On not being insane

I thought I would have it figured out by now. When I started studying composition 20 years ago I figured the process would be thus:

  1. Learn what my style was during my undergrad
  2. Make that style better in grad school
  3. Write in that style for the duration

That ain’t what happened. I was a very promising young atonalist and my interest in music theory (read: employment) had me writing music that Made Perfect Sense. I knew what I was doing, why I was doing it, and was getting better at articulating it. My structures were complicated, my pitch collections took longer to work out than the actual surface of the music, and I could write tons of music very quickly. I was on my way!

About 6-7 years ago, something snapped. To quote one of my favorite Alanis Morissette songs, “It won’t work now, the way it once did.” I suddenly couldn’t work in the way that I had worked before. My music no longer starts from an idea, it just starts. I can’t always articulate what I am doing, why I am doing it, or why this is Good Music.

At first, it scared the hell out of me. Okay, it STILL scares the hell out of me. I’m writing things that feel right but that ain’t how it is supposed to work in academe. So I turn to others for the occasional sanity check. Yesterday, I sent my new piano work to David McIntire of Irritable Hedgehog fame for such a sanity check. My thinking was that

  1. Dave is a good friend of mine
  2. He has introduced me to a lot of music that has influenced by current aesthetic
  3. He delivers great descriptions
  4. He won’t lie to me

Here is the score I sent, here is a scratch recording of me playing it on my office upright piano (which is getting tuned on Monday, I swear). Dave supported the “I am not insane” idea and gave me a fantastic pull quote: “It sounds like what you might get if you loaned Charles Seeger’s manual on dissonant counterpoint to Satie for an afternoon.”

I couldn’t be happier with that description.

At least the first one, possibly both, will get premiere performances at the end of March and recorded in May. I feel like this collection will grow, maybe do at least one more. So even if I don’t know what I’m doing, at least I don’t appear to be insane.

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