Scientists, Musicians, Money / by Melanie Ida Chopko

Rice Song, in its 3rd permutation, a song I wrote in response to reading about the forced urbanization of indigenous and rural cultures in China.

Rice Song, in its 3rd permutation, a song I wrote in response to reading about the forced urbanization of indigenous and rural cultures in China.

Today I went back, for the fourth or fifth time to tinkering with a melody I've been preparing to send over to my friend John Mailander, in the plans to play around with co-writing for the first time. I laughed a bit at what came out of today - after writing the first part of an A section, I had added a more adventurous leave-the-key ending section, which brought me to a much simpler start to the A section. And now, after sleeping on it, I'm tempted to pitch the other two and re-start from this new place. (I'll put that bit up on soundcloud as soon as I can figure that out).

I laughed in the same way a few weeks ago when Rachel and I looked at my Rice Song for another round - I had made a click track demo and didn't quite feel happy with the tempo. We decided to experiment with my original chords, suspending the arrangement my friend had lovingly crafted, change the time signature, and add an odd measure to explain the rhythm at the end of the verse. Phew.

I got to thinking a few weeks ago - maybe this is part of why there seems to be a culture confusion about artists and money. In a time when I can instantly download ideas/files/photos from the SKY, I hear many people muse about creativity as an instantaneous "gift" that must fall in my lap. A push-a-button-ATM-creativity, rather than a seedling-growing-bushwacking-looking-for-the-next-lantern creativity.  Something that is almost done requires an almost entire overhaul, pieces that start out being the center end up getting pitched halfway through. And sometimes I relate to Kurt Vonnegut: "When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth."

This does not bide well to what I experience in a culture obsessed with timesheets and measurements of "efficiency" and productivity. And yet, isn't all work like this? I actually think that any level of work - any level of "let's make something that wasn't there before" - is a creative process of twists and turns, unknowns and false starts, good intentions but hazy on actual impact. I'm becoming close these days with a bio-chemist, and he talks often of science for science's sake, the profound measurable impact of what emerges from poking around in the unknown. He tells me the story of a several decades ago, when a lab could either invest in figuring out an affordable treatment for diabetes or investigating the long puzzling miracle of bacteria defending itself against viruses. They chose the "road less traveled" - the bacteria question - and decades later began using the answer (bacteria can cut DNA!) to produce human friendly insulin. Before then, insulin was a dangerous, unpredictable treatment that was harvested from cows! And it has now became the most affordable, sensible treatment for diabetes.

That's another essay - how I believe music and drawing are another form of life-giving insulin, and for now I'll close with this image - the musician and the scientist, each in our labs of instruments and questions, each of us polishing a question or idea into view so that in can we can more deeply understand and respond to this complex planet.