Ever wonder what it's like to be the guy on the hot seat at a press conference? Or perhaps what it is like to sit down with Mike Wallace for a 60 Minutes interview. Maybe you've wondered what it would be like to take a seat in the easy chair next to David Letterman and have a friendly little chat. I had an experience this past week that was probably a cross between all three. And it turned out to be pretty fun.
First of all, I like questions. In general they tend to lead to the next thing, which then leads to more questions, which then lead to,.... well,.... you get it. Now, some questions simply look for a quantitative answer. "What's 2 + 2?". Some ask for information. "What happened at work today?". Some are rhetorical. "Do ya think?". (Said with sarcasm.) Some deal with trivial things. "Is there any of that pie left?". Others deal with deep issues. How about these three here? (That's not the deep question!) Where did we come from? What went wrong? How can it be fixed? Now, there's some questions deserving a whole other blog. I would love to write about that, but that's an issue for another time and place, don't you think?
Speaking of thinking, that's what I really liked about my experience this past week. I gave my first master class on my project of arranging Rite Of Spring for a jazz ensemble. The good people at The University of Maryland were kind enough to give me an evening to talk about it and play some musical examples for them. I talked about the usual issues of melody, harmony, rhythm, groove, etc. How to create solo space. I walked them through the Stravinsky score to part three and my score for the same part at the same time. That was a bit tedious as I wasn't as prepared as I could have been for that. None the less, I think it was beneficial once we listened to them both. But after that came the good part. The questions. All good. Some looking for straight forward information. Some about my own thoughts or feelings. And the really good ones that make me stop and think.
I wish I could remember more of them, but I'll address at least two of them here. One person asked how my own view of music has changed or how the music has changed me as a result of this experience. Wow. Hadn't really thought about that. And what is the answer? So, I started thinking out loud. Well, for one thing, I've changed my view on what I think about Rite of Spring. I used to think that it was a very dissonant, rhythmically abstract piece of music. I still think that, but I see that it is so much more. I remember listening to it and thinking, "My God, there is so much stuff in there". That was said as a reaction to being aurally overloaded. Now I listen and say, "Wow, there is so much stuff". Only now I say it with awe and appreciation. Sure, there aren't long melodies that flow through a piece, but there are melodies. Sometime very small ideas, but the piece is practically littered with them. But it takes repeated listening to find them or hear them. Yes there is dissonance, but the harmony is highly organized. The subtle variations in notes or harmonies as a fragment gets repeated is obviously well thought out. This is a piece which bears repeated listening and rewards the person that does so with new revelations each time. And what can I learn from that? How does that change my view of music? One thing becomes quite clear. There has got to be a lot of music out there that can't possibly be judged from just one listening. And I know we've all been guilty of that. Also, I think that perhaps I see new possibilities for what I can do with a piece of music. Specifically, what possibilities I have as a composer. Even as a composer of jazz music.
The second question was from someone who had been reading my blog. He even had stuff printed out and quoted from "Repent, The End Is Near". The question dealt with what I hope to accomplish with this piece in it's performance and presentation. He quoted the fact that I said I wanted to create an emotional impact from the music. And I'll add that what I wrote there goes not only for Rite Of Spring but anything I compose or arrange for big band. And that is that I want people to have an emotional experience from hearing the music. Not just a cheap thrill from high, fast and loud, but a deep and lasting experience. And the question was, "How do you know that you've accomplished this?". Another truly great question. How can I really know? I can know how hard I worked. I can know how hard I tried. I can know how I feel about my own work. But how do I know if I've succeeded in providing a deeply emotional experience for the listener, unless of course they actually come up to me and say so. Or, heaven forbid, they tell me they weren't moved by it. I think time will be at least part of the answer. Good music lasts. Cheap thrills don't. Sure, there is still a lot of mediocre to absolutely awful music that is still being played either live or over the airways 20, 30 40 or more years after it's release. But I have to believe that the vast majority of that is due to it's nostalgic appeal. We all like the music we grew up with. And we all think "it's better than the music these young people listen to nowadays". We associate it with good times in high school or college or other "coming of age" type events in our life. And the real meaning isn't in the music itself so much as the thoughts, emotions and memories it's connected to. My arrangement will never be on hit radio. It will never be the soundtrack of a person's life. If people continue to want to listen to this it will be because the music itself has some meaning. It will be because it touches something inside them. It somehow relates to the human condition. I feel this is one way to know if I have succeeded. And the sad part about that is, I'll probably never know how many people are still listening to this 10, 20 or 30 years down the road. (By the way, there is a plan to get this recorded so that people actually have the option to do this, should they so desire.) I do know this, if you aim for nothing, you are guaranteed to hit it. I'm aiming for emotional impact. Hopefully I'll not only hit it, but know that I did so.
So, one master class is completed. I'll have another at Towson University as well as at Peabody Conservatory. It will be interesting to see what the people at these classes ask and what I'll have to think about regarding my own thoughts, feelings and assumptions. It should be interesting.
Well, that about takes care of today's blog. Next question, please.