17 November 2009

Shamrock Antiquities

Second rehearsal with Nicole was a refreshingly efficient affair; everything has fallen into suitably musical place so readily, that we essentially just played through All the Birds in Mondrian’s Cage and Heedless Watermelon, and felt we were ready.

As a guest performer/composer, I richly enjoyed meeting with six composition students at Emory University yesterday. I talked a bit about Blue Shamrock before playing it. I was asked about the title. On one hand, I am sufficiently ‘out of practice’ in terms of explicating the titles of earlier pieces, that I almost just want the question to go away. But on t’other, here were students of my own craft, and part of the mystery of composition of which they are embarked on the study, is the ideas between title and music. I felt, then, that I owed them an answer, and (even) the right answer.

The shamrock part was easy, as the piece falls into three readily discernible sections, musically related, and even seamless, so relation to the modest three-petaled plant was obvious. But I wasn’t going to be let off that easy, and the question necessarily arose: Why blue?

Hadn’t thought about that in an age, but happily, I remembered (hurray for sometimes being able to think on one’s feet). The shamrock is normally green, but may it look blue? Both color and musical sounds are actual objects in the external world, yet quantifying how we perceive them, and comparing our personal experiences of them, can be problematic. Everyone unthinkingly knows grass to be green, and yet it sometimes appears a different shade (so that bluegrass is not merely a name for a musical genre, but has an origin in botany). And there are languages other than English where the speakers use their word blue for objects which in English we should describe as green. From one angle, green and blue are clearly different colors, yet there is not a firm ‘border’ between them.

Another aspect of the piece which I had not thought about for many years, but which came right back to me when asked, was a ‘scale’ I discovered . . . but I’ll leave that for another post.

Shortly, I have another workshop, this time at Georgia State; and my publisher tells me that I will receive as a gift a complimentary score for unaccompanied clarinet. An invitation to sight-read? Well, and why not?

And tonight, there is the recital, of course.