Friday, January 02, 2009

2009 and not exactly resolutions

If you don't call them resolutions then they aren't resolutions, right? ;)

Well, I am at a point where I am hitting the middle of the thirties and have things to change in my life--losing some weight, incrementally changing my diet to be healthier, getting more consistent exercise, organizing my life a little bit. I still have mounds of school debt like any college graduate tends to have who didn't have a full ride scholarship or parents with deep pockets. I am typical of my generation in that respect. There are certain types of debt, however, that I no longer have any of and in that respect I may NOT be typical of my generation.

But that is not why I am blogging here. No, the ironic reason I am blogging now is a consideration that too much of my life is taken up by, heh, computers! I feel as though it would do me some good to not even turn on the computer one or maybe two days at a time. Maybe not every week! I am not so great at being weaned of computers as that by now! Yet it is good to have some time away from computers when you work with them all the time at the day job and a great deal of the time at home. It is easier to compose music that people can read if you can play with computers so as to make a presentable score, especially if your penmanship is bad as mine. No, I won't provide any samples.

Blogs, as I consider them, are places where you can write about and publish the things that you want to get off your chest that no one else bothers to read. I speak hyperbolically but there is a sense in which nothing is LESS important than what you blog. What I mean by that is that by the time you blog something I would imagine you have processed it enough emotionally and intellectually that by the time you dump it on the internet it is in some sense resolved for you or you have resolved through it enough to write about it. Nothing actually in process would (or at least in my opinion should) hit the net. The internet is a publishing medium so as I see it completed, thought-through sentiments are best suited for it, not necessarily all the details of works or thoughts or feelings in progress.

Of course I compose as a hobby so that factors heavily into how I approach blogging. I was also a student of a certain form of mass communication where knowing what you were talking about and having a clear finished product was critical ... though I sometimes feel as though the isntruction I got on those issues were kinda old school. I was taught that you can't escape having a bias but that you must never let your bias get in the way of discovering what the facts are, what the truth is.

At any rate, I have had a more productive 2008 as a composer than I could have ever imagined, which was good because 2007 did not feel all that productive to me. I managed last year, however, to compose four preludes and fugues for solo guitar. Yes, that's right. I'm not kidding, I have started composing preludes and fugues for guitar. Because I'm a classical guitarist (not a great one by any means) and a composer I have posted some stuff on the Delcamp discussion forum and it has some nice resources and discussions for classical guitarists. One of my favorite publishers isn't allowed on there anymore and you'd have to be a serious student formal or otherwise of classical guitar literature and publishing to figure out who that is.

All that is to say that I have been slowly and steadily working on cultivating contacts and networking so as to present my compositions to professional musicians. It is a slow process and requires a great deal of patience. It would seem that it takes musicians as long to get around to playing your music when you're a composer as it takes you to write the music yourself. So you learn not to expect things to happen too soon or even ever. But thanks to a variety of contacts made through Delcamp I have a few people looking at some of my music.

Most interesting for me is the request that I compose a quartet for clarinet, French horn, guitar, and cello. I started sketching out ideas for that just this week. I have noticed for a while that people claim the guitar is like a miniature orchestra but that's all nonsense. The guitar can't play the way a string section in an orchestra can. What's more if the guitar were a miniature orchestra in practice guitarists would spend all their time playing accompaniment patterns to woodwinds, brass, and the like while not holding the limelight. Most guitarists seem too eager to grandstand and have the focus on them rather than taking a purely supportive role.

I suppose at this point I might want to mention that for years I played guitar and sang in a band. As a guitarist I am accustomed to the idea that no matter how complex or simple a guitar's part is the real purpose is to support the human voice and to guide the structure of music rather than as a basis for shredding. Shredding is cool and all, don't get me wrong, and I am not saying that my not being a great guitarist doesn't mean I have no chops whatever. A three-voiced fugue for solo guitar in G major that is nearly five minutes long won't give anyone the impression I have no chops at all. I DO know how to write for my instrument.

But I'm not a showboater and I'm not anxious to be up in front of people and play stuff if I can inspire other guitarists to take up my music. That, however, probably has to change. I have shown music to professional guitarists and guitarists, at the risk of speaking ill of my kind, are a curiously flaky bunch. I am no doubt the best exemplar of my own observation!

This last year I wrapped up a set of sonatas for woodwinds and guitar. It is a project I started back in 2000 and I am excited by the possibility of having it complete, at least for now. I only covered flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon and did not really write much for English horn, alto flute, contrabassoon or the other members of the clarinet family outside of B flat. For now I feel it is enough to hit the four basic food groups, if you will.

This year my hope is to tackle the strings and brass. Nearly no one has written for guitar and brass and there are almost no high profile works for guitar and brass in the classical repertoire. Jazz, of course, is an entirely different matter. For the combination of tuba and guitar I guess there's Leon Redbone and that's about all I can think of but why should that be all there is?

