The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


I enjoy writing liturgical music. I often will wake up in the morning and work out a new tune. I have been doing this for years even though I didn't have a direct outlet for that music. I always figured I'd do something with it at some point in my life, but for the time being it was enough just to create it and save it to my computer.

I mention this only to say that thankfully I haven't had a shortage of motivation on this front for a while. Creative inspiration does have its ebbs and flows, but overall I haven't had a problem applying myself to the task, at least when it comes to the initial song creation (I have had a problem with follow-through and finishing pieces, though).

Still, my recent job has caused a spike in this creativity, even though I didn't think I needed it. In the last 6 months, I wrote at least 40 Responsorials Psalm settings and co-authored about a dozen more. I also put the foundations down for several stand-alone songs. On top of that, I have made a number of new arrangements--especially for guitar but also for piano and voice--of contemporary and traditional hymns.

The reasons for this spike are simple and obvious, when I think about it:

1. I have had a direct occasion to play them. Even though I love writing with no goal in mind, it is so much easier to write when there is a concrete, direct application. Very little of this material would have been created if I didn't have a job where I would directly use this material.

2. The job also helps with follow-through. The Psalms simply have to be ready by the appropriate Mass if they are going to be sung at all. I knew if a didn't get a particular Responsorial together it might have to wait as much as a couple years before it rotates back in the liturgical calendar (Responsorials can be done outside of their designated weeks, but we prefer to stick with the liturgical calendar at my church).

2. I have had a supportive team to work with. The choir has been great with editing out unnecessary fluff. I've also worked with a couple of cantors to co-author pieces. We just generally encourage each other. There have been a couple of weeks where left to my own motivation I wouldn't have done any original music, but the prodding of one of the cantors gave me the necessary push. I've often provided the same push for her, as well.

3. I started writing in 4-part harmony. Why? Because I have a choir that needs it, that's why! In the past, I'd usually sculpt a melody line then pepper in with flutes, clarinets, or whatever. Having a choir that will sing these pieces has forced me to write for the choir, and I had to develop those skills. For some tunes, I simply wouldn't have written a harmony if I couldn't think of one off-hand, but having a choir has forced me to do it even when it isn't easy. On a related note, I haven't written anything for the flute in a while, because we don't have a flautist.
In short, I did these things simply because they needed doing.

A couple of my friends have reported similar findings: They love to write prose and poetry, but after being involved in a local poetry group their creativity has positively spiked--and it didn't take a lot of painful self-discipline to apply themselves to the task. It was a fun environment that was conducive to their creativity.

There is nothing like a deadline to foster creativity. It also helps to be with others who are creative and doing the same things. Even though most artists market themselves as individuals, if you did research on them you would probably find that any artist out there who has had success in their field also has had a team of supportive people around them and an environment that brings out the best in them.

I could opt not do my original pieces at church. However, once that choice is made, there is a natural structure that helps keep me on task. There is a deadline and a certain level of complexity is requiest as there is need for parts for a choir and at least one accompanist. Yes, I need enough self-discipline to commit myself to the task. But once I have committed myself, there is a natural structure and demand for follow-through that keeps me moving along.

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This is part 4/5 of the series "Strategic Goal Setting."

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