Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Composer's Diary

Following up on these two previous posts, I've had a chance to talk with three of the people who told me they found my music very moving - a cousin who is practically a brother, a nephew-in-law, and a close friend from college days (50 years ago!). They all listen to a lot of music, but as a rule, not a lot of "classical" music.

Two used the word "accessible" in describing my music, and that's about the highest compliment I can get, as that's probably the number one thing I'm going for when writing music. In music therapy step one is engaging the client. If you don't get that done, nothing else you do matters. So in composing I want the music to be something the audience can immediately enjoy and be interested in, which is just another way of saying "accessible".

They all mentioned the fact that their knowing me had a big effect. One said he thought that knowing I was the one who wrote the music got him to listen more closely than he might have. Another said it was the fact that he knew someone who could compose music like that was what moved him even more than the music itself.

Other feedback which is interesting is that the second movement of one piece is a total standout of all I've written. It was written for a friend who witnessed the firebombing of Dresden as a small child, and is one of the few things I've written that was meant to convey a particular feeling, in this case that of a lament or requiem. What's interesting is that while she feels it does that wonderfully well, my cousin, who has bird dogs that move with incredible fluidity and grace, said in reference to that movement, "I had visions of my beloved dogs coursing gracefully across the Montana prairie, with your music as the backdrop."

So to sum up - even though I wrote the music, and performed a lot of it, and then talked to people I'm close to about how it affected them - I'm still baffled as to how and why it creates the reactions it does.

I know that when I hear a piece of my music played for other people the first time, I have the sensation of being in a waking dream and wondering if others sense just how revealing it is of my inner self. Then over time, I can't believe I wrote it and it seems to have a life of its own apart from me.

The best I can come up with for what's going in is that I rely nearly completely on my intuition when composing, and that when things work well, the music triggers intuitive reactions in the listeners, and that those reactions can have little to do with my intentions and/or the reactions of others.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Music Room Christmas

This past Thursday evening we had a small gathering at the Music Room to run through some Christmas tunes from a book I've put together containing 31 songs in four part harmony with the guitar chords as well. Each instrument's book has all four parts transposed into its range. The soprano recorder would rarely play the tenor line, for instance, but it's there in case there are lots of instruments and it could double it one time through for variety. The guitar chords allow for higher pitched instruments to softly play the tonic (or third or fifth) while a lower sounding instrument has the lead. The guitar chords also allow for improv pros to add their jazz magic to the tunes.

One aim of the Music Room is to foster community socially as well as musically, so our hostess Karla provided lots of refreshments for when we weren't playing and were getting to know each other better.

We invited the Kenwood Players, the Kenwood Fun Band, and the Rapidan Pops, as well as friends and family of mine who have supported me musically down through the years. In the event well over a dozen people couldn't make it, but we had a quorum and had a good time.

The Music Room isn't really ready yet. All the dry wall still needs to be done for the new handicap access bathrooms, and until that dust has settled we don't want to bring in the carpets and drapes needed to dampen the sound. The people sitting out front said the sound was OK, but for the musicians it was sort of like those barbershop mirrors with infinite reflections bouncing off all those bare surfaces - keeping the beat unified was a challenge, but we did it.

We'd like to think this will be an annual Music Room event - and that by next year we'll have improved the acoustics and that we'll be able to be open to the public.

Many thanks to cousin-in-law Ed who took these pictures - and whose expertise in non-profits due to his work with The Art Center in Orange and the Virginians for the Arts has proved invaluable.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Roger Sessions on Gesture

Around the time I wrote this post on some audience members telling me they were deeply moved by music I've written, I came across this post of Elaine Fine's over on her blog Musical Assumptions In Sessions' book The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener he writes:

I believe that music "expresses" something very definite, and that it expresses it in the most precise way. In embodying movement, in the most subtle and most delicate manner possible, it communicates the attitudes inherent in, and implied by, that movement; its speed, its energy, its élan or impulse, its tenseness or relaxation, its agitation or its tranquility, its decisiveness or its hesitation. It communicates in a marvelously vivid and exact way the dynamics and the abstract qualities of emotion, but any specific emotional content the composer wishes to give to it must be furnished, as it were, from without, by means of an associative program. Music not only "expresses" movement, but embodies, defines, and qualifies it. Each musical phrase is a unique gesture and through the cumulative effect of such gestures we gain a clear sense of a quality of feeling behind them. But unless the composer directs our associations along definite lines, as composers of all times, to be sure, have frequently done, it will be the individual imagination of the listener, and not the music itself, which defines the emotion. What the music does is to animate the emotion; the music, in other words, develops and moves on a level that is essentially below the level of conscious emotion. Its realm is that of emotional energy rather than that of emotion in the specific sense.

I've always thought that one way music "touches" us is that it is in part physical gesture made audible. Sessions' point elaborates this in a way I hadn't really thought of. The way I take it is that a successful musical gesture is a sort of mini-archetype of an emotion that allows the listener to re-experience and/or to more fully experience an emotion in the moment the music is made, and in such a way that the feeling lingers. 

This goes a good way towards explaining how others feel emotions in my music I didn't consciously put there. If the music is well made, the gestures in it will elicit emotions in audience members that are specific to each person; and the better made the gestures are, the stronger the emotions.

One way of thinking about it is that a piece of music is like the script to a play, and each audience member casts and directs his/her own production of that play in their imagination, and no two of those productions will be exactly alike. In Swafford's new biography of Beethoven he mentions that Beethoven often had a plot line of his own for pieces of his music, but he never shared them with others, so that they could imagine/feel their own.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Restful Time

This video is the best matching of slow music and visuals I've ever come across. For full screen go here and click at the bottom right.