Lessons for Rufus: Ravel drops in

April 5, 2007


Rufus is writing words for a new aria at his desk in a chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland. He looks up and out the window at the amazing view. So far away from New York, and London and Paris. Deep breath. But he’s stuck on a word. “What rhymes with ‘choose it’? lose it, moose it, goose it, hmmm, toos boose, AH! MassaCHUSETTS!’ He writes the word down with abandon. Suddenly, he hears a hum. Well, maybe it’s more like a whir. He turns around quickly to see something disappear from around the corner.

“HELLO?!” Something falls in the bathroom. His heart beating frantically he walks down the hall trying to hear what is going on. “Must be a rat. Shit.” He gathers his strength, resolving that it is only a rat, and marches down the hall and into the bathroom and he jumps back in shock. There is a translucent silver orb hovering above the open toilet seat with what looks to be feathers wafting down from it.

Ravel: Sorry Rufus, I had to take a pee.

(Rufus looks in amazement as he sees a teeny tiny version of Maurice Ravel inside the sphere zips up his fly and turn towards him. As if the enlarge button was pressed, Ravel’s body gets bigger and bigger until his smiling face has filled the basketball sized sphere still floating above the toilet, which suddenly and unexplainably flushes. The whir sound becomes more pronounced as it hovers closer to Rufus until it stops, about 2 feet in front of his face. Maurice’s eyes flash down, and then back up.

Rufus: Maurice! Did you just check me out?

Ravel: We never had such opportunities in my time. But never mind, I’ve come to give you just a little lesson. Something has been on my mind and I need to share it with you.

Rufus: Oh good! Is it about orchestration?

Ravel: Well, to an extent. Uh, let’s go back into the living room.

Rufus walks back down the hallway with the silver orb close behind.

Ravel: I have never had interest in writing the kinds of songs you write. And so my words are to the other side of Rufus that wishes to compose in the classical tradition.

Your accompaniments are increasingly becoming CHORD CHORD CHORD CHORD CHORD CHORD CHORD CHORD… My point being, there is no counterpoint. All of YOUR notes are just notes in the chord. I imbue each note of my chords with a life of its own. I imagine one melodic line to be a mercurial fairy that leaves trails of shimmering gold dust in its path. Another line is the Nile winding its way through the Egyptian land. The next line is a frantic sperm that has only one thing on his mind. Another line is the wise old philosopher who has much to say, albeit very slowly. And another line is a gaggle of geese in flight. And, and, and..

Do you see my boy? Each line needs to be its own creature. Its own personality. Its own timbre. Its own register. Its own metabolism. Keeping these notes stuck in CHUNK CHUNK chords is like keeping those poor little creatures on a chain gang. I mean, it does have an effect, but I favor counterpoint. And I don’t mean fugues and such, I mean a multplicity of lines occuring simultaneously. Charlie Ives told me the other day that he didn’t think anyone could ever really hear more than four things going on at once. That may be true, but I imagine it varies from person to person.

Are you with me?

Rufus: Shakes his head. Uh, yeah. That’s a lot to take in. I mean, you know, I haven’t really started writing multi-part music like that yet. I guess I’m still piano based.

Ravel: As was I, but you must open up your inner ear to make that step. Get away from the piano. Slow your time world down. You want to have instant music. Yes, inspiration can come in a flash, but it must be balanced by setting it carefully, as a jeweler would set a fine piece, or a watchmaker executes his craft. You are so impatient. Slow down. Find the persona in each voice.

That’s all.

The sphere swelled and collapsed. A piece of paper fluttered to the floor. It appeared to be a Chinese fortune cookie fortune.

Perseverance furthers.

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