Where Good Ideas Come From

by Rebecca Cochran

I read a neat story about Franz Schubert (1797–1828), the Viennese composer who wrote more than 600 songs, plus much chamber and orchestral music during his way-too-short lifespan. Schubert is one of my personal favorites.

An old-fashioned manual burr-mill coffee grinder.

An old-fashioned manual burr-mill coffee grinder. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He was reportedly very disciplined in composing, working diligently every morning, nearly without fail. When a student once asked what his secret was, Schubert replied simply, “When one piece is finished, I begin another.”

One day, however, when his friend the German composer and conductor, Franz Lachner came calling unexpectedly, Schubert was not in the mood for work. He suggested to Lachner, “Let’s have some coffee.” Schubert then hauled out his most prized possession, an old coffee mill. He carefully measured the coffee beans, then took off his glasses and started grinding.

Within moments, Schubert exclaimed, “I’ve got it! I’ve got it! You rusty little machine!” He threw the coffee mill into the corner, sending the beans flying. “What have you got?” asked Lachner.

“This coffee mill is a wonderful thing,” explained Schubert excitedly. “Melodies and themes come flying in. You see, it’s the ra-ra-ra, that’s what! You search for days for an idea, and the little machine finds it in a second!” And, he began singing the themes of what would become the String Quartet in D minor, Death and the Maiden, which Lachner faithfully wrote down.

Apparently, even Schubert benefitted from the occasional change in his morning routine. This little story is an excellent example of how some of our best ideas can come from the most unlikely places.

Coffee anyone?

Reference: The Book of Musical Anecdotes, by Norman Lebrecht, published by The Free Press, 1985

What’s So Great About “Great?”

 

selective photo of gray shark

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

Yep, that’s right. “Great” is overrated.

For quite awhile, I have been thinking about the possibility of eliminating the word “great” from my vocabulary.

Is “great” a noun? An adjective? An adverb? Or, most likely, all three? What makes it so great to use “great” in a sentence? What is the meaning of “great?”

I always took “great” to mean “large,” as in the phrase, “something greater than myself.” Or, to use examples from the animal world, “great white shark” or “great horned owl.”

Another bothersome point for me is that “great” can refer to things both wonderful, like great art — and devastating, like great destruction during wars or storms.

And, I’m confused why so many of us (myself included) answer “Great!” when asked, “How was your weekend?” Does that one-word response really mean “large?”

It’s almost as if “great” has become an easy catch-all, something we use when we’re too lazy or uncreative to use a descriptive, attention-grabbing word — whether we’re speaking or writing.

What if, instead, when asked by a friend or colleague, “How was your weekend?”, I answered, “Delicious — A friend and I tested several new French recipes on Saturday night and we can’t wait to try more!” Or, “Mind-numbing — I spent the entire weekend working on my tax return!”

And, what if I worked to delete “great,” as an adjective, from my vocabulary?

I might challenge myself to be more descriptive in these instances, as well. Rather than saying, “That was a great concert last night,” I could replace “great” with a more thought-provoking adjective: “That was an emotional concert last evening, don’t you think?” Perhaps this change would open up a real conversation about emotions and feelings around the music for both myself and my concert-mate.

What’s your take on “great? I’m thinking “great” might not be so great any more.

Is Gray a Color?

Color

Having just read Meghan Flaherty’s eloquent piece, Ode to Gray in the Paris Review, I’ve been thinking about color again. Flaherty makes numerous points in favor of gray. She refers to gray as “the color, rather than the sound, of silence.”

Flaherty cites numerous others’ disparate thoughts on gray. She refers to a color psychology article, stating that “grey is emotionless.” She quotes the French painter, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres who said, “Better gray than garishness.” And, she shares, “Paul Klee called it the richest color, “the one that makes all the others speak.”

She also writes that, “according to Eva Heller, in her Die wahre Geschichte von allen Farben, only 1 percent of people surveyed named gray as their favorite color.” Contrast that with blue. Supposedly, half the people on earth list blue as their favorite color.

In one of my earlier posts entitled, The Lure of BlueI wrote about what draws my eye towards blue. Truth be told, nearly every article of clothing I own is blue. My office walls are blue. My automobile is blue.

Hmm…maybe I’ve been taking the easy way out all this time…

After reading Flaherty’s excellent article, I vow to seriously think through the possibility of gray being an actual color. I may even introduce a few bits of gray into my wardrobe because, after all, gray pairs so well with blue…

by Rebecca Cochran