound complex harmonies and intertwining voices into something I could perform with only two hands. No help, no guide: I had done it on my own.
I’ve been a pianist since before my hands were big enough to reach an octave: with a musician and composer for a father, I was all but born on the piano bench. For many years, my musical identity was defined by the notes that others had written in centuries past: elegant lines of neatly printed notes stamped across sheet music became the script I was obligated to perform. I valued playing classical music- adored it, even- but such performances felt inherently shallow, lacking in depth and nuance because I had nothing of my own to contribute to the masterful compositions of Bach or Rachmaninov.
This was why, when I added the finishing touches to my modern rendition of a modern alt-rock song, my pride was all-consuming and glorious: this arrangement was mine. What I’d done seemed magical: a profound ability to take what had already existed- to “steal” a song from my favorite band- and to change it into something different and all my own. I was a thief, ut I was also and artist.
In music, as in other aspects of life, I believe that true originality rarely exists. Almost everything has, in one form or another, been done before. The most passionate romance novel may very well be a thinly veiled version of a play by Shakespeare, which in turn is snatched from the playwrights of Ancient Greece: same themes, different characters, different circumstances. Nonetheless, the novel is no less deserving of praise just because its uniqueness is compromised. Adaptation is not a synonym for inadequacy.
The gift of creativity is the ability o do what I did on the piano: to find something beautiful, to analyze and twist it and lose yourself in the mystery of its composition, and then to make it new. Such an act is not copying; it is finding inspiration and having the strength and the innovation to use it as fuel for your own masterpiece. The world is nothing more than disparate collections of preexisting parts- scattered and often lost in the chaos of everyday life. I believe it is my job, as an artist and as a human being, to rearrange this word into what I envision it to be.
I refuse to live as if I were trapped indefinitely within the walls of a museum: looking but never touching, afraid to soil the so-called perfection of the artifacts inside. Therefore, I will embrace my ability to be a thief, because if I don’t steal what the world has to offer, I’ll never have the tools to share with others a creation of my own.
My life is my own arrangement, and because of that, anything is possible.