The Sequenza 21/MNMP Concert is fast approaching. This free event will be at Joe’s Pub on Oct. 25 at 7 PM (reserve a seat here). The American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) will perform a program that features composers selected from our call for scores. In the coming weeks, we’ll be hearing from a number of the composers and performers appearing on the concert. First up is Jay Batzner, who teaches at Central Michigan University and contributes regularly to Sequenza 21. He tells us about his piece on the program: Slumber Music.
I remember a lot about composing Slumber Music, which is a bit odd since most of the time I don’t retain memories about the act of composing. I was asked to write a piece for cello and piano for a multiple sclerosis fundraiser in 2008. My initial plan for the piece was to take a melody and start disrupting it and distorting it, much the same way that MS interferes with messages in the nervous system. I wrote my cello melody but I just couldn’t bring myself to act on my original plan. I liked the line too much to destroy it so I just chose to repeat it. When I started to add the piano into the mix, all I heard was a very thin and very sparse accompaniment.
My inner critic kept screaming, “You can’t have NOTHING going on in the piano! You’ve got to give them something worth playing! It is all too simple! Make it sophisticated and interesting!” My inner critic was about to win when, for one reason or another, I decided to stick to my guns. I’ve followed a lot of bad advice in my compositional past, changed my original ideas when I was told to do so, even though I was right, and I was done with that. The stillness in this music appeals to me. The last thing I wanted to do was throw it away because I was insecure.
The second movement unfolded in a similar manner. I had the piano chords and just started taking them wherever they were going to go. It was now the cellist’s turn to have direct and focused motion, floating around the harmonies that were propelling the action forward. The movement came out in one single chunk, maybe 45 minutes of time.
When I was done, I was in a sort of daze. I went for a walk in order to process the experience. My compositional process was undergoing a radical shift. I had been a planner, plotter, and schemer, someone who had an Idea for a piece and then wrote according to that form. Slumber Music really changed that. My plan for the first movement didn’t work; the piece wanted to be something else. Where no plan existed for the second movement, it came together almost too easily. And here was music I was happy with! Ten years ago, during the height of my scheming days, I hated my own music. I seemed to be turning things around.
There is a distinct before/after within me that hinges on this piece. I don’t write music the same way now as I did before Slumber Music. I am much happier with my product and I know when to listen to my inner critic and when to shut it up. Coupled with Goodnight, Nobody, which I wrote the same year, Slumber Music is really important to my writing because now I see how it put me on my current compositional path.