An Average Day
The question I’m asked most often in interviews and Q&As is this: What does your average day look like? If composing weren’t what I did for a living, I’d probably wonder what classical composers did all day, too. Usually, I say that I answer emails in the morning, compose in the afternoon, and teach, relax, or take care of other chores in the evening. But the real answer? Some of my days look similar to one another, yes, but my schedule shifts completely depending on the deadlines I’m trying to meet.
When I wake up, I usually spend an hour on my computer catching up on news, blogs, and social media. I exercise, with either a walk around my hilly LA neighborhood or half an hour of yoga and a few minutes of meditating. Sometimes I do this later in the day; sometimes I skip it, which I nearly always regret. Eventually, I get around to answering emails.
Does all of this take four hours? Nope, and my morning routine changes depending on what’s coming up. I’ve built in this flexibility so that when things get busier, I have time in the morning to take care of everything. From 8 a.m. to noon, I might edit my website, write my newsletter, speak with a potential collaborator, get coffee or brunch with a friend, Zoom with a choir working on my music, book travel plans, edit a piece, work on press materials, write a grant, do an interview for a podcast, or write an article like this one.
Around 1 p.m., my cats begin to meow at me until I feed them. I feed myself lunch, too, and either eat it with my husband—who also works from home—or watch an episode of TV for 25-45 minutes while I eat.
For years, I wouldn’t admit to myself that I don’t love composing in the morning. There’s a general misconception that the most productive people wake up bursting with creative energy and run to the piano, or the easel, or whatever. For me, that’s not the case. My peak creative hours are around 2 to 4 p.m., and if I'm near a deadline, I’ll keep composing or until 6 or 7 p.m. Our bodies are primed to want to sleep in the evening; I think of my afternoon composing time the same way, only mine is a creative rhythm rather than a circadian one.
If I’m nowhere near a deadline, I may only compose for one or two hours. If a deadline is looming and a piece still isn’t done, I may bolt straight out of bed in the morning and work all day. If I’ve just finished a piece, I’ll take a week or two off of composing.
Either way, I have to eat dinner eventually, and my husband and I take turns cooking. If I'm not near a deadline, we usually spend after-dinner time catching up or watching another episode of TV. Every night, I read for about half an hour to quiet my mind before I go to sleep. I write a few sentences about how my day went in a five-year journal, and I keep another small notepad next to my bed for thoughts and to-do lists that pop up as I'm preparing for bed. Once I've written them down, I remind myself I'll deal with them tomorrow, but not right now.
I have wildly productive days and wildly unproductive ones. Sometimes I’ll spend an entire morning updating my website, sending emails, and signing contracts, and then I’ll compose for five hours in the afternoon. Other days, I bake bread and watch Netflix, berating myself for not getting more done. One day, I might write four measures of a piece; the next, I might send e-mails in the morning, do a Zoom rehearsal, make good progress on my piece in the afternoon, and then work on an article like this one in the evening.
Occasionally, even when I’ve had a generally productive day, I feel like I’ve wasted it if I haven’t composed. The good news? Even a tiny bit of work is enough to make a day feel worthwhile. A four-measure day still counts as a composing day.
Although the majority of my days are spent composing from home, I’ve learned that there might be no such thing as a true daily routine, at least not for me. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter when or how I'm getting creative work done, as long as I'm honor my days by doing the work I'm called to do.
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Originally published in Cantate Magazine, Vol. 30, No. 2, Winter 2018.
Revised February 2020.