Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Unreal Music

Yesterday, I received a CD and DVD in the mail from Gregory Wiest. On March 29, he included my song cycle Chasms on a concert, and he wanted to let me see and hear it since I couldn't make the trip to Munich. Actually, the original arrangement of the songs were for soprano and piano, but I made an arrangement for tenor, piano, and double bass to send to Mr. Wiest. He had sung a previous set of my songs, Pax Americana: Songs of Protest quite well, and I was curious about what he would do with the Sara Teasdale settings of Chasms.

As I listened to the performance and watched both Gregory and soprano Elaine Ortiz-Arandes (whom he enlisted to sing the songs from Chasms that had more of a female persona), I was aware of a pair of thoughts that kept bubbling up. The first was something like: Wow, that was perfect... just like it was in my head. The second was some variation of: Huh, I didn't expect that... I never thought of it/heard it that way. As a composer, this was a particularly interesting phenomenon. I was being reminded again that "my" music is actually an abstract and unreal article. What gets created and heard is a collaboration of my creative efforts and the interpretation of a group of performers.

As I write this, the Lord of Life Lutheran Church Choir is rehearsing a piece I finished this afternoon. Talk about getting things in just under the wire! Right now, the piece only exists in my imagination. I've notated the sounds I imagine to the best of my ability, and they will have the (hopefully enjoyable) task of translating it into actual sound. And no matter how many times they sing it or how many other choirs perform it, the piece will probably never sound exactly the same twice. More to the point, I doubt anyone will ever hear exactly what I imagine when any of my pieces are performed.

I actually love hearing how performers interpret my music (despite the fact that I am a pretty nervous audience member until about a minute into a piece). Of course, I want a piece to approach the idealized sounds I have in my head, and some performances are closer than others. But the fact that people choose to perform my music in the first place is flattering. When I can tell that they are pushing themselves a little bit and still having fun, it's even more satisfying. I used to think of composing as a rather isolated endeavor, and some phases of the process certainly are. But the more I broaden my understanding of exactly what happens with a piece of music, the more I recognize how relational the whole process is. And I want to write more.

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