While the Exeter piece has come along in leaps and bounds this week, the string work has reached a slight impasse. It is nothing serious, merely the feeling that something needs to change at a certain point in the first movement as well as the texture. At this point I do not want to break too far away from the melodic material I already have, nor throw away the harmonic language of this section, so I need to sit down and have a good old think about it. Meanwhile, there is the feeling that I should hammer on with work on the second and third movements, and that an idea might come to me about what should go into this hole in the first movement.
Even with those concerns, notes are still going onto paper, meaning, crucially, that at least I have something with which to work, ideas to refine. I am always aware that the first thought is rarely the best thought, despite what the beat poets might have us believe, but it does take a little bit of hard work to convince oneself that everything does not necessarily need to be right straight away.
On the other side of the compositional table at the moment sits the Exeter piece, and the first section of this came together very nicely indeed the other day, thank you very much, so much so that I wondered what it is that the Exeter piece has which the string work does not, the answer being “text”. It is always much more difficult to articulate form and progress through a purely musical work, whereas the form of the text and the correspondences between words and phrases will, if allowed, suggest the form and progress of a vocal or choral piece.
I have been thinking about this over the past couple of days, wondering if I am perhaps too hung up on certain types of form in my instrumental writing, and that maybe I should just let the music go for a ride and see where it takes me. There was a lovely line in John Morton’s recent blog post about sitting down at a keyboard and thinking “I wonder what music we’ll find in here today”. I try not to work at a keyboard, so for me the wonder is what lies in the pencil, but I still think that I need to sit back and enjoy the process just a touch more.
Instrumental music is something I have tried very hard to crack over the past few years. It gets performed and has, on occasion, won awards and been recorded, but I have the feeling far less often that I know where I am heading. Perhaps it is because I experiment more when I am not writing for a choir, so I am far more likely to be fighting with new and untested ideas, but that can often mean that the result is of more interest, at least to me.
In any case, writing is often the end in itself, and the crucial thing is to keep the wheels turning, the pencil scribbling and the grey cells simmering. Whether the solution leaps onto the page, as in the Exeter piece, or is slightly more veiled, as in the string piece, I am still writing, and I am as curious as anyone to know what the results might be.