27 January 2017

Done? or, not done?

Now here’s a bit of a conundrum . . . and on the lines of being ready to throw out The Outline when musically appropriate.  When I sketched the Grand Plan for the Clarinet Sonata, I “allocated” 12 minutes for the second movement.  (I had likewise “allocated” 12 minutes for the first, which in the event runs about 9 minutes and a half.)  But as I review the present state of the second movement, at the seven-minute mark, I am more than half-wondering whether the movement as is, may not be done (done, provided I make a few adjustments/additions earlier on).  I feel that the cadence I’ve just written in mm.58-61 is a most appropriate final cadence;  that the movement has already enjoyed convincing ‘half-cadential’ pauses at mm.20-21, and m.49 (which means I’ll probably nudge that double-bar to the end of m.49)

Musically, I have written the second movement just as I intended:  When the clarinet plays, all the material is “found material,” recontextualized, as a nod to Ives.  (We might say, Boulez has gone to where this cannot vex him . . . for this movement could only bring him pain . . . .)

– When Ives quotes Beethoven, or a turn-of-the century hymn or popular song, one hears it;  and my experience of listening to Ives use this method is, as if he and I were winking at one another.  Not to say anything against Ives for this (it is part of his style, and of his charm, I think), but I have felt that I should not write my second movement quite like that.  For only one thing, it would likely invite the criticism, “This is what Ives did, only he did it better.”  Ives could do what he did, when he did it;  here in the 21st century, I cannot pretend that all this time has not passed, and I can somehow do “just as Ives did.”  I even doubt that I should yield a list of the sources for the clarinet line, lest the shared knowledge invite the wink.  So I rather believe this must remain . . . an enigma

Well, I have reached a point in the second movement where I do not feel I can just go on in the same vein for the remaining five minutes of the allotment (–although, maybe tomorrow I shall feel that there is five minutes more to be written–) but neither do I want to write an internal contrast within this movement, waiting for the contrast of the third movement (which will be clarinet unaccompanied, as a kind of answer to the extended piano solo beginning of the second).  Or, maybe it is better to say that, as I review the second movement as is, I feel it is more or less complete.

So, this is the puzzle I am presently turning in my mind.

25 January 2017

That spread-too-thin feeling

Monday evening was the initial/organizational meeting of an experimental music group organized by Pam Marshall (a k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble stalwart) and fellow composer Charles Turner (also of Triad).  Experimental scores, frequently a kind of guided improvisation, it was all fun, as I had anticipated;  and probably everyone who took part felt it was worthwhile.  All things running even, I should be happy to become a part of the endeavor, if not much beyond musical rehearsal and performance is required of me.

My Problem is, I already have Thursday evenings out for HTUMC choir rehearsal, and (at least 20 weeks out of the season) Monday evenings dedicated to Triad.  I am not at all looking for a third weeknight where I am out – three nights taken away from my own creative work, plus the interference with my beauty rest before I need to report to work for The Man, is more disruption in my routine than I can consent to.

This is the Voice of Experience speaking not without a note of regret.  In October-November last year I was a sub in the Cantata Singers;  and while it was undeniably a musically gratifying time, the additional strain for those weeks was a bit wearing.

On that theme, Monday night’s rest was sufficiently curtailed, that yesterday was more of a Zombie Tuesday than I quite like, partly for the downstream effect of my having no juice last night for work on the Clarinet Sonata. (I did, however, get some nominal work on a piece for my handbell choir, because I do need to have at least two new pieces in their folders for our Back-to-Work rehearsal after church this Sunday coming.)

So tonight I have finished the arrangement for the handbell choir, and got a little work done on the Op.136.  I am keen to restore the right sort of momentum.

22 January 2017

Chance meeting

This is a fun story (even if nothing should come of it).  Early Thursday, when the Symphony was nearly done, I wrote to Stephen Symchych, a violinist who has played some Henningmusick in times past, to share the (imminent) news, and to ask if he knew any conductor(s) who might be interested.  He mentioned two (one of whom has decamped to the west coast).

Friday night, the Greater Boston Choral Consortium had a "Speed Dating" networking event, and I had registered to attend as a member of Triad.  Early Friday, I thought, I don't know just whom I might meet at this event;  would it not be on the pathetic side if, when I say, "You know, I've just written a symphony," and the other party says, "Really? May I see it?" . . . on the pathetic side, if I don't have a copy with me?

So I brought two hard copies, not really expecting that there would be anyone to give either of them, but not wanting to be empty-handed.  And lo! whom should I meet there, but the very conductor yet in the Boston area whom Stephen named in his message of Thursday.  So, he was impressed by the fact that I had just written a symphony, and possibly further impressed by the fact that I had a score to pass across the table to him.  He leafed a bit through it as the conversation went on, his face was not easy to read.  When the bell rang to announce the next stage of the "Speed Dating," he closed the score respectfully, and started to proffer it towards me, but I welcomed him to take it with him and examine at his ease.

I followed up with an email message to the address available at his website.  And . . . we shall see.

In chat with Charles Turner (the other Triad member there) immediately after, he said, Fortune favors the prepared.  You were ready with that score.

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.

20 January 2017

Ready for Roll-Out

Gentle Reader, last night I finished the Symphony.

To recapitulate:  the idea for the piece is that, by both scale and technique, the music should be executable by a good community orchestra, and in a musical language rigorous enough that no professional orchestra should scorn it.

