Forsooth! The semester’s more than half over and I haven’t written much about the classes I soon will have taken.
I may have only recently declared my music major, but it’s been part of the grand plan for a while now. Like a tuning fork, the plan has two prongs:
My reasoning goes as follows: Nobody’s going to pay me to write the kind of music I want to write, and I don’t want to write the kind of music that people want to pay for. In fact, I want my means of earning a living to be unrelated to music. Why? Analogy: I’ve found that when I’m working with computers for a living, I never get around to my personal software projects; when I come home, I feel like doing something else. If I worked with music for a living… For another thing, I suspect that any form of art in which an artist engages almost unavoidably bleeds into his other work, and I don’t want my music subject to that risk. For another other thing, I don’t think I can even bring myself to write someone else’s idea of music (read on for supporting evidence). If I’m a professional programmer instead, I can live more comfortably with less work and more free time — and when I get home, I’ll be eager to finally get to writing down the music I heard in my head that day. Composing is what I want to do. Computing is how I’ll be able to do it.
That’s the plan, anyway. I came to college having done the latter, seeking to learn to do the former. I like the plan. It’s a good plan. However, it relies on two assumptions about the future:
I feel confident about my prospects thus far, except for the talent. I suspect it’s there — I wouldn’t have gambled on this plan otherwise — but there’s only one way to find out. That’s why I’m taking Advanced Composition, a course in which each student writes a piece to be performed in concert, by a professional ensemble, at semester’s end.
The promise of that concert is what ensnared me, but Advanced Composition isn’t exactly my style. We spend a lot of time talking about extended techniques. Our first assignment was to write a short piece using a found object. I couldn’t figure out how to take the assignment seriously, so I didn’t. I chose a laptop security cable as my found object because, if whirled in the air quickly enough, it makes a range of pitches. Then I set If You’re Happy and You Know It for piano in a classical style with some novel harmonizations. Between phrases, where the hand-clapping usually occurs, I notated a part for Office Lasso. The result was performed in class by a novice office lassoist, accompanied by me at the piano. Objectively, it consisted of a vaguely familiar tune interrupted three times by some schmuck twirling a cord. The response it garnered was staggering. “It’s like a political statement, the way it sets up this typical tonal expectation and then shatters it with the use of the cable.” “It reminds me of an experimental piece by Yoko Ono in which the musicians are gradually covered in bandages until they can no longer play their instruments, and then they’re carried off.” It felt like ten minutes before someone suggested that maybe it’s just supposed to be funny.
I could go on about what I think this says about modern composers and how they desire to be viewed by others, but that’s not the scary and important part. The scary and important part is that I have three weeks to finish a piece I’ve barely started; I have little idea how to go about writing it; I have no idea whether it’s going to sound the way I want; and one month from today, I’m going to hear firsthand whether I’ve got any chance at being the composer I want to be. I think I’ll pull it off, but I can’t possibly know until the time comes.
You’re invited to come find out along with me. The first performance of my first composition is scheduled for Tuesday, December 11.