I studied music composition with Lockrem Johnson back in the 1970’s and I fondly remember and cherish to this day a story he once told. Back in the early 40’s he was an up and coming composer and studying with George McKay at the University of Washington.
Bela Bartok, one of the great composers of the 20th century was in town and George McKay introduced him to Lockrem. As the story goes, George asked Bela, “and what advice might you have for this aspiring young composer?”
“Sit down, get started, and keep it simple.”
In 2000 I found a book titled, The Eighth Lively Art: Conversations with Painters, Poets, Musicians, and the Wicked Witch of the West, by Wesley Weher. Wesley was a student of Lockrem’s in the late 40's and told a similar story about Bartok’s advice to a group of student composers at the University as, “Keep your music simple! Don’t try to say everything at once.”
I'm thinking a little artistic license was probably used in both versions, but none the less they're both great advice for starting any creative process. If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s to trust the process (especially when I'm doubting it). You never know when an idea will occur, or exactly what it will be. But if your mind is open you’ll accept what the universe has to offer you and run with it.
Dell Wade, a gifted composer and friend of mine would head up to Lockrem’s house in Lake Forest Park most Saturdays and spend the better part of the day studying composition, listening to music, and helping out with everything from housework to paperwork for his publishing company, Puget Music Publications.
Lockrem had an amazing sense of humor. He loved telling stories, guess it games, and practical jokes. I remember one day we were playing 'guess what Beethoven Sonata this is?' and he'd only play the 1st note. Good times, great memories. I'll have to do so more writing about Lockrem.