THE PROCESS, #4: Where?

[This blog entry is the fifth of a series on my work here — the process of deciding, doing, and promoting my music compositions. To see all of my “Process” postings, click “Process” next to “Tagged” at left.]

As mentioned in my last post, “Where?” will also include the “who” of performers (see “Who?” for audience). But I begin with the true meaning of “where,” as in “location.” To that end, I’ll start globally, and move locally. As always, it should make sense at the end…or it won’t, but hopefully it’ll have been fun getting there!

I am a product of North America, specifically traditional US public education plus a variety of post-secondary pursuits and degrees here. My music interests are pretty solidly Western European, the focus of much of the studies in American universities. (I also should mention the substantial influence of my parents, who were deeply committed to that musical tradition.) There are lots of heated discussions about whether this is appropriate — can a career in music theory and composition properly ignore very pervasive musical traditions in places like India, China, Africa, to name a few? Well, no, but beyond peripheral exposure to such, I most certainly can. This is the luxury of being a retired math teacher pursuing my own interests late in life. I do listen to, and enjoy, a lot of musical styles, but there’s not much chance that exposure will become internalized through theoretical analysis, and hence appear whole-cloth in my work. I only have a limited time on this planet, and I’ve consciously decided to learn and pursue a small enough piece of it to make finishing works and promoting them fit that timeline.

So the meta “where” is in the Western European musical tradition. That means I’m writing for instruments that were well-known to composers nearly four centuries ago in Germany, Italy, France, and Great Britain. And I’m ignoring instruments and ensembles that include sitars, ocarinas, kotos, even electric guitars and synthesizers. I’m guilty of leveraging Irish jigs and other ethno-music, but it is not uncommon for such things to wander into traditional Western European music.

Quite frankly, I’m not listening to a LOT of music right now as I try to keep my brain reasonably uncluttered for creative purposes. That might be misguided, even chauvinistic, but lines have to be drawn somewhere! (Besides, I think the scope of music to which I listen and am drawn to is much broader than that of most North Americans. We aren’t known for our catholic [that is, “…including a wide variety of things; all-embracing…”] musical tastes!)

As for the local “where” in this discussion, my music lives in three places: 1) on this website, 2) in a player’s studio or other personal space, and/or 3) in a performance venue. I will always “publish” music exports here, and for much of my work, that may be as far as it will go. The other two require the participation of performers skilled enough to handle the demands of my compositions. But more importantly, they have to be willing and interested! So far only Dr. Gary Anderson (conductor of the Lexington Chamber Chorale) has gone far enough to embrace #3 above. Below is a picture of Margaret and Benjamin Karp, who, with the help of two graduate students, were willing to do #2, a read of my string quartet a year and a half ago. (They did so over a single weekend, in their living room, with an iPad providing the recording. I would have posted the results here, but they specifically asked that I not.) I also have a commitment from another ensemble to read my Brass Variations.

It’s also possible to pay players to record my music, and I’m in the process of negotiating with an ensemble on the freelance service site Fiverr. But, needless to say, that’s not ideal, beyond the fact that it costs money. Obviously, it gives me pleasure hearing actual musicians playing my notes, but it doesn’t really address “where” in a meaningful way, since such a performance would be enclosed in the confines of this website, and nowhere else, just as my software exports are. To be meaningful as musical expression, there needs to be a “where” that is defined by a community supporting new musical expression, even if that community is the living room of local musicians!

And, as a possible member of such a community, my “where” needs to include you! If you’ve read this far, you are at least interested. If so, please make your presence known by leaving a comment below, or at least “liking” the Facebook posting that got you here (if that was how). I’d love to hear from you!

[A side note — I should have a portion of my latest — “Je danse, J’apprends” — exported in the next week or so. Will let you know!]

2 thoughts on “THE PROCESS, #4: Where?

  1. Greg says:

    Like you and almost everyone you know, my musical tastes are rooted in Western European musical tradition and its exported North American variants. But you have a gift for stretching that tradition. So, do you think it would work to compose a piece in the western tradition but include an improvisational component with an instrument like the ones you mentioned (sitar, ocarina, koto, or even bendir)? Of course, it’s hard to find local musicians who play non-western instruments like those proficiently. But by making it improvisational, you could “insert” whatever non-western instrument is available.

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    1. jjonesdtrt4422 says:

      Interesting idea. There was a time when improvisation (embellishment, cadenzas) was a part of our shared musical tradition. Then, of course, there’s jazz. The problem I have is that, in order to make a space for any instrument (non-traditional or otherwise), one has to gain some understanding of its abilities — range, expressiveness, physical performance issues, etc. That, of course, has been part of my learning goals as a composer. This past fall I had to learn about trombone and tuba. Currently I’m learning about the snare drum, concert toms, the marimba. Ceding the responsibilities to an improvising performer might help, but enough for me to provide a meaningful place for such instruments in a composition? Again, it’s an interesting idea. 😉

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