Life is full of twists, turns, knocks and challenges, says composer Aleah Morrison-Basu – but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
I was three years old when my family realised I was deaf in one ear. We don’t really know if I could hear in both ears before that, but from then on my family had to remember to always talk to me on the right side. And in my second year of university, I was diagnosed with dyslexia – partly because of the deafness, partly because of the side effects of epileptic medication.
These things taught me to learn how to learn again. I’m still challenged by this daily; for example, my memory is shocking. Forgetting a chord progression or a melody that I’ve literally just composed constantly frustrates me. I’ve had to go back to basics and try to train my memory, to learn concepts that I would have been taught in school but now have no recollection of.
But this is all a blessing. Being able to understand how you learn is a magnificent tool. Suddenly a whole world opens up ready to explore. Outside of your daily routine or work and life, how often do you get the chance to challenge yourself?
Don’t be scared to start from nothing
When we are born we have little sense of fear, yet as we grow older we become more cautious and afraid to try new things. The impact this can have on your life can’t be underestimated. If we live our lives too scared to try anything we will never know if our fears were justified. I heard someone say the other day that when we die, we’re more likely to regret the things we didn’t do than the things we did.
And anyway, for musicians, ‘nothing’ doesn’t really exist. There will always be a desire to compose a piece, or to develop a small idea, or to widen your audience. Part of starting from nothing when you’re challenged is accepting that these small gestures are not nothing. They are something. The next step is to disperse your fears and take the first steps, making sure your fear doesn’t stop your from innovating.
When in doubt, change
Every culture has its own way of working and accepting that there are different approaches to a goal taught me that change should be embraced. It brings a new perspective and helps to find new ideas and ways to develop – to ‘think outside the box’.
A fellow musician once commented that some songs I’d written sounded a bit Greek and Arabic. I don’t think it was intended as a compliment, but I took it as one. I used to sing in a Bouzouki club and I think this experience had subconsciously created an innate understanding of Greek harmony.
When I’m faced with the inevitable artistic self-doubt of my creativity or productivity, I analyse it from a change perspective. I always think that you should ask how it would look to not doubt yourself, and then make the change to achieve that.
Surround yourself with people that challenge you
I find that inspiration from related art forms creates different perspectives and ideas to inspiration from non-related art forms. Recently, I worked with a dancer and a neuroscientist to create a performance piece about how the fluctuations of the heart can impact emotions and vice versa. We were given scientific and psychological explanations and translated these into music and dance.
For a similar project, we used scientific understanding of brain activity during an epileptic seizure to create a performance piece that illustrated the conscious and subconscious world a person experiences during a seizure. That type of inspiration is different to the type that comes from watching a great film or seeing some incredible art.
But being inspired by someone in your own field is equally important. The challenges friends in music have and continue to set for me have made me such a better composer. They’ve taught me to trust my self-critic and also to have confidence in my own music. It’s so important to surround yourself with people who challenge you. Constant confirmation of your work being good won’t encourage you to develop.
When you’re faced with moments of self-doubt, reflect and take advantage of the opportunity before you.
Aleah Morrison-Basu is a composer and musician.