Monday, November 16, 2009

What The Heck Is That ?

Let me start by saying I have no classical training at all. I have not studied it on my instrument nor have I taken classical theory, analysis, or music appreciation. (Music appreciation classes are generally misnamed as they are usually a class in the history of western classical music to the exclusion or near exclusion of all other music.) I am a jazz musician. In my two years at Berklee College of Music I was never made to practice or study the Creston or Ebert sonatas or the like. Personally I think they are of just about zero value in helping a player whose goal is to play jazz. Arguments for technique development are unfounded. Basic practice of scales, technicals studies and the like cross both the jazz and classical worlds. And if a saxophonist can practice and learn a Michael Brecker or Charlie Parker solo up to tempo he will gain as much technique as anyone playing "saxophone literature". Did I say I have no background in classical music?

All that being said, I do appreciate classical music. Amongst my nearly 1,000 CDs I do have a small "legit" collection. Beethoven and Bartok string quartets. Mussorgsky, Grieg, Copland, Tchaikovsky, etc. I enjoy some more modern things put out by the ECM New Series by composers like Valentin Silvestrov. (No choral music. Just doesn't do it for me.) And when asked to do this Rite Of Spring project I actually already had a recording in my possesion. But what I needed was the score. Easy enough. I went to Dale Music in Silver Sping and got one, opened it and nearly passed out.

First, it's pretty overwhelming to look at the 153 pages, some of which are rather condensed as I later found out, and realize that I have to figure all this out and create a way for this to be presented by a 17 piece jazz ensemble. I tried following the score a little bit along with the recording and started getting lost. That's when I began to discover the way in which the publisher tried to save paper. If an instrument is not playing, it disappears from the score. You may be following an oboe part that's three lines down on the score and turn the page to find that it is now five lines down because the piccolo and alto flute have now joined and their staves,which were previously non-existent, have now pushed the oboe down. Sometimes the score reads straight across the page. Other times the score itself has three "lines" on a page because very few staves are being used. This can be very frustrating.

And then there were the "what the heck is that?" moments. What is "C. ing". Or "Cl. in La". Or "Cl. in Re". Or "Corno in Fa". It was easy to tell that Cl. was clarinet. A little thought and it became evident that the solfegge terms were being used as well. Cl. in La was an A clarinet. Corno in Fa is horn in F. Or a French Horn as we uneducated jazzers would call them. Cor. ing. turned out to be English Horn. I had already figured out that Fagotto was a Bassoon. Plenty of juvenile jokes surround that instrument and it's alter ego. I know the Fl gr. part is flute, but what does the "gr." stand for? Haven't figured that one out yet.And then there's those transpositions as well as clefs I am unaccustomed to like alto and tenor cleff. Hoo boy, this is gonna be fun.
So, I think I have figured out what the heck everything is. And as I have been going along I have been slowly figuring out what the heck to write and who to write it for. I have figured out how in the heck to get improvised solos in the pieces, how to get some hip chord changes, how to deal with form, etc. Now, what the heck am I going to eat for lunch?

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