At the risk of sounding like what the twelve year olds call a “fanboy”, I have been digging into John Morton’s book over the weekend, a weighty tome in many ways, and have been delighted, excited and inspired by what I have found. John’s tone is bright and breezy, with many asides which have to do with musical vision and approach, but never at the expense of the technical writing, which is top notch.
The book is not only a thorough examination of rhythm, melody, harmony, form and the other standard areas, but also covers orchestration, including the jazz orchestra, the entire process of writing a piece from start to finish (sample piece included), and even proof reading, part extraction and page numbering of the finished score. It is a significant work, I believe, and I am particularly taken with his exhortation to “buy manuscript paper in bulk”, which has, along with many other areas of the book, only proven to me what I already knew, that there is a long, long way to go on my journey. It also makes me chuckle to think that there may well be student composers who view manuscript paper in the same way they view LPs, books and, most likely, Beethoven…
I have, therefore, spent many a happy snatched minute over the weekend creating rhythmic structures, developing melodies in all sorts of imaginative ways, and exploring well nigh unlimited harmonic procedures from a single scale. As the author rightly points out on more than one occasion, intuition as a composer can only get us so far when writing a piece, and often that is not very far at all. Technical ability allied to discretion and judgement will make the whole process easier, and the result finer.
If there is a downside, however, it is the realisation that the work on my table, the piece for viola, is probably the last hurrah for my latest technical incarnation, and that, viewed through the prism of these new ideas, it is woefully inadequate, which is not the greatest quality for a competition piece. I am sorely tempted to begin it again from near scratch, saving only the basic material, and use it as a blank canvas for new ideas, see where they take me.
It is a while since I have felt so excited about writing, and I wish that I could read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the contents of the book by this afternoon, the better to begin the next stage of my compositional journey, but, like so many endeavours, this will take time, application and study, yet another manifestation of “get rich slow”, which is the best way to get rich, whether financially or, in this case, intellectually.
On a smaller but related matter, I intend to change the layout of my composing room later this week, as I feel that I am using the space particularly badly. At the moment I write on my computer desk, with the monitor close to hand, but there is the possibility, I believe, of having the computer in a separate part of the room, and a large table devoted solely and entirely to composition, filling its exclusive physical and mental space. If I am to use bulk amounts of manuscript, as well as the coloured pens and A2 sheets suggested by John Morton, I shall need that space. It will probably be the compositional equivalent of a child splashing around in a paddling pool, and I dread to think what the other inhabitants of the house will make of my multi-coloured scrawls.
Lastly, don’t forget that This Joyful Eastertide is on Radio 4 Long Wave tomorrow morning, as part of The Daily Service from Exeter College, Oxford, directed by my former pupil, George de Voil. In all the excitement I had nearly forgotten.