Last night, while writing up something bizarre, convoluted, thrilling and questionable for EEP, I was happily interrupted by one of my artistic partners, a choreographer and playwright I've worked with on large-scale chamber ballets as well as 4 minute improvisatory solo dances. In discussing an upcoming project, she shared with me this piece of music, asking me if I was interested in creating something in this spirit for a very personal dance solo she was showing in a few months:
Her words: "I want you to explore and make the music that comes for the essential Kaley AND you should know, right now, I am very wedded to this particular feel. the simplicity. the stirring quality. The repetition. it's very cinematic actually. I listened to this this morning when snow was falling... it's snow falling music. it's water rushing music. it's of the nature music. it's melancholy beauty."
I was struck immediately by the youtube comments (9,330 listens, 127 likes, 1 dislike): "Exquisite." "This is flawless artistry." "Musical perfection which stirs the heart and soul...music to write by..." "This piece almost has a mystical flair to it, I feel like I'm looking over rolling hills and enchanted forests from some old fairy tale." "On iPod on repeat. She is magical." "Nothing compares to the sound of the piano in this song. Nothing. Beautiful piece of music."
And then I remembered a composition lesson I had once long ago, not in this lifetime. I was showing a few sketches of a piece I was writing that used many drones, repetitive structures, and consonant harmonies, based in a West African tradition. The professor said something, nonchalantly, to the tune of, "I mean, if you keep making choices like that, it's going to be a minimalist piece. And obviously you don't want that." I remember staring at the score, puzzled, after this comment. The professor looked a little startled, confused that my reaction wasn't an immediate rejection of this horrifying prospect. "I mean, do you?" I think I shrugged, said something stylish and P.C. like, "I don't think I'm far along enough in the piece to know yet," etcetera. I left feeling confused, frustrated.
So I have been thinking about this piece non-stop since I listened last night, not only for its beauty but for the genuine, universal reaction it elicits. Why would we, as composers, ignore this? Why would we ignore this utopian acceptance of a piece, simply because it makes sense, it makes people feel things, it gives them images, it is a gift, an offering, a reaching out? Is it our goal to transcend that? And is that really transcending, or is it avoiding?
Of course, after listening to this song and considering the setting of a dance solo, I happily accepted my partner's offer, with the following response: "It will be therapeutic for me to achieve this [simplicity], since every force in my musical life pushes me out of simplicity into complexity." She responded, simply, "I know."
With this on my mind, the morning's events at my usual church gig were rather poignant. A few hymns, a few choral pieces in, the minister decided to add a musical coda on to his sermon. He sang a phrase, modal, pentatonic, American: "There's always more love left." He asked the congregation to join in and sing any harmony they wanted.
I was astounded. At the sound, and the feeling I had making it. I can't really describe it, just, harmonies, community, the ministers eyes closed, no one expressing anything too effusive, just a gentle, loving moment, probably inducing a surge of oxytocin in all of us. And then I realized that all other attempts at making music simply exist to replicate this feeling. Rarely do we experience an exact copy.
So, these two experiences, in the last 24 hours, have cemented a belief in my mind: music is not an intellectual experience. It is a physiological one. The future of music, I think, depends on this realization. The future of music is the above two experiences (and, interestingly, that's the past of music, too).
I probably sound like a broken record on this point; but I can't ignore it when I consistently have these shaking reminders - reminders that the most earth-shattering musical experiences of my life were communal, cathartic, and none of them took place in a concert hall.
Farewell, class - I'm privileged to have pondered these things in your company. Isaiah, I hope to continue to write on this blog as more interesting conundrums present themselves in my musical life....