Creativity And Surprise (Leonard Bernstein Edition)

This Leonard Bernstein quote won’t get out of my head,

The truth is that all great composers free music – not from the bondage of other composers, but from routine, from mediocrity, from second-rate, dusty tradition; in other words, a great composer frees music from the predictable.

On one level, it’s the idea that all ideas are sculpted out of a block. There’s the initial source material. And then you cut and carve away until you’ve revealed your work. I like this metaphor – and it’s even the result with the Rick Rubin expression “reducer” I identify so strongly with.


Bernstein is making me think something about creativity here too. Unpredictable is a powerful word. It means an expectation is there, but the path to the end came with some delight.

My favorite music all has an element of surprise. The most durable music – the stuff that isn’t fun the first time, but is still rocking me the 8th time and occasionally the 800th time – it’s always because the twists and turns still amaze me.

The crafting of surprise – where does it come from?

I’m (lately) obsessed with what happens between the muse and the piquing of our curiosity. The spark of attention being grabbed. The butterfly that appears and triggers us to look to our side and remember excitedly how we did bring our trusty butterfly net(!).

Bernstein, in his music, captures this moment of curiosity in its scoring. In writing down the notes. In taking his discovery and formatting it in a way we – as consumers – can discover it too.

It’s not just for the greats. It’s about how greatness is achieved when you free us from routine, mediocrity, second-rate, dusty traditions. When you make your discovery discoverable by us.

It doesn’t have to mean some wild revelation. It just means your unique way of feeling your senses tingle is in there. That you capture it and share it.

The first bead of anxious sweat reminding you you’re alive before the game starts.

The gut-drop before the curtain opens or – keep it basic – before the Zoom starts with your new team.

Surprise isn’t magical, but the muse is. Your curiosity noticing it is what’s special. That’s what we’re all trying to capture.