Lessons for Rufus: Silence, and your new teacher

February 6, 2007

My Dear Rufus,

Silence is an important compositional element. Pepper it throughout your music and you’ll find it helps the music breathe. Phrases chunk better. Silence can range from complete silence that lasts for just a moment, to a long silence that lets a powerful chord or orchestral stab reverberate throughout the auditorium.

Think carefully about the time between your songs on your CD. Avoid inserting a blanket time between each song. Some songs need to hang in the air a bit longer. Think about “Her Majesty’s a Pretty Nice Girl” at the end of ABBEY ROAD. That amount of silence between sonic events was brilliant, and very original. Something as simple as an eighth note rest, wittily placed in the right place, can make a theme unforgettable.

I spoke a famous SF composer today who is fond of your music. He accuses you of not knowing what is good and what is not in your own output. I wasn’t sure what to say to him. I can’t say that everything you write is my cup of tea, but so what? He told me to encourage you to be more self-critical. Do with that as you will.

Last week I chatted with Charles Ives and told him about you. He didn’t know of you but claimed that he was busy revising more pieces from the ’20s. I asked whether he would be willling to give you some lessons. He said that he would but couldn’t promise to give you “proper” lessons, to which I told him I didn’t think you would mind. I did NOT tell him that you are queer. But he DID bail Henry Cowell out of prison, so perhaps he is more tolerant than he acts. He kept shouting obnoxious phrases like “take your dissonance like a man.”

Oh, I must tell you: he is prone to angry fits. Once I phoned his home and his wife (Harmony) answered. In the background I heard loud shouting, paper ripping, and other odd sounds. Harmony put down the phone and I heard her say “Charlie, Charlie! Please calm down”

“This goddam Robert Browning Overture is pure hogwash. I’ve written a huge flop.” More ripping and paper wadding. She came back to the phone and asked that we talk “a bit later.”

Don’t let that scare you, he is a great fellow––most of the time. He asks that you send him a package of your scores and recordings as soon as you possibly can. I think it is a wonderful opportunity for you, take it!

Good luck!


Hector Berlioz

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