Sunday, February 20, 2011

Narratives and Enactments

Here a couple of weeks ago Craig, an oboe playing friend from conservatory days, commented on Facebook how much he was enjoying a piece with a 5/4 time signature. I sent him a email talking about how much I enjoy irregular rhythms and included links to The Sashay and Timepiece. He asked for the music to The Sashay (and a midi file, which I had to figure out how to do). He's liking The Sashay enough to work on it and send me mp3 files of each version he's recorded with his oboe, adding some hand percussion, a bass, and tweaking the midi harp playback.

For one thing, he's a wonderful oboeist and I'm having a similar response to the one I had hearing The St Clements Wind Ensemble play Timepiece. Really good players take notes I've written and bring out depths of musicality I simply was unable to even imagine before hearing them.

Another thing that strikes me is that the piece is really holding up with the different instrumentation. I can't wait to compare it to what Susan and Carol do with it, but I'm pretty sure the evoked feelings will be different, though with some overlap. I'm enough of a chauvinist to think two Louisiana ladies with flute and harp are going to excel at evoking the flirtatious movements and banter that was in the back of my mind when I wrote it for them and that I hope is gesturally embedded in the music. 

They have also been steered in that direction because of my having long conversations with Susan detailing what I was thinking at various measures along the way. She suggested I do a post of all those mental visuals that helped me compose the music, but I didn't, and Craig's work is helping me understand my reluctance.

Sometime back I linked to a post of Kyle Gann's where he said he thought of his music scores as lines for a play, that different players and groups of players would perform them differently, just as plays are performed/produced differently. I agree with that wholeheartedly. My feeling is that if when composing music I make it coherent enough for me to feel a musical narrative run from measure to measure, then players will be able to sense that narrative in their own way and enact it convincingly, even if their sense of the narrative is different from mine.

And that's what Craig has done. His take on The Sashay is exceptionally dance-like, and I think because of his amazingly textured oboe sound combining with the unusual rhythms there's an Armenian, near Eastern, Scheherazade feel to what he's doing. He keeps sending updated mp3s that clean up various things, but here soon I hope to do one of those simple YouTube embed posts with the audio as it stands now. Then blog readers can decide for themselves whether there's a convincing narrative and what a particular enactment does with it.

One of the things I most enjoyed back when I had the private practice in San Antonio was the yearly recitals with various clients playing various instruments. There were always a few piano players and I always had all of them play one piece in common with the others, along with the things only they were doing. Hearing different players present their individual enactments of  the same piece was always a wonderful illustration of just how expressive of our personalities making music can be.

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