DOAC 11.23.11 – Every Time the First Time
I’m back from a really refreshing trip to Oregon where, incidentally, I got married. This isn’t a blog about me so much as it is about the music, so I won’t really go into it, though there is a lot I could say. It was a beautiful, memorable time, and beyond that you’ll have to ask me about it if you want to know more!
I’ve gotten back into working on the piece as soon as I was caught up on email and other business. Coming home to over 100 emails in your inbox gives a guy a certain feeling. Its nice to hear back from people, but….ugh.
As it stands now, the piece has a first movement pretty much done and a second (or perhaps not second) movement about halfway done. I’ve been building up my composition muscles with the aid of an alarm on my watch. I generally the set alarm for an hour (or less if I’m feeling particularly jumpy or am short on time.) and then work for that hour and then take a break. Breaks generally include emails, stretching, tea or coffee making, exercise (when I’m feeling especially ambitious. I notice a positive difference in my mental and physical state when I do, but then, we all don’t need to be told this right? My gym teachers were all so smart!) and often some serious cat petting. This technique helps to give some structure to an otherwise daunting day: Let’s say you have four hours to work, so if you start in planning on going the whole four hours basically in the same direction I find that I get bogged down and distracted pretty easily. An hour is a manageable time that I’m not completely drained by, but also isn’t quite enough time to make a serious dent in a piece, so it is helpful in encouraging myself to put another hour on the clock and going for it.
Another thing I’ve been doing is beginning every session by listening to another composer’s music that I admire. Lately I’ve been gravitating very heavily towards Stravinsky, especially his Symponies of Wind Instruments. This is a beautiful and complex work, worth listening to over and over again. The way he brings in a texture, and then switches to another, is so inventive and communicative. Stravinsky is so interested in his material, in the texture itself. The piece is a succession of these textures, focusing on just a few ideas, and just doing them a bit different each time. There is no sense of narrative and no sense of lyricism, just an intense interest in the idea of working through these textures in a new way each time.
Other recent inspirational sources: Merce Cunningham, Bach, Bartok and Dave Douglas’ new Bad Mango album with So Percussion. I’m sure little bits of many of these sources will make an appearance in my piece. Things cycle in and out of my awareness as my life changes, or just my mood, and I think this same principle is at work in my writing. I come back to a piece on a later day and the way I write changes, so the piece comes out a bit different.
As I was looking over a finished piece I wrote for saxophonist Kim Reece, (more on this later!) I noticed it had slight (and sometime not-so-slight) differences in how I approached the main idea of the piece in each of the sections. I wrote basically the same section many times, going a bit further each time and adding some other complications here and there, but I noticed that each section had some things in common, but really was quite different from the section before, even though I tried to write fairly consistently in terms of technique. This doesn’t bother me at all now, but it did when I first noticed it.
I suppose it bothered me because I, like most people, assume that I know should know everything there is to know about a piece that I wrote. The truth is that I don’t. Perhaps I’m just a sloppy composer. I won’t argue too hard against that. I prefer to just let the piece happen rather than trying to follow a prescribed plan, even when I’ve spent a lot of time developing that plan or the practice of making plans in general, i.e. 6 years of music school. So, I try to approach every piece from as fresh a perspective as possible, and surprisingly, it takes practice.
Paul Motian, the great jazz drummer who passed today, sounded in his later years like a musician who was trying to make it sound like every time he played the drums was the first time. Perhaps that is what I’m trying to do, let’s not talk about it too much though, we might ruin it!
Today went well, I wrote many notes on my paper. I think that today I clearly won against music.