My first day properly back at the writing desk after the summer break began well, for I made it to work despite all those distractions that are there to snare the self-employed – toaster, fridge, television – and then spent a goodly stint there. Most of my time was spent on the rewrite of the fourth movement of the cantata, which is coming along well and swiftly, and then, when I felt my brain growing tired, I switched my attention to Christmas, what else?

I know that some composers, such as the wonderful Toru Takemitsu, concentrate on but the single piece at any one time, but I have found over the years, and relearned yesterday, that my efforts are best spread more liberally, possibly over as many as three works in different stages of gestation. In any case, sitting down for, say, three hours of work on a piece is very, very difficult to do, unless one is dealing with more mechanical concerns, such as proofing or orchestration.

Trying to forge harmonies and designs over such a period can be tough and end up bringing to mind the squeezing of the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube, so it is good to recognise when it is time to switch focus, also, on the other side of the coin, when there is actually more to come. Having another piece or two to work on means that I can effectively switch off from all but one and let the others sit in the back of my brain.

That means that I am able to come at them the following day in a fresher state while my subconscious has been gnawing away at the details, making the morning’s session all the more fruitful, and what I apply to one piece might also throw fresh light on a problem in another. In other words, there barely seems to be a downside.

Add into the equation that getting stuck on the one piece does not then necessarily bring work on others to a halt and I am a little surprised that it has taken me a while to come round once more to this way of thinking, even if the separate movements of the cantata were coming together almost as different pieces. So maybe, after all, I have been working this way all through the summer, but have only noticed it now with the preliminary sketches for Christmas repertoire, which was the thing to make me sit up and think about it.

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