Frédéric Chiasson


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Urbania : my second marathon over

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June 12th, 2013

Me while running 2013 Scotia Bank Montreal Half-Marathon
Me while running 2013 Scotia Bank Montreal Half-Marathon. Photo : Jean-Martin Desmarais.

I have given the score and intrument parts of Urbania to the Orchestre de la Francophonie at the beginning of last week. I really felt it like the end of my second marathon in two weeks. If the Ottawa Marathon is a ultimate test of physical endurance, I felt the composition of a cycle for orchestra like the test for mental endurance.

I ran 42.195 km at the Ottawa Marathon. For Urbania, I wrote 101 orchestra and 182 instrumental part pages (in these I do not count blank pages and forewords), for an overall of 18:41 of music.

So, yes, I was tired after both.

But I quickly noticed that both disciplines had a lot in common concerning psychology. To achieve the necessary focus, I followed rules that helped in running as in composing.

Plan and prepare in advance

Marathon training and orchestral composition cannot be improvised at the last minute. The “game” plan is indispensable because the preparation for both disciplines takes time. Lots of time: more than three months for both cases.

While for marathon, I followed the plan of Jean-Yves Cloutier from the Vainqueurs Club, I made for composition my own plan: two weeks for composition of each movement, two weeks for the overall orchestration and one for edition. It is true that it is a plan that leaves no place for failure.

Finally, the marathon plan has been more followed literally than the composition plan. I composed and orchestrated each movement in two weeks and there was one week remaining for working full-time on edition. I did not have any weekend during the last two months. But thanks to the planning, everything was given on time.

Work regularly

Newspapers tell us about it: sometimes, marathon kills. Well, very rarely, but for newspapers, rarity is a detail!

What newspapers do not tell us is that composition also kills. Mendelssohn died from exhaustion. Mozart too, maybe (probably one of the 140 possible causes listed in literature). Even nowadays, composers die of their art. From time to time, a professional composer (advertisement, film) dies in theirs 50s, even their 40s.

So I protect myself... but not with condoms... I talk about composition, of course! I do less composing at a time but more often. To combine two running trainings one after another is a very bad idea: your body will let you know fast. Same in composition. It is better to write regularly to keep your mind fresh while at the same to keep up with your thoughts. It is somewhat annoying to find different music snippets on different sheets after a too long pause and to not know where we wanted to put them.

Continue even when it goes bad

There are moments where it flows easily, others when we feel like we “press the fruit” while there is no juice. Whether it is for running or for composing, this is the time where we build to construct the best idea of the best race. It is very boring at the moment, but this is the time to continue.

If I never run injured, I continue to train as usual I had a bad sleep, if I am tired, if I am hungry, ou when it rains, it is too hot or too cold, if I don't have time... All these situations can happen on marathon. For composition, even if I feel like what I am writing is so bad, I continue to write. Writing crap lets you know what you do not want to keep.

Let go of negative thoughts

During activities where the energy and focus demand is extreme, every negative feeling slows us down. Experienced runners often tell us to loosen the face while running. Surprising but true: a more serene face make us more serene, even at the 40th km. But still, struggling against these negative thoughts demands even more energy! What should we do?

In composition too, there is a lot of negative thoughts: the fear that what we write sounds a lot worse for real than on paper, the fear of the reaction from the audience or the musicial milieu, the anguish to not finish on time...

The best way I found is to entirely accept their existence, to even imagine what I fear will happen, then to go on. At least these thoughts do no block my “mind field”, then they disappear by themselves with the small victories we give ourselves on the road.

Listen to yourself and do it for yourself

Maybe the best instruction to follow. It is above all my race and my music. Never run to prove someone else that I can do it or because everyone does it, but run to prove myself or better, to answer a personal need. Never compose to please an audience (writing an “accessible” work) or a milieu (writing an “contemporary” work). Compose and run for myself.

Compose a piece that answers my own taste. Our body and our taste are those what we know the most about and that we perceive best. We seldom know the body and tastes of others. They always end up to surprise us, and sometimes deceive us. Running and composing for others corresponds to do it for a mirage.

It is by doing it for oneself that we let us listen to oneself. By listening to oneself, it is possible for our muscles to coordinate themselves in a way that even in impossible conditions, we accomplish miracles (at least for ourselves) by getting into the “zone”. By listening to oneself, it is probable that our musical movements organise themselves to attain a state of grace.

In both cases, it is the interwovening of so many perfectly set details that transform the myriad of elements in a greater work. And then appears a radiance, a brightness. In some cases, a mystical aura is released. We get a glimpse of God.

People who think that music is easy never attained these peaks. Actually, running and composing demands exactly endangered commodities in our society: listening and discipline.


Gone for the Ottawa Marathon

Urbania : season 2013 launch of Orchestre de la Francophonie


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