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It hadn’t occurred to me until this morning but there are two (at least) approaches to writing music. You can sit down and write something specific — perhaps a commissioned work, where you know the forces (ie. piccolo, tuba, and basset horn!), timing, and premiere date (“Hmm, I really need to write this because the first rehearsal is Tuesday”) — or maybe, like I did this morning, you simply sit down, write, and wonder what it is that you’ve just done.

You see, despite economic evidence to the contrary, these are luxurious times. Because right now business and writing have combined in a perfect storm of relaxed productivity. For one, the work of attempting to put a bullet in the 2007-8 season (requesting missing programs, listing performances for ASCAP, sending out CDs and scores of the new works, shelving returned rental sets….) moves along at an acceptable and non-time-framed (and therefore non-stressful) pace. Combine that with the fact that the upcoming writing schedule is amorphous and unconfirmed (at best), and the result is that when I sit down to write, instead of scratching away at fulfilling a specific piece, I find myself simply writing something, and then musing about whether any of it might want to be one of my varied personal projects.

Huh. This is kind of a good progression. What is this? Is this the Act I soprano aria from the opera? Maybe it’s the slow movement to the multi-mvt work I’ve been pitching. Whatever–it all goes into the moleskin, and it’s all surrounded by lovely question-marks.

This is quite liberating. I find myself being surprised by my decisions of what might fit where–often giddy with the idea that I’ve made the most un-obvious choice. Seems like this goes in a choral piece, right? Hah! Like fun. What if it was actually a percussion ensemble? Well, this amuses me, at least.

This sort of thing happens while writing a specific piece, all the time, of course. You go along for weeks, writing what you think is your string quartet, eventually coming to the horrible realization that it’s actually for guitar and flute (or whatever). That’s no fun at ALL.

Obviously, if I was teaching a student who was playing around with this particular exercise, I would advise to proceed with caution. The craft of writing idiomatically for specific instruments/forces is an essential tool, and I’d be the first one to point out that, at least I’ve found, music tends to come out best when you’re thinking about the specific ensemble you’re writing for. You should probably be writing different notes, different voicings, different registers, even different rhythms for (say) orchestra than you would for (say) wind ensemble. (Thaaaaat’s right, I said it. Not everything works in transcription, people. Sometimes the giraffe doesn’t fit in that doggie bed. Or whatever.) That’s not to say you can’t do it, and there’s certainly a long and glorious tradition of re-appropriating music written for one kind of ensemble into some completely different Other (I’m lookin’ at you, Mr. Stravinsky) – a tradition to which I have proudly contributed.

What I’m talking about is slightly different, though. I’m not using my bag of crafty tricks in order to Make It Work. It’s more like … dreaming. This is making something musical, and then conjuring up its realization. It’s not going to work forever, but for right now it’s awfully fun.

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One Comment

  1. jim

    Hmm, interesting – it’ll be interesting to see where this material ends up!

    Posted on 13-Jul-08 at 8:34 AM | Permalink

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