The Symphony is in three movements, with a total duration of ca. 25 minutes.
  1. Allegro molto
  2. Larghetto
  3. Vivo assai
In about three weeks, I wrote the first movement in October 2016.  I made an immediate start on the second movement, and the first 27 measures (which would, a little to my own surprise, remain intact) were done by the end of October.  The holiday season (and preparations thereunto) then intervened;  I did not resume work on the second movement until after Christmas.  Nevertheless, the movement was complete by year's end.

I made a more than merely symbolic point of beginning work on the third movement, promptly on New Year's Day.  And, well, now—just shy of three weeks later—the piece is done.

There is no immediate prospect for the piece's performance.  Rather than have that seem anything like a complaint, my meaning is actually that there was no external constraint on performing the work of composition as (if I may say so without immodesty) efficiently as I did;  and the important matter (not that these two considerations are at all irreconcilable) is that I made no compromises in the musical content or quality in order to meet any external deadline, but have written the piece just as I wished, and have written every bit as good a piece as I require.

It is possible that I am historically the oldest composer at the time of writing a Symphony № 1 . . . I have not researched the question at all well.  Bohuslav Martinů was 50 or 51 when he wrote his first symphony.  Hey, this may just be a marketing angle.

And for the moment, that is all to be said for the Henning Opus 143.

19 January 2017

Is you is, or is you ain't?

Gentle Reader, in reporting on the latest progress with the (to give it its full and proper title) Symphony № 1 (more on which below), Opus 143if I am to be completely truthfulI am faced with something of an apparent contradiction.  The third movement is not finished—there remains a (little, a very little) bit of work to do—but I can relate with pleasure that the composition is now complete, that I (and most of the orchestra) have made it at last to the final double-bar. “Most of the orchestra,” while I am still finalizing just what I want the oboes to play here, the bassoons there, but the movement is now decidedly 262 measures of music, the whole running (let us say) five and a quarter minutes.  The remaining work will not, probably, take long, but the composer does have activities this evening and next which may put off the work;  I pray you, do not ascribe the delay to laziness, or otherwise any lack of application.

There is a certain seeming of presumption, I know, in setting out to write the piece, and at the outset designating it #1.  In my defense, and unlike numerous times in the past when the general thought , Gee, what if I write a symphony? sauntered into my mind, when I set out to compose this piece in the first week of October, I felt immediately that this was the musical task I wanted to undertake, and that I was determined to bring it to fairly rapid completion.  Also, I reasoned that if I could (as I had every intention of doing) actually finish a symphony in good order now, it is no great stretch to assert that I should later write another.

18 January 2017

18 + 18 + 18

And so, with (so to say) 45 seconds remaining of my outline to be composed through, I have become intrigued with the idea of sculpting the ending of the third movement, 18 bars per day. Allowing for my day off for HTUMC choir rehearsal tomorrow evening, that projects a finish to the movement (and the Symphony) on Friday. (Or, a kind of finish, subject to refinement, of course, of course — “the outline be damned” can be the path to the final musical result.) Yesterday afternoon, I drew up both verbal plans, and some notes;  and last night, I composed my “allotted” 18 measures.  Considering the rapid progress over the holiday weekend, 18 mm. feel like restraint, but that is where the sculpting comes in:  more ideas are coming to me, as I take time to reflect, and I thus have the benefit of selecting what I think are the very best of a good crop of ideas.

Another activity this weekend was, I sent The Young Lady Holding a Phone in Her Teeth to a call;  and yes, we all know that this will likely come to nothing.  I suddenly remembered, last night, that I have also sent the first movement of the Symphony to a call.  And although here, too, nothing may come of it, I felt anew what very good music I feel the first movement to be.

At the least, I enjoy the satisfaction of feeling that I am putting my best musical foot forward.

17 January 2017

Not done just yet

On my return home Friday evening, the score of the third movement as I had printed it out ran to 96 measures, almost one and three-quarter's minute duration.  My original outline for the Symphony plans on the third movement lasting five minutes.

I continued work Friday evening (light-ish duty), Saturday morning, some more light work Saturday evening, Sunday afternoon and evening, and this morning [I wrote, Monday afternoon the 16th].  Some of the start of work at some of the sessions included managing or tweaking some of the last bit of work of the day before.

Here on Monday afternoon of the Martin Luther King holiday, I am setting the work aside for the rest of the day (I believe).  The score presently stands at 218 measures, the timing of the mechanized score is now four minutes and a quarter—so that (by my outline, a reference which is of course always subject to artistic revisitation) I have about 45 seconds of music yet to write, to carry the Symphony to its final double-bar.

I can see my way to the end, and will resume that tread Tuesday.

07 January 2017

Further on the Op.143

[ 3 Jan 2017 ]

After a little mental stock-taking these past two days, I continued the third movement (Vivo assai).  The idea for the opening is a sort of variation on the first movement, and I am content with the result. The whole movement will run a trim (and vigorous) five minutes.

I reported the start of work on the second movement (Larghetto) in late October, immediately after completing the first. That trunk of the piece remained in that state through the holidays, and I resumed work on it only on 27 December;  but the work went very smoothly, and the second movement was complete before the turning of the New Year.

If I can have the third movement done before we start up rehearsals for the next Triad concert, I shall be greatly pleased.

01 January 2017

Brief check-in

It is not to be mistaken for a full day's work; but my Muse did require of me to notate a start to the third movement of the Symphony. More to follow.