Ganja The Musicmaker by "Herb Garden"
Graduating from Harvard while smoking daily, this composer attributes any deficits in his prolific musical creativity to not going to Yale.
I am 41 years old. I smoke a small amount of high-quality marijuana every day, and have done so for about 23 years, with a few break periods thrown in. I offer the following description of my life not as a boast, but rather to show that I am not a ‘slacker burn-out pot-head’:
I write classical music for a living, and am rather successful at it. My music is frequently performed in the United States by the best musicians. I have an excellent marriage of 14 years, and an organized and responsible financial life. [Not much money, though!]. I got a Ph.D. From Harvard in record time [3 1/2 years], and have won many prizes and awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship. I am active in charity work. I am in very good health: thin, I exercise every day, and I eat a balanced, considered diet. I read a great deal, and study science topics as a layman. I recently had an MRI of my brain [as part of the diagnosis of a now-resolved medical problem]. A neuroradiologist friend who read the MRI said that my brain was in unusually good shape for my age, as healthy as can be. He does not know about my pot smoking.
I began to smoke marijuana regularly because I liked it a lot. I simply enjoyed the light feeling of intoxication and fantasy. Later on, I found that it helps in my work as a composer of classical music, but at first it was really just recreational for me. There is one important exception: anger and temper problems. These problems run in my family. The men on my father’s side, including me, are given to violent, sometimes physical outbursts of temper, at times with no cause. Smoking marijuana has removed this problem from my life. It is hard to get angry when you are stoned. I get an equal amount of help from my daily 20-30 minute meditation.
I was always very careful not to compose my music high. It seemed obvious that it wouldn’t work, and when I tried it, it didn’t. Then one year I went to a very prestigious music retreat, and found that many of the best composers there did in fact work stoned, from time to time. Once again, I tried it a little and liked it. I used to make a notation if an idea was conceived while high. I would look at it when straight, and it was often a good idea. Since that time I have become more and more relaxed about working this way, and will compose stoned if it seems right to me for that specific situation.
Sometimes, although I feel like smoking, I hold off from it for several hours, just to see what will happen. Sometimes, inspiration does not strike for quite some time, and eventually I decide that the workday is over. I celebrate by smoking a little herb. Moments after I smoke, I suddenly become very busy, and I often create something very good. Of course it is hard to know objectively if a given passage of music is good, but these ‘stoned’ passages are often the favorite passages of audiences and critics. I am often glad that I did not smoke until I was ready.’
On the other hand, marijuana seems strongly contraindicated for certain composing problems. Whether or not smoking pot will help is a matter of my intuition. Sometimes that intuition is wrong. But I have certainly written some of my best music under the influence of marijuana. Electronic music in particular, which in my style of working is very spontaneous and depends on noticing transient details and seizing the moment, seems to profit from it the most. Only certain kinds of musical activities work well while I am high:
Things that go well while high: electronic music, basic concepts of new pieces, details of orchestration, playing well-studied familiar pieces, improvisations of two minutes or less.
Things that go poorly: complex counterpoint, pulling together of the whole project, sight-reading unfamiliar music, solving technical computer problems, memorizing.
When I need more money than composing can provide, I do computer music engraving. This is highly technical and detailed work. It involves looking at the hand-written pages of some composer’s brand new orchestral piece, and getting it into the computer, using the computer keyboard, music keyboard, and mouse. Once in the computer, it must be turned into an accurate and readable score. This process provides the printed music for all the musicians in the orchestra. I have lots of objective evidence, based on my customer’s corrections, that I do this more accurately when high. I have done 95% of my engraving work high. Please don’t tell my customers!
I try to avoid being high for emotionally important events. I would not want to have a serious talk with my wife while high, nor go to a wedding or funeral. I don’t like to be high when I am sad or serious. I probably was high when I decided to go to Harvard, and I often regret that decision!!! [Yale had a better music school]
I don’t use any other recreational drugs, with the rare exception of psilocybin every year or two. Alcohol has for several years made me violently ill, even in milligram doses. I vomit until I get dry heaves, and have a devastating migraine, so I try to avoid it. But even apart from that I think it is a horrid drug. It makes people violent and thoughtless and dangerous. It is very damaging to the body. I don’t think drugs should be illegal, but if one drug were to be made illegal, it should be alcohol. Of course we all know where that led. Tens of thousands of people in jail, violence in the streets, organized crime, huge waste of tax dollars …. just like today with marijuana’s illegal status. Imagine if tobacco were made illegal. People would descend to savage depths as yet unknown!