In my last post, I mentioned that I am working on four pieces right now. That’s one more piece than my optimal number. The one extra piece is a huge one for soprano and eight instruments, and I had hoped to have it done by now. The premiere isn’t until October, so I’m not sweating, but it has been a long and bumpy ride.
I started this piece last July. I thought it was done in January, but then I had one of those oops-I-don’t-think-this-is-going-to-work moments, and I had to completely rethink my approach.
There are a lot of challenges involved, but one of the most difficult comes from the fact that more than 90% of the text, which I’m writing myself, is spoken. I have this ongoing fascination with the ways that stories are constructed, and how those constructions can map onto live music. Sometimes singing is an appropriate way to explore this fascination, but more often I need spoken text. I’ve used actors with varying degrees of success, but sometimes I need a performer with more sophisticated musical knowledge. So this piece is scored for a soprano who mostly speaks and occasionally sings. That’s not a foolproof recipe – in fact, it’s a scenario that any sane composer should avoid like the plague – but it’s what I need to do for this piece, regardless of how much more difficult I am making things for myself.
This particular instance poses an extra challenge, because the first-person narration comes from an inanimate object.
(And here’s an insert for all of those people who find anthropomorphism distasteful: a lot of inscrutable things become clear when you look through inanimate eyes.)
Anyway, I’m at a funny stage with the piece. I’ve decided it’s time to create a piano/vocal score — always a frustrating process, winnowing down all those fascinating instrumental details to just two staves. The spoken text makes the process even more exasperating, since text spacing and musical spacing follow very different rules on the page. My music notation software happily updates the measure spacing with each new note, zipping my text off the margins into unselectable territory. To add to my aggravation, I’m creating this version of the score to get a different perspective on the flow of the piece, and there is a very real possibility that I will discover a flaw requiring extensive renovation – in which case I will have to create a whole new piano/vocal score once I revise the piece. If that turns out to be the case, I will definitely be at the point of WHY-OH-WHY-DO-I-DO-THIS-TO-MYSELF???
But the answer is easy. I have a sound in my head, I have a particular unfolding of ideas in my mind, and I’m in a state of perpetual, slow torture until I figure out how to give them life.
Reminds me of the composer who informed his audience, “I’ve had this music annoying the hell out of me for the last two years. Now it’s your turn.”
Oh wait. That was me.