25 August 2015

Droning on

Addendum to yesterday's post: Scott presently resides (and we hope he's doing ever better) in Lima, Perú.

Although date(s) & venue(s) are yet t/b/d, the next Triad concert will be in November, and we shall sing Nuhro. So my thoughts have turned to what I should tell the crew about the piece, as we begin rehearsing.

The Kronos string quartet played a concert in Tallinn while I was there, and of course, I had the nerve to go backstage afterwards and introduce myself to them. As you can judge by the fact that they've never played my music, I did not reap beneficial fruits from my exercise of impertinence. Or, perhaps I did, at that ....

Most members of the quartet brushed me off (not rudely, just with unfeigned disinterest) with some dispatch. It was the violist, John Sherba, who drew the short straw, and I enjoyed a few minutes' conversation with him. Since the group (a) play very well, and (b) play music written by the living, unsolicited scores inundate them. This was the time of the first crest of the "World Music" rage-wave, and Mr Sherba, with only a hint of well-earned annoyance, gave me to understand that in perhaps 67% of the scores they read, there would be a drone; and that roughly 115% of these would assign the drone to the viola. So that reading prospective scores was not always a gratifying prospect for the violist.

For the player: what a hell of a time, being a world-class performer, and you read a score where you sustain an E for five minutes. For the composer: what lack of imagination, to have so enviable a resource as an outstanding string player, only to have him sustain an E for five minutes.

Back in Tallinn, I told Mr Sherba that, if I send a new string quartet to Kronos (— he did not hold out any great hope, so I assumed none —) it would without fail include a passage marked, The John Sherba Memorial Drone.

The lesson I took from this tale of mind-numbing horror was: yes, drones can be a beautiful, even a powerful musical effect; but the composer still has responsibilities both to the health and wellness of the performer, and the sonic stimulation of the listener.

As I worked on Nuhro with its drones, pedal-tones (or pedal-intervals), and unhurried tread, I paid close attention to the pacing, I made a point in the unfolding design of varying both textures, and centers of registral gravity. I labored over it all the more, as the pitch-center is relatively constant through the piece (one of the factors of relative stasis). I wanted the piece to be beautiful, and I was eager that it should in no way be dull.

When at last, I reached the end, and I thought and reconsidered and wondered if it really were done, if there really remained nothing which I ought in good musical conscience to adjust or improve, it was August, and my wife asked me if I did not want to go to the beach. I certainly did. The final stage of composing Nuhro, of weighing the question whether it really were done, was the composer wading out calmly into the surf, and replaying the nascent piece in his inner ear, and feeling a profound harmony between his outer and interior experiences.

It was on the sands of Cape Anne, that I knew I had written what was probably the best music I had made to that point.

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