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"Influence" versus "inspiration"

I've noticed a change where more of my composer friends are making distinctions between the two words, influence and inspiration. Some time before this -- I'm not sure how long now -- I used to remark that the word "inspiration" was being thrown about very lightly, and for everything, that it seemed to lose its meaning, its flavour.

So I started making a distinction between these two words, and it has helped me understand my own outlook towards music appreciation better. Here, let me break it down below--

What "inspiration" means, especially to me

"Inspiration" has so many meanings in the dictionary, it's hard to pick out one. (Side note, y'all can rib me in the comments for this, I used Wiktionary. ^_^;)

When a word has so many meanings, I try to interpret it as several of these meanings at once.

Inspiration, according to its Latin origins, is inbreathing.

It is excitement.

It is the instillation of something into someone.

And this is why I tend to not use that word lightly. The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word "inspiration" is a breath of fresh air.

Have you ever felt a quickening in your blood, a sense of mental clarity, a shudder of excitement upon seeing or hearing something? That you can't help but smile at the sheer beauty of what you have just seen or heard? That you feel that the spirit and intentions of the work are flowing straight into you and you're about to overflow?

This is a drawing of me playing the bodhrán barehanded, surrounded by what looks like the vastness of space. It's a surrealist drawing: I'm on what looks like water on the ground, causing ripples with my feet, and it reflects the stars, but there's no clear boundary where it ends and where the sky begins. The sky is full of stars and northern lights. There are white light flares encircling me as I play. To the right of me is my tilted triquetra symbol, and a monogram I designed for the title of this song, "The Drummer's Prayer." The monogram is a small t, small d, and small p fused into one character.
I know this is the sleeve cover for the next thing I'm working on, but I think it depicts "inspiration" pretty well!

That, to me, is inspiration. It is a truly rare and beautiful feeling, one which I get only for a select few pieces out there. This is what I mean when I say that for me, inspiration is hard to come by.

In that same vein, if someone by some stroke of luck refers to me as an inspiration, I would be moved to compassion and tears, because I would understand it like this: something of mine gave them that feeling of sheer delight, inbreathing, and excitement, and planted seeds that helped them to make things of their own.

Then what about other things and other people?

I have taken leaves from several proverbial books. Being a composer, a drummer, a pianist, an organist, and a chorister (among other things), I've listened to a wide variety of musical styles and I've picked up things by osmosis. The same with the amount of video games I've played, especially for the Nintendo Entertainment System and the PlayStation 2.

But I've not necessarily felt that quickening feeling. For most things, it's just a question of, "yeah, I can do it too. Because I can."

That is a thing that I call influence.

I have had many influences over the years. Primary influences of mine -- artists and groups I've listened to plenty over the years -- include the likes of Enya, Mylene Farmer, Akiko Shikata, Kokia, Josh Mancell and Larry Hopkins, Margaret Rizza, Christopher Walker, Stephen Dean, Mike Oldfield, Evelyn Glennie, Domingo Cura, Gene Krupa, Kodo, and Ondekoza. Some of them and their works have been outright inspirations, but when grouping them together, I collectively refer to them as influences on my music.

Why distinguish the two if both of them have an effect on your music?

Simple. I don't want to cheapen the feelings that I get when certain works of art or certain ideas truly resonate with me.

For me, it's not a question of "if you're an influence, you're lesser," because if you're an influence, you have doubtless had an impact on my music and the person I am. That's no small task. And yes, I know we learn by osmosis, but let us never underestimate what that osmosis can do.

I used to say to some of my friends, "how can I be inspired by a talented person who has had every opportunity under the sun, and doesn't have the humility to admit as much?" How indeed!

It's a humility that I have built up over the years. It is a humility that my composer friends have built up over the years. We continue to remind ourselves about that fact; it keeps us grounded. To me, an inspiration is someone who not only breaks ground, but is humble about where they've come from and what position they're in, and opens the door for others less fortunate than themselves to achieve the same things. And if they cannot, they at least aspire to do so, with their words and their actions and their craft. They are also in touch with their emotions, and the emotions and thoughts of others, and as such, are mindful and respectful when speaking with others.

It is not just their craft that breaks ground -- it is what they do with the renown from it.

And that's why inspirations are so few and far between for me. But they are there.

One final note to my friends before I end off this post: a good number of you are among my inspirations, far more than established household figures in music. I feel you all know who you are; you have my thanks.

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