Since I'm in my mid thirties and have contemplated how I have had a kind of mid life crisis (hey, given life expectancies the "mid" counts in the thirties) I think about how little I often feel I have accomplished. I have been comparing myself to friends or family the same age who are settled down and have kids or have this or that established career. What I haven't done is look back on what I have done in the last ten years. I have had the same job for eight years now and while it often feels like a dead end job it is a job I can do and leave at home. I have begun to have a renewed appreciation of jobs like that. Some people are addicted to work as a way to define who they are. I imagine this is especially prominent for, say, CEOs or pastors and it would be especialy true of CEO/pastors, ennit?

But I have looked back on the last ten years and realized that I have in my own unobserved way done plenty, things that married or parenting types just never had time for.

I've written:
probably 35 songs, 15 sacred, 20 secular based on original or existing texts
two ragtimes for piano, 5 minutes each
a piano sonata in three movements with a closing fugue, 10 minutes
a prelude and fugue in G for piano, 6 minutes
four preludes and fugues for solo guitar, 23 minutes total
a sonata for flute and guitar; 9.5 minutes
a sonata for oboe and guitar; 18 minutes
a sonata for clarinet and guitar; 12 minutes
a sonata for bassoon and guitar; 21 minutes
single movement guitar sonata; 6 minutes
a set of variations on a theme for solo guitar; 4.5 minutes
a little rondo for guitar; 4 minutes
three lullabies for guitar; about six minutes
six studies in harmonics; about 8 minutes
two movements from an accapella Mass (Kyrie and Gloria); about nine minutes
an Evening Service (Magnificat for SSAA and organ, Nunc Dimittis for SATB with S solo, closing Gloria Patri SATB with organ) about seven minutes
two thirds of a sonata for viola and guitar, seven minutes
a passacaglia for tenor trombone and guitar, about five minutes
part of a sonata for cello and guitar, four minutes
a trio for flute, bassoon, and guitar, four minutes

When I add that all up it comes to almost three hours of music and that's not counting ANY of the songs in the aforementioned 35. Add those and it moves up to something more like five hours worth of music ranging from rock and gospel to classical and hints of jazz.

Yet it doesn't seem like much to show for a decade worth of composing. That might be simply because not a single one of these pieces has been published and nearly none of them have been performed for audiences. The few songs I played for audiences didn't feel like audiences that really seemed all that interested in or receptive of the music. I spent a lot of time arguing with my bandmates about the music I wrote so if they didn't seem to get it sometimes and audiences didn't seem responsive what was the point in trying to find more of an audience for what didn't seem to fit the interests of a Seattle crowd? I figured my music was too cerebral to have any emotional link to an audience and that I was too diffident a player lacking in chops to get the music across.

I suppose the dirty confession I have to make here is that the flip side of my feeling I'm not really much of a performer is that I also have an acquired contempt for things that lots of people seem to enjoy like "passion" and "soul" and "authenticity". The 1990s went along and I found myself not only not liking Nirvana or Radiohead but disliking them. Soundgarden was all right and I have a residual respect for U2 but they stopped being fun for me once Rattle and Hume came along and I started to become respectful but underwhelmed. Weezer was loads of fun up through Maladroit and Portishead is still interesting and Bjork was great up through Vespertine.

But on the whole I have found that I basically have had no use for a lot of pop music and the emphasis would be on use. When you start to immerse yourself in music from centuries ago or even just stick with music from 1900 to 1975 there's so much material that you start recognizing as recycled in the last twenty years of music that it's hard to feel gung-ho about it. I still like plenty of Peter Gabriel and U2 but I am starting to realize that what my brother sarcastically said remains true, rock dies as soon as you graduate from college. As soon as you decide you're an adult nothing new that doesn't fit what you consider good music qualifies as good music. I'm not really against new music at all. Gnarls Barkley and Portishead have done things recently that I really like. It's just that when you compose classical music and you're not hearing much that sticks with you like a Stevie Wonder album or a Bob Dylan album or a mid 1980s Peter Gabriel or even 1990s Weezer you feel less inclined to go digging for new pop.

Put all that together and I never really bothered to go out and play pop music when I wrote pop songs because I figured, "What's the point?" I'm not even following that music scene and it seems as though if you're going to market yourself as a performer and a musician you have to know the scene and what if you just don't care about the pop music scene or rock music? It seems smarter and more beneficial to everyone to just not bother.

On the other hand, these five hours of music I've written aren't going to perform themselves so I might just have to go out and do something even though I would be first to admit I don't feel like it. I'm not sure that what I do is so good that anyone would want to buy it in the attempts at pop music and I realize I'm writing for an incredibly tiny niche by obsessing over chamber music for classical guitar, to say nothing of writing preludes and fugues for solo guitar. All stuff that I may just have work on playing myself ... if I can find anyone in this town interested in playing the stuff with me for the chamber music.

And I think lately that if I had ever had even one girlfriend the output might have been a lot less. Or a lot more, I don't really know. Two of my favorite composers (Bach and Hindemith) wrote stuff specifically for their wives.

Well, I've spent more time on a computer today than I think I probably really should. :)

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