The Road Ahead is Long, But Beautiful!

Yesterday I left my morning meeting with Patrick Valentino, my music composition instructor, and (after completing a few errands around town) re-attacked my latest music project. I had a few new ideas for the road ahead. Things looked promising. After completing in less than half an hour one task that had bedeviled me for almost a month, my optimism proved to be appropriate. I can safely predict that The Brass Variations will be complete and published here in less than a week. Watch this space! (Actually, I worked much of today on it, and it may be just a few more days!)

A brief exchange with my older brother, Christopher, produced a shared observation — people our age should be so lucky as to be this productive (and, in all modesty, creative!). My brother is on a related (if different) retirement path, with several CDs of new songwriting material produced in the last several years (see for more). He reminded me that many of us at this stage of our lives aren’t rising in the morning to accomplish brand-new, interesting, unusual things. I consider myself unbelievably lucky. As I’ve observed previously, my path is redefining who I am: an active composer for a wide range of performance ensembles — a definition I’ve assembled only in the last few years, as I pass well into my 70s. How could this be? Who cares! I’m incredibly happy!

The journey requires that I consciously and deliberately learn some new tricks.

  • You have to write in time for that tuba to place and remove a huge physical object — a straight mute — from its bell. (In my software, it’s just a switch. In real life, not so much!)
  • I must map out how a musical passage can make the mathematical trip from one key to another, in a specified timespan.
  • And, of course, I’m leveraging complex software to “write” notes reflecting unusual musical ideas…

…amongst lots of other things. But some parts of the journey happen almost completely in the dark:

  • Almost by trial-and-error, I build chords which avoid certain simplistic harmonic sounds while still being listenable.
  • Through pure unconscious memory, I often almost accidentally reuse thematic material later in a piece. (This is frequently a good thing — my “Variations” benefit greatly!).
  • I frequently play back ideas I’ve stumbled upon until they’re attractive, or lead somewhere that is…

As any accomplished artist will tell you, creating art isn’t all just conscious design and technical construction. Art is, in no small part, accidental and messy, and that is a significant part of its beauty. Hence, although I’ve spent several years as a Donovan Scholar student at the University of Kentucky (re)studying music theory based on Western music traditions, I can’t say I’ve applied that knowledge consistently or deliberately here. As I’ve often said, the goal of my studies was (is!) to develop my musical ear, and allow it to guide my work however it can — systematically, or blindly! After completing five compositions representing 11 separate movements (not to mention 6 variations in my latest project!) I am beginning to say I have a style. My compositions are showing the development of tonal, rhythmic, and thematic characteristics that I can call my own.

Here’s hoping that your own journey is long, beautiful, and self-satisfying. I do hope that my work provides pleasure and learning experiences for others, but even if the count of those followers is in single digits, I am content. I will have had enough.

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