Monday, August 30, 2010

Composing Music

Over the years I've often had people tell me they can't imagine how it is someone can go about composing music. It happened again here a few days ago when I was on a quick visit to my flute playing friend Susan up in Vermont and I got to socialize with some artists. In a wonderful conversation with a very accomplished and well established engraver, he said something along the lines of he could see how visual artists got going on a piece and worked it to completion, but where a composer even started was a mystery to him. His being an amateur player in a community symphony orchestra made the comment more striking.

I think part of what creates this wonderment is that very few people know the basic ingredients of music. In English classes you learn spelling and grammar and then build on that knowledge to understand literature. If English classes were like music classes, you'd be taught all the fine points of recitation of great literature without ever getting that grounding in the basics of how it's put together. 

The other thing that seems to daunt people about composing is seeing it all as one fell swoop, when it's actually a series of steps where various decisions about how to go forward are made. So I've got this idea of blogging the composition of a piece of music to see if that will help illuminate the process, at least as far as how I go about it. May well jinx the piece, but seems worth trying. It's working title will be Vermont Song and posts talking about it will begin with the abbreviation V.S.

This may help as well trying to figure out how to present some aspects of theory in a non-threatening way. I'm more and more convinced some familiarity with theory needs to be part of the learning materials from the get go. Having that knowledge baked in from the beginning seems to be a better route than trying to add it on after drilling technique and nothing else for years on end.


  1. I'd be interested to read about this. For all that I know lots about playing and interpreting music, the process of composing is pretty much a closed book to me.

  2. Jonathan - Thanks, as always, for that comment. I think I'm going to go through with this and will be curious to see if it helps some people break into composing. Right now going through what always seems hardest to me, i.e. clearing the decks of unfinished work and clearing the mind of other music.

    The other thing that's occurred to me is that by analyzing how I go about it, it may help me work more effectively in the future. Also, would like to think it can all be explained, but something may pop up that defies rational explanation. Whatever the outcome, should be fun to try.