My commute to work has been a little shorter than normal today. Whereas the journey to my computer normally takes me up the stairs into my attic cum garret, today I am lying in bed with my laptop on my, well, lap, slightly sniffly and accompanied my hot water bottle, mugs of ginger tea and a large and slightly wheezy cat. I have come to learn that taking choir rehearsals can be very tough on the voice, especially when one is in a cavernous acoustic, and I have been in charge of things both yesterday and the day before. Added to this I gave a class on Monday morning and taught singing for three hours on Tuesday afternoon, which means that my throat has taken a battering. Couple that with two late nights in a row, home at uncivilised hours from rehearsals, and it is no wonder that my body has rebelled.
Still, my mind appears to be working, although I would say that, of course, so I am tapping away on some exercises, developing ideas and extending concepts gleaned from books, thoughts and one or two blogs about writing. We also rehearsed I Hear, And Am Elated last night with the Malcolm Sargent Festival Choir, and, for the first time, it sounded like something they were comfortable with, past that stage of having to think about things, and beginning to let it sing itself. I am still taken aback that it can be so tricky for people to count to five, but it serves as a reminder that the tyranny of the bar line, referred to by Stravinsky a century or so ago, remains strongly in force.
I have enjoyed reading John Morton’s latest blog, in which he continues his lengthy and detailed description of writing with new materials and a clean and fresh outlook. In the light of my last post, talking about arrangements, I was particularly interested to read his view that
“There will always be a reluctance to accept the ‘new’ because it threatens familiar habits and anything that does that disturbs our sense of security. On the other hand, if you look at the guys who are doing OK (nowadays that primarily means making money) you will find that they understand the need to write in a style that is easily assimilated and trendy. They understand the consequences of leaving the public behind. The choice is yours.”
I agree entirely with this, but take the point of view that writing with the public in mind does not necessarily mean a betrayal of one’s desire to push forwards and explore new boundaries, whatever they may be, as long as one’s integrity remains intact. It is the “easily assimilated and trendy” style that I strive to avoid, that hazy, lazy style which does so well nowadays. As Ives wisely said, we should not confuse beauty with that which lets the ears lie back in an easy chair, what a composer friend of mine calls the “Radox bath school of composition”.
A comedian once said that you can either be popular and make lots of money or keep your integrity intact and do what you want to do. There’s a fine line in doing a little amount of the former in order to allow yourself the luxury of time to indulge in the latter, and, while it may sound as though I am making excuses for This Joyful Eastertide, I still cling to the belief that music shoud be useful and communicate, in whatever language, but also that every note should be in its place and that there should be a place for every note. As a result, I believe that my music sounds like mine because of the musical choices I make, whatever language that may express, whether it be the tonality of Eastertide, the aleatoricism of Ave Verum, the modality of Sweet Was The Song, or the constantly shifting textures of Dum Committeret Bellum.
The lessons learned exploring new scales, rhythms, melodies and the like all have applications to the way a composer views traditional materials, and it still amazes me that so much of the potential of our stock materials remain unexplored by so many writers. It is one of the many reasons I write away from the piano and the sound, so as not to be led by traditional gestures and expectations. The composer should be like the artist with all colours, brushes, media and materials in their toolbox, and a solid and rigorously honed technique to boot. Only then can they choose the ones most appropriate to the piece in hand.