I sit down to the piano regularly at nine-o'clock in the morning and Mesdames les Muses have learned to be on time for that rendezvous. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
In Greek mythology the nine Muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (the goddess of Memory) and they lived with Apollo on Mount Olympus. They were believed to be the source of all creative inspiration, particularly in the realms of literature, science and the arts. The ancient poets invoked the Muses to give them divine inspiration and to look favorably on their efforts.
Inspiration is often depicted as the lightning bolt from the blue, as if creative artists had no choice other than to sit and wait for it. Tchaikovsky said it well, however, albeit with tongue in cheek. Inspiration is what happens when you are actively pursuing your craft, immersing yourself in it consistently and with vigor.
Inspiration is not just the province of a few select masters or virtuosi, and it is not just an instant of illumination. The Latin root of the word means to breathe into. I don’t believe this has to mean a mythological goddess breathing creative ideas into our souls. I find much more significance in the idea that inspiration is the life we breathe into every note of music that we play. We inspire our music, not the other way around.
We bring life to the notes on the page. We lend them our personal sensibility, our individual expression. We play them differently than anyone else. Without a musician to play it, a piece of music is merely a piece of paper.
Your inspiration, your muse, is inside you. When you practice and play, you give it a voice. And you can develop your musical voice and feed the inspirational spark that lives in you every day.
You nurture your muse when you practice. A strong, regular practice habit is the best way to feed and sustain your inspiration. It is the foundation for anything you want to do with your music.
You exercise your muse when you play expressively. Make it a point to develop your tools for musical expression by practicing your dynamics, articulation, tone and technique.
You train your muse when you study music, observing and replicating the patterns of our musical language. Listen to music and be alive to the changing harmonies and colors. Look at the page and find the motifs and patterns that are part of its structure. Use your observations to inform your musical choices,
Perhaps you still are longing for that magical spark from the gods that would add fuel to your creative fire. I’d like to suggest that you’ve already had what is likely the most significant inspiration of all. You will discover it when you answer this question: why did you decide to play the harp?
For me that was truly a gift that blesses me more every day. Who needs a lightning bolt?
If you’re one of those scholars of Greek mythology here’s a bonus question for you to answer in the comments below: Which of the nine Muses was said to have created the harp?