Lately I’ve been going over a 10-year old score of mine, completely clean of dynamic markings. I am now compelled to write the dynamics as I am planning to present this piece again, and I know by now that people will most certainly be put off by the nudity of the score, and I am resigned to dressing it up somewhat. But that’s not as easy.

For one, I am tortured by the idea that I am writing the wrong dynamics. The reason why I didn’t want to set the dynamics is that I thought of my music as organic. The original singers who worked on the piece interpreted it perfectly without any interpretive markings, using their natural vocal abilities – some people have certain notes that sound better loud, or certain tessituras that sound better soft. By not stifling their interpretation, I was able to obtain a ‘natural’ rendition of the piece – and that’s what I am using as a cue for the vocal and instrumental dynamics.

I came across another issue while notating dynamics. Do people respond better to contrast? Is the esthetic of stasis unwarranted? And why would that be? Our society is conditioned by the fast-paced image changes of electronic screens from computers, films, DVDs, television. We are so conditioned by the constant onslaught of variety that sameness appears to have little value – except for those who meditate. On the other hand, there are esthetic movements and musical styles that are entirely based on like Indian music, with each raga solidly anchored in one tonal center.

Therefore, when scoring dynamics, what is the underlying model? Even the word ‘dynamics’ suggests movement and change. There is a preconception that music has to change volume in order to get across to an audience. Are we the victims of conventionality once again, when trying to come up with differences in dynamics? What is the value of that difference? Are we entertaining or making a statement? What is so great about contrast? Why is contrast better than no contrast? Has anyone considered the beauty of the old sepiatones where everything is in similar shades of brown? Is the full-color better than the sepiatone? Is it more ‘esthetic’? Maybe there is a certain je-ne-sais-quoi in the sameness, greyness, subtlety within one shade of feeling. How does one notate subtlety?

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