The piece is for saxophone quartet. I began with a strong, general concept, then I started sketching various musical ideas.
None of the musical ideas, though, really matched up with the overall concept. And I’m not really sold on any of them for their own merits, either.
My strategy, in this kind of situation, is to keep futzing with the sketches, in the hopes that at some point there will be a breakthrough, a moment of coalescence when details and outline fall into agreement. It’s an act of faith, really – there’s nothing in my work on this piece so far that guarantees the outcome I’m seeking. All I know is that I’ve been here before, and this approach has yielded good results.
Intuitively, it feels like I should step back from the piece and think about it some more from a general perspective before diving further into detailed work. But in the past that approach has rarely worked for me. I find I need to get my hands dirty with the substance of the music, the grimy note-to-note unfolding, before the connections I’m looking for will reveal themselves. If I spend too much time looking at the music from a bird’s-eye view, I usually end up getting lost in the clouds.
Sometimes, though, working from the inside out ends in disaster. I have, on occasion, dug myself deeper and deeper into a musical ditch, and ended up with a piece that sounded like it never really figured out what it was about. Those pieces end up in the “unfinished” bin.
That’s where the act of faith comes in. Experience tells me that, more often than not, this is the way to go. Wish I could bat a thousand, but I’m resigned to the fact that I can only stay as far above .500 as possible.
The payoff is the occasional home run.