Where did I heard this melody before??
Although music is my raison d'être and the biggest source of joy, unfortunately it also brings certain fears, doubts and uncertainties along for the ride. I wholeheartedly agree with the notion “you mustn’t let fear run your life”, but this is often easier said than done.
One of my biggest fear when composing happens every time I come with a nice singable theme or melody, which most often occurs without a plan in a spontaneous moment of inspiration and happiness. And even though I’m longing for such moments more than anything, at the same time I always cringe in fear and doubt, thinking “it’s not possible that I’ve came up with this; I’ve must have heard it somewhere before but I can’t quite place it”. At first, this may seem paranoid and irrational, but the worm of self-doubt is a tough breed to kill. And however far fetched it sounds, there is always a risk of unintentional and unconscious copying of something you’ve might heard or saw somewhere in passing.
A little history. My first steps in composition are closely related to performance and especially improvisation. I’ve never had much problems coming up with solos on any instrument that I play, which was mostly a welcome thing in situations when I was working as a live and studio musician. However, it took me quite some time to break free from my trusty weapon - improvisation - and to begin creating original pieces with a simple and sensible melody. Although improvisation itself is a form of composing in a way and it can be very rewarding in a creative sense, I think that the true pinnacle is creating a singable, recognizable and even somewhat naive theme whilst being “original” as much as possible at the same time. And doing so today, after whole legacy of classical and modern music, is extremely difficult.
In a past few years, after years of struggle, I’ve suddenly started coming up with “nice melodies”, sometimes almost every day. This was something I was dreaming of for a long time and what I was striving to be able to do. But at the same time, I often can’t quite believe it is really happening. At those moments, my strongest assets - hearing and memory - become a dreadful enemy. Because every time I came up with a nice melody, I’m thinking: “this couldn’t possibly be mine; I must have heard it before”. And then I’ve begin racking my brain looking for an answer, unable to find it.
The truth is I have a lot of music stuck in my head. Over the years I’ve built a sizable library of music of every genre that I’ve learned to play by ear. I also listen to instrumental music daily, both for inspirational and relaxation purposes. However, my musical taste is quite established and there are only about fifty or so composers whose work I watch closely. Those are the artists whose CD’s adore my shelves and digital devices and whose music I know intimately. I’m almost 100% positive I haven’t incorporated any of their themes and melodies in my own work, certainly not intentionally.
So the problem lies in the need of being inspired by the other people’s work, without accidently stepping on it while doing your own. And in this day and age, with the media unrelentlessly bombarding us on every corner, this is harder then ever. To conclude: I don’t condone plagiarism and would never intentionally copy work by someone else, note by note, and then present it as my own. But being totally original while doing creative work is almost impossible with today’s circumstances.