21 January 2017

Symphony Afterglow

Practically all of the composers I know personally (and the great majority of American composers from Ives on) have written pieces, and then wondered when, if ever, they will be performed.  And, sure, I wonder when my now-new Symphony will be performed.

I am not writing here to say, it doesn’t matter to me when it actually gets performed.  But I wrote my Opus 143 principally because I felt I had to, and because I wanted simply to write the best music I could;  so I am really just filled with elation at having brought it to fruition. I’m proud of the piece I have written, and proud that I set to it on my own initiative, and in complete liberty of spirit.

Also, I chuckle a little at some parts of the process, such as this sheet of paper:

Probably I started this outline on 2 January, having already composed the first twelve measures (though not with all the detail presently in the score for those measures) on New Year’s Day.  I did, indeed, prepare like outlines for each of the first two movements, but not as filled out as this, for the third movement.  Why?  Why more detail for the outline of the shortest of the three movements?

My plan at the outset (from early October, that is) was for the whole Symphony to run about 25 minutes:  if I can succeed in interesting the director of a good community orchestra in the piece, the fact that it will not occupy all of a program (nor all of the band’s rehearsal time) will be a point in my piece’s favor.  So I planned on three movements, on the time-honored fast-slow-fast model, with durations of 7-and-a-half, 12, and 5-and-a-half minutes, respectively.

Now, this is not a film score, so I am not obliged to keep “cues” to an inflexibly exact time to fit frames of celluloid;  and I did not set these timings in stone.  And the outlines I sketched for each movement provide a suggestion of order, linear and “global,” and are not any memo from Procrustes;  whenever I use such a tool in writing, I make entirely free to disregard the outline in the artistic interests of the unfolding work.

In just such a way, the first movement came to run “too long” by just about a full minute, so (without committing myself inflexibly to the new timings, either) I figured on “making that up” by shaving half a minute from each of the successive movements.

So, the third movement needed to be about five minutes long, not a duration apt to overstay its welcome (though, this can be done, I suppose);  and I wanted it to be the liveliest movement of the three, a sort of combination scherzo and finale.  I used the outline both as an aid to keep myself true (or truer) to the given goal of a five-minute movement, and as a tool just to keep at the work faithfully.  I am in the habit of getting my creative work done around other things (a full-time job;  directing a church choir;  conducting and singing in Triad).  The busy schedule is not fatally inimical to getting creative work done, but it helps a great deal (that is, I find myself more consistently successful) when I have a good idea formed of what I am doing in a given composition.

There is also the Every Day method suggested to most budding composers:  yes, some days you can focus all day on composing, and you can get a slew of work done, but it is a mistake (and self-defeating) to consider a day when you cannot focus for hours on composing, as “lost time.”  No time is lost unless you elect to lose it.  On almost any day, no matter how busy one is with other tasks, it is possible to (say) compose ten measures of music.  (Two wonderful examples to me, are Irina and Maria, artists who never complain about “no time to work,” they just get to work.  When there is a complaint, it is too little time to devote to a given task, but that is a slightly different matter.)  In just this way, I thought, I am setting to write a five-minute piece—if I can compose 15 seconds of music every day, the piece will be done in three weeks.  The detailed outline for the last movement, then, basically kept in view what I needed to compose for a given day’s 15 seconds of work.

One good thing about, both the modest manageability of the daily composition requisite, and the fact that I am already, with several years’ experience of working on these lines, imbued with good work habits, is that maybe there is the odd day where I take a sabbatical break;  maybe there is a day where I not only write the fresh 15 seconds of music, but take some time to improve the work of the previous day (even by this method, it is not necessary to fall into the trap of accepting the work you have done on any given day, as immune from improvement);  and certainly, there are days where I get much more work done than the day’s modest allotment.

And because I am in the habit of spending at least some time each day with my head inside the piece, I am warmed up and each day’s work has a fair chance of being at peak artistic efficiency.

One can see by the scratches on the page above, that I modified as I went on.  And I even see one word which I am not sure I understand myself, though mine is undeniably the hand that scrawled it.

And lo!  I got it done.


Cato said...

You should have seen my sketches! In comparison yours here looks like God's outline for the Creation of the Universe! :)

Karl Henning said...