Letters from the Muse Room #34 (July 2022)

The “Muse Room” is the room in my house where I make music and my wife makes visual art. Published the first Friday of every other month (or the last Friday of the month, in this particular case, since I’m very late getting it out this month!), each issue of Letters from the Muse Room includes news and updates about my music, as well as something that has inspired me creatively over the past two months.

Dear friends,

Forgive my tardiness on this month’s Letter. It’s hard to believe July is almost over! After a busy month of June at work, a fun cross-country vacation with my family and then a couple of busy weeks after getting back, I suddenly look up and wonder where summer has gone.

But I really enjoyed the vacation. It was our first big road trip with the kids (15 hours each way!) but they did great and we enjoyed seeing my parents in central Virginia.

[Deer in my parents’ front yard.] Four deer in my parents’ front yard.

[A double rainbow and cars in the rain.] Double rainbow!

(More on the vacation below, in the inspiration section.)

In the Muse Room the last couple of months, I’ve been studying aspects of contemporary melody and harmony in a deeper and more analytical dive than I’ve probably ever done. Not a whole lot to share there, though I do feel I’m becoming a better composer.

My other main Muse Room project since returning from our vacation has been working on some preludes. At the church where I’m the music director, a pianist (often me but sometimes others) starts off the service with a short prelude, around 3 minutes. I’ve been compiling and arranging some original preludes that I’m using for this purpose.

[Me playing a prelude at church, with my daughter making a cameo in the front row.]

I’m drawing a lot of the preludes from music I’ve written in the past. There’s one based on an early draft of the melody from Rainlight, one based on a piece I wrote back in 2005, and one based on a prelude that I improvised on a new melody I wrote for the hymn “Just As I Am.” The latest one is based on a string quartet I wrote in 2012. The string quartet never saw the light of day, but the music is getting new life as a piano prelude. You can listen to it here: https://www.ajharbison.com/wp-content/uploads/pianoprelude.mp3.


I’ve written before about how goal-setting every year is inspiring for me. I get excited about new things I want to do to become better — a better person, a better composer. Setting goals is very energizing for me.

[A Moleskine notebook and stickers, for setting goals.]

But, as with all energizing things, after a while the energy wears off and my pursuit of my goals falls by the wayside.

But something my wife and I have wanted to do for a while is a goal re-evaluation retreat — taking some time in the middle of the year to revisit our goals, assess our progress, and make adjustments if needed. We got to do it on our vacation, out on my parents’ back porch.

[My parents’ back porch. It was hot and humid but still fun.]

It was a wonderful exercise for me. I didn’t make any huge adjustments. But I did think about some slight realignments, some new short-term goals that would help me get to my larger goals. And it re-energized me to the point where I was excited to jump back in to some things (like working out) that I’d fallen out of the habit of doing. If you’re a goal-setter, I highly recommend re-evaluating at least once a year. My wife and I are planning to do another re-evaluation in the fall.

I hope to have some exciting news to share next month — revealing the identity of the orchestra piece I’ve been writing about. Stay tuned!

AJ Harbison

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