Tuesday, October 04, 2005

How to Write Music

FOR A SUPPERCLUB CONCERT last night I'd been asked to provide about fifteen minutes of music. I put the assignment off too long, but a few hours before the concert I began to sketch the piece out.

Three or four sheets of paper, landscape mode, roughly pencilled horizontal lines dividing the instruments -- flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trombone, percussion, three or four strings.

Horizontal pencil lines dividing the time, five seconds or so at a time. I wrote in a few figures -- scale patterns here, the outline of a melody there, a few quickly repeated notes, a few sustained tones. No specific pitches.

Then I ran out of time, and had to go to the club with no music. The musicians were there, of course, and I watched them get out their tools and warm up. I knew several of them. The audience was sitting behind me, also facing the musicians.

I explained I hadn't finished anything, and began to describe the sketch I'd begun. I conduct it like this, I said, sweeping my right arm like a second-hand, punching out individual notes or curving lyrical phrases with my left hand.

It begins with kind of an oriental-sounding plaintive melody in the bassoon's second and third octaves, I said, singing it and looking at Greg Barber, who began playing along with me. I glanced over toward Larry London, who began counterpointing a similar tune on the clarinet.

I showed the brass players how they come in and drop out with sustained tones, higher if I point upward, lower if downward, quieter when my left hand drops.

The strings waited for me to curve some tunes toward them, and the winds tapped out repeated notes as I signalled them. This went on for a while, and then I said

But of course I never got around to writing the piece, or making you parts, so we won't be able to play anything tonight.

And that was the end of the piece, and the end of the dream. But I realize now that it's exactly how I notated the first movement of Tongues.

NOTHING ELSE to report, except that while making guacamole last night I sneaked slug of tequila and one of the almonds Lindsey had out on a pan on top of the stove. What a combination that is! Gotta capitalize on it somehow!

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