Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Composer Is...

I couldn't resist - here is another early Red Book entry:

A Composer is a master Listener. Other Listeners find expression in the music of others, but for the Composer this is not enough. He listens, and wants to create his own. He listens, and hears music that could be. He listens, hearing something closer to the essence of music than has been captured before, then he strives, struggles, to express to others what he has heard, bringing to them a piece of the divine inspiration, carefully crafted, because although he is a master Listener, he can only hear shadows of the eternal fabric of music, and express them in whatever way he can best. Lesser Listeners hear what he has done and in turn create a lesser fragment...

Okay, here are a few modern (March 1, 2009) thoughts on the above:

I have since come to appreciate more and more the amount of effort, skill and craftsmanship required to bring even the smallest 'piece of the divine inspiration' to life. Rereading this entry made me think of the four and half years since then - I have learned so much about music, I have heard the music of hundreds of composers. Still, as I said then, "this is not enough." I feel now more than ever the need to create my own. Nothing that has gone before...satisfies what I need from music? ...expresses what I want to express in music? ...creates music just the way I long to hear it created? This seems to be the norm for composers...there is simply a deep-rooted urge to create my own music, no matter how similar to existing music or how groundbreaking it will be. It is like a constant hunger. At times when I'm not composing much (like this busy school year) I am constantly looking for new music, new composers, hoping to find something that quenches some part of that musical thirst. But until I write my own, nothing is enough. The best effect I can hope for from any other music is that it will inspire me even more in how to write my own.

A composer is...a frustrated listener until he can listen to his own music.

The other day I had that opportunity: I walked into the Snow (music) building on campus at BYU-Idaho and heard my recently composed hymn being sung down the hall by the 100+ member University Choir that will perform my hymn next Wednesday at the Hymn Festival here. I tell you, the experience of unexpectedly hearing my own music coming from someone else is one I intend to repeat in my life as much as possible.

What else do you think a composer is?


Michael W. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Qait said...

You ARE a frustrated listener. :) And I LOVE it. Maybe I take some kind of pride in the fact that no one else's music is as satisfying to my husband as his own.
I've married a genius.

Eric Hanson said...

Hey Michael, fun blog! I know what you mean about having the hunger. I've been teaching songwriting and composition for a some time, and every once in awhile I get a student who asks me where to begin or where to find inspiration. Those students usually require a lot more work, simply because if you don't already HAVE to compose or feel a drive to write down all of the fragments in your head then you have to learn how to listen first - to other composers, and to your own inspiration. Of course, once you get people listening then it can become almost maddening when the music doesn't stop :).

I had a great composition professor tell me to "listen to less music more often". In other words, don't listen to music unless you really intend to listen. Background music just dulls our senses, and yet we're surrounded by it all of time.

I think a composer is a "Revealer". So much music still exists out there, and the composer can channel his/her internal frequency to that infinite energy, access melodies/motives/harmonic motions/etc. and give them substance. Technique must be learned to organize those fragments, but the inspiration is available for anyone keen enough to listen.

Speaking of listening, have you ever used transcription as a learning tool? It used to be such a common method of instruction but somehow has dwindled in use, maybe because of our concerns with copyright and plagiarism. I think it's great - just find composers that you like and write down everything they did directly from their score onto a fresh piece of manuscript paper, really hearing it as you go and attempting to understand it. When Schoenberg was a teacher at UCLA he suggested his students focus particularly on Beethoven, specifically on his Piano Sonatas. You can find those online for free since several Universities have posted them online (yeah public domain!). Beethoven may be the king of taking small ideas and stretching them into bigger ones - a great place to start :).

Great blog Michael, I'll be sure to keep an eye on it - I'm excited to see where your musings take you, and us :).