Thursday, September 01, 2005
Paws and Effect
It is 3 in the morning, and this, the middle of my best working hours, finds me beating perfectly innocent notes into submission so that Sibelius (the notation program, not the summoned muse) might cause them to appear even more worthy than they in fact may truly be.
Behind my writing desk is a piano, and flanking me here in my studio are two wonderful, human-oriented adopted stray cats who happen to reflect the keyboard: one black, the other white (no, I did not name them Ebony and Ivory). The white one is young enough to still have a penchant for getting into and onto things that will hardly seem worth the effort in a couple more years. One of those objects happens to be my piano, on which all four of his paws have just landed. Loudly.
Once or twice a day this cat decides to saunter across the keys as a shortcut to something far more important than piano playing, such as gaining a prime aerial attack position on the unsuspecting, larger (and lovingly tolerant) black cat on the carpet below. For a long time I found his random notes, some fortissimo, others softer, to be little more than distracting noise, annoying in the way they pulled my attention from the notes *I* was sauntering across. But one day a couple of years ago as I was holding my feeble head in my hands, straining to come up with the opening cello theme to a string quintet premiering perilously soon, three paws happened to land simultaneously on three terrific keys that caused me to sit up, turn around, and quickly notate the chord. Those three notes, Bb, G and a higher Gb, which are repeated, became the main theme to the first movement of "Current Events." I could not have asked for better material with which to begin. And at the time, strained head-holding and all, I obviously wasn't coming up with any, either. Thanks to my cat, off I went on a happy musical adventure. And ever since then, including just a few moments ago tonight, when he lands on the keys on his way to his own happy adventures, I always listen.
So, dear comrades, what extraneous and unexpected input do you gleefully admit to using in your work? No, don't write about the obvious "crashing of the waves, rustling of the leaves" stuff. That's a given. But have there been other animals, minerals or vegetables that have directly gifted you with material? Odd sonic occurrences seeping from people or events? Introducing this quintet to audiences, I sometimes tell this story, and a few people express amazement that 1. I was able to glean material from a source outside of my own brain (hmmm....) and 2. that I would admit to such a seemingly scandalous thing :-). I found this hilarious. Fess up, folks!
P.S. As the piece gets broader recognition, my feline (pictured above with his pal in their yin/yang groove) is beginning to whine about a better grade of kibble and an extra catnip bonus.
But first he'll have to join ASCAT.