Where music comes from

December 22, 2007

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Many of us love to talk and write about music. I might divide writers about music into several off-the-cuff categories: There are critics who become expert in telling the public their opinions in words. There are music teachers at all levels who teach the art and craft of playing an instrument. There are music teachers who specialize in telling people “how music [supposedly] works” with respect to melody, counterpoint, harmony, and structure. There are music scholars who are passionate about certain aspects of music and devote their lives to researching, writing and teaching about that passion. And finally, there is a huge amount of literature written by fans who may, but usually don’t have the expertise to really describe music technically, but know what they like and let it be known in a variety of ways.

And then there are composers who talk about music–other composer’s music as well as their own. My own advice is to ALWAYS take whatever composers say about their music, with a grain of salt. You can usually trust their comments to be true if they tell you it was written over a certain period of time, commissioned or not by someone, orchestrated for some ensemble, and premiered by someone somewhere on a certain date. Beyond that, turn up the purple prose filter and just nod politely. Granted, much music can and is described with minimal purple prose. But we composers love to go on–being the artists and gasbags that we are.

As I sit and compose music, and I’m having a really good session where the music is just pouring out, I don’t really know what I’m doing, where it’s really coming from, how many notes are there, how it relates to the overall structure, and other parameters composers like to go on about. When I look at it later, I may notice these things, or make up an analysis or scholarly stories about “how the music works” or how I composed it. But I fear that “where music comes from” will always be a mystery. I’m not ready to ape Stravinsky and tell you that I am but the vessel through which it passes to be given to the world. I’m not going to tell you that I channel music. I’m not going to tell you that God composes my music. I just don’t know, and that’s fine.

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oboeinsight » Blog Archive » MQOD
December 23, 2007 at 8:19 am

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