Creativity and Boredom.


Alma Deutsche gets her musical ideas when she’s about to go to sleep or when she’s waking up, but primarily “by skipping with this skipping rope,” she says.  “I don’t actually skip but I wave it round like this and I tell stories in my mind. Very often a melody just springs into my head. And then I run back and write it down in my notebook,” she says.  “You see it has to be just this kind of skipping rope, with shining tassels and sparkles. Other ropes don’t work at all.”

The child prodigy, who could play the piano at two, the violin at three and could read music before she could read words, swings the rope to help her think up the melodies that have already made her a world-famous composer and performer, and a favourite of musical giants such as Sir Simon Rattle and Daniel Barenboim.

“I used to use sticks but I didn’t want to wave them in someone’s eye,” Alma says. “I’d get into a terrible panic if I couldn’t find the right kind of stick, if it wasn’t ‘swing-ey’ enough.

A skipping rope was much nicer to swing around — I got more melodies and thought of more stories with it. I think it’s to do with the swinging movement and being outside, running around with the wind in my hair.”

Alma does not have a smart phone, a computer, or a TV.  She reads 100 or more books a year, and she composed an opera at age 11 that opens in Vienna today.

On December 29 the full-length version of Cinderella, Alma’s first opera — composed when she was 10 — will have its world premiere in Vienna under the patronage of Zubin Mehta. It follows a chamber version performed by a string quintet without scenery in Israel in July. “This will be at a completely different level, with a full orchestra, costumes and sung in German,” she explains. At the moment she doesn’t speak German and is desperate to learn it, “so I can understand my own opera”.

Her opera protagonist is a Cinderella who is smart and who wrote a song.  The Prince heard and loved the song and searches the kingdom for the girl who can correctly finish the musical phrase he sings.

She considers electronic media a waste of time and that TV ruins the mind.  She also feels that it would interrupt her access to the music in her brain.

Alma is home-schooled. Her father has said that Alma had hoped she would learn to read on her first day at the local school and how frustrated she became. They quickly realised the limitations an ordinary school would impose on her immense gifts, but not just her abilities to play instruments, to sing and to compose.

“I learn here in one hour what would take five hours in school,” she says. She spends each morning practising violin or piano, listening to music or working on her compositions. She writes in notebooks or uses a Sibelius music software programme because it’s faster.

She paints, does ballet or goes to gym classes with other home-schooled children in the afternoons, leaving plenty of time to play, skip and twirl with her rope in the garden — the Deutschers have sensibly invested in bulk supplies of sparkly skipping ropes from Amazon.

Please enjoy her music for a few minutes.

Recently, James Taylor spoke about his need for “empty time.”

Every time I sit down and play, there’s a possibility that a chord change or a chord progression will become a song.

You get in a cage somewhere without any distractions. One of the things I found this time is that I actually need a week of defended empty time before lyrics really start to come through.

t used to be that I could find a place near my home, set up all my notebooks and recorders and my guitar, and work away from three hours before lunch and two hours after lunch, maybe take a long walk. Now I find I actually have to drive a couple of hours away from home and set up camp for a whole week, and after a couple of days, things start to flow.


Taylor says that a great deal gets done in “empty time.”

It turns the idea that smart people never get bored on its head.    Maybe we all need some boredom.





Daily Letters to Trump: Day 13


Trump and Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins was a New York socialite and opera singer who was known and mocked for her flamboyant performance and absence of singing ability. She was ranked as “the world’s worst opera singer”. “It was said that she had liberated herself “completely from the shackles of musical notation.” Her perfomances were “never exactly an aesthetic experience, or only to the degree that an early Christian among the lions provided aesthetic experience; it was chiefly immolatory, and Madame Jenkins was always eaten, in the end.”

Ira Siff, dubbed her “the anti-Callas”: said: “Jenkins was exquisitely bad, so bad that it added up to quite a good evening of theater … She would stray from the original music, and do insightful and instinctual things with her voice, but in a terribly distorted way. There was no end to the horribleness. Cole Porter rarely missed a recital, but it is said he had to bang his cane on the floor to keep from laughing. Whether Lady Jenkins was aware of her lack of talent is up for debate, but she became a beloved cult figure because of her authenticity and absoute delight for music.

President Elect has a love for performance and notariety as Lady Jenkins. This week on an appreciation tour we saw him re-enacting his greatest hits for loving audiences who chanted “lock her up.” He sang his disjointed and gloating aria for no other purpose than receiving applause. His lyrics in the style of a Southern Tupac:

We didn’t break it.
We shattered that sucker.
Shattered it, man.
That poor wall is busted up.
So, I’ll never forget it though
because it felt so good.
You know, more so
because they kept saying
there’s no path
and all this nonsense.

It’s one thing to be a syphilis riddled socialite parodying a diva in public. It’s quite another for the President Elect of the United States to become a diva parodying the office of the President on the world stage. And this is especially true because there is no mandate of a popular vote. The bitterness of the Clinton camp lingers and is becoming organized. And the President Elect’s childish refusal of State and Intelligence briefings reveals an unprecedented lack of concern for the future of the US.

This week my phone consistently rang with calls on how to do FOIA requests, how to file lawsuits, how to constitutionally stop the electors from voting for Trump, and how to protect the groups that were attacked in this campaign and even now. There are over 2.5 million people who opppose Trump and see the election as a disgrace.

The incompetence of accepting phone calls and Tweeting about how world leaders are paying homage, led to a rebuke by China. The 10 minute telephone call with Taiwan’s leadership breached the “one China” policy, and China lodged a diplomatic protest. In order to save face, China blamed the event on its scapegoat Taiwan which it considers a rogue province. China has not ruled out bringing Taiwan back into the fold by force. And when criticised about the call, the Tweet excuse was “they called me.” A deflection often employed by young children who don’t want to accept responsibiity for mistakes.

The President Elect lives in an all-enveloping delusion protected and nurtured by an inner circle of kept family and political gadabouts. It occurs as though the President Elect will be staging impulsive stunt shows in which he plays Lady Foster. Now that corporations know that they can extort tax breaks by threatening to move jobs to Mexico, how much corporate welfare policy has been created? Now that you are talking to Pakistan like a high school candidate for prom king, will you destabelize relations with India?

It’s time to stop pushing buttons like a three year old in an elevator – just to see what will happen.