Ah, young composers, and their amazingly long lines and fantastic ideas. wait...i'm one of those composers. lol
Had another meeting with my mentee. Man, this guy has quite the staggering mind. Honestly, anyway that takes on reading ancient philosophy (partly for class and partly because he wants to) and doing "a series of exercises using all 5 forms of species counterpoint, for multiple voices" without being in a theory class is quite astounding. I never had that kind of drive. prolly never will. lol.
Anyway, we were discussing his latest assignment, a clever piece of orchestrational fun. He is to take 4 different percussion parts, two of which must used pitched instruments at some point, and create some sort of theme. Then, develop the theme not through various pitch or rhythmic invention, but through timbre. Ah, orchestration.
Oh course, he came to me with big ideas. "he's my rhythmic ideas. i think i'l use just one." there were three, and, from my basic guess, each one was about 6 or 7 measures long. Yeah a bit long. He drew out his ideas for the melody and accompanying gestures graphically (a fun way to work, i think). and went to elaborate on his ideas.
After awhile, a smile crept over my face. How many times have i done this exact thing! Here's my idea, here are 20 other ideas, each one quite long. and wonderful. and, i will say, his patterns were quite interesting. and his ideas on the melody were interesting...but...
When is there too much? it's a big question i think. I tried to lead him toward making a decision on one line to follow. Then, i offered the simple advice "do a bit less, work within the confines of the idea, and keep it simple."
I think one of the biggest challenges in composition is limiting oneself. It's easy to come up with great ideas...well...easier to come up with great ideas than start with one and turn it into something more. This invention, this development of idea is what separates the greats, ranging through time, from the wannabes. It's why we remember Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schoenberg. they new how to do more with a little.
And it's something i struggle with everyday i composer. My last piece, 6 Pieces After Basho, was a giant exercise in restraint. I had limited resources (not quite a full band instrumentation), limited abilities (it was for a HS band playing right around grade 3 literature, not a "dream group."), and decided to limit myself in time (each movement being 1 minute, except the last which went 2, but it's really in two 1 minute parts) and in content (working mainly with 0 2 5, 0 1 5, and 0 2 7 trichords, mostly in inversion). and, honestly, i'm not sure each movement does stand alone perfectly. However, as a whole, the piece, i think, is pretty successful. Maybe not a masterwork, but a pretty good piece. Restraint does wonderful things. And figuring out invention using limited materials can really lead to great things.
My mentee is a quick learner...I pointed out that his first rhythmic idea can really be broken down into two separate ideas, and the rest of it is based almost fully on it. He wasn't sure what i meant, but i illustrated that the first two groupings (3 3 2 and 3 2 2) really made up the whole line (i believe it was 3 3 2 3 2 2 2 3 3 3 2 2 2, though this was about 8 hours ago he showed it to me). So, take the basic units, 3+3+2 and 3+2+2 and create the ideas out of that.
Then, we came to the big part. The professor had given two pages of a piece he had written for percussion quartet as an illustration. I pointed out one other thing. "ya know, it seems like you're thinking of continuous rhythm and lines...what about silence?" we started talking about this and that, and he told me a story about his marching band days when, while playing in the pit (he plays bassoon, which is conducive to marching band. i should tell him about the bassoon solo i once saw in a marching band competition...). they were doing music from Wizard of Oz and the first song was Over the Rainbow (of course). afterwards there was silence, then...BOOM, the percussion erupt into the tornado! He said everyone was surprised and he got a reputation for being the guy that leapt into the air at the gong and really beat the heck outta it.
And i smiled...and looked at him, and said "why was it effective?" and he laughed. "Oh wow, and we came back to it! Because it came from nothing!"
exactly! Silence is a large part of music, and something that is easy to forget about. There doesn't need to be constant motion. in fact, constant motion can wear down the ears. it creates expectation of sound. and music is at least in part playing with expectations. I could go on and on regarding this topic, as it's an interesting psychological/philosophical discussion in what we get out of music, but, suffice it to say, that when you know what's going to happen, every time, it can get boring. When you never know what's going to happen, you're going to stop paying attention. It's about finding the middle ground, fulfilling and denying expectation
and, on that note, i'm going to sleep. "lessons" are a lot of fun, especially since it happens in the afternoon on a day i don't have anything, so we just kinda sit around and talk till we're tired of talking. It generally seems to go a couple hours. lol. maybe not always productive time, but, i guess as long as we're both learning, then it is productive, on some level. Ah, sleep
Oh yeah, i finished my meta-sonnet. I shall post it and a discussion of it later...