Free Association

Now that finals and juries and recitals are all over, I can return to being a composer for a little while. I’m finishing up a little song set right now, and then my next project is this commission for a consortium of 7 bands in Fairfax County, Virginia (coordinated by the fantastic Doug Martin). The piece technically isn’t due until March (premiere(s) is (are) late next spring), but I’m the music director for 2 musicals, rehearsals in February and March, respectively, so I’m trying to write it now instead of frying myself then.

I was asked if I would do some blog posts about the piece as I went along, so this is my first shot at trying to let you inside the process. I’m sure my “inspiration” process isn’t much different from other composers, but it’s interesting for me to lay it all out on paper. The planning stage of a piece for me relies heavily on a kind of free association. It starts with a very small idea, and then keeps turning and growing into something completely different. So, here’s a kind of outline for what I am thinking about the piece so far. (It’s usually not so linear, but I’m too lazy to draw a web.)

The commissioning parties asked for a concert opener that ended with a bang, not a whimper.

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Obviously, The Hollow Men

This is the way the world ends,

This is the way the world ends,

This is the way the world ends,

Not with a bang but a whimper.

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My next obvious thought was about the doomsday predictions of 2012.

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Which happens to be right smack in the middle of Advent, my favorite season.

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Which is about waiting. So there is a common theme here of waiting- either for Jesus or the world to end. Or maybe both.

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The commission was for a piece to open the concert. Which brought to mind the waiting and expectations one has for a concert.

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I have been listening to a lot of Messiaen’s works lately, and I’ve been reminded of how much I love Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum. Which is a phrase from the Mass that translates roughly to “And I await the resurrection of the dead.” And is also one of my favorite movements of the Bach Mass in B Minor.

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So, from all that, I’ve decided the piece is probably going to be titled Et exsepcto (and I await), and is going to be about waiting and preparation. Waiting for the rest of the concert, waiting for the concert to be over, waiting until the end of this awful piece, etc. Just the concept of waiting. Like an overture prepares you for the opera, this piece will, in theory, somehow, prepare you for the rest of the concert. I have no idea how all of that is going to translate into music just yet, but that’s what makes it interesting.

So, something like that. My next job is to sketch some kind of outline for how the piece will actually look. 5 minutes is a weird time span, because it’s not quite long enough to do a whole lot, but not quite short enough to rely on just one idea- it’s a delicate balancing act. My other main goal for this piece is to make it a little grittier. Things like hydrogen jukebox sound to me, now, like they have a glossy sheen on them. So, I’m going to try to see if I can peel back the paint in a few spots, but something not as crazy as, say, Varese.

I’ll hopefully keep you updated. Probably in a month when I have decided the piece is going to be about something different, like flowers or the 4th of July. Or, more likely, a transcription of “Call Me, Maybe.” (I’ve expressed this on other social forums, but if that song doesn’t win Song of the Year at the Grammy’s it will be a gross injustice.)

PW

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