Friday, July 10, 2009

Who's Going to Play This?

For most of my compositions, I have a clear understanding of who will play the piece. At least the first time. Although I hope for many, many performers to program my works, there is a specific musician or ensemble I have in mind when I am writing. What I know of their abilities, their likes and dislikes, and even their personalities have played a part in my decisions. It feels like a partnership, and I like the opportunity to receive feedback about what I've written and to make changes when something just doesn't work.

Now I find myself working little by little on a piece without a predetermined performer. It fits with my new practice of committing to a purpose because the outcome is important to me, even if I can't see clearly how to get from where I am to where I want to be. I know where the first step is, though. Once I get there, and take enough time to enjoy that bit of the journey, I can figure out where Step #2 lies. I find that I am on several different journeys, and their steps are not all moving at the same pace. It is a rather invigorating dance when I take a moment to think about it.

With this project, I am envisioning sound relationships in a more idealized way. I'm not sure what the end result will be, but it is a liberating process. There may be many changes once I have an opportunity for the work to be performed, but I believe that it is a very honest representation of my creativity so far. It is a bit slower going than some of my other compositions, but I am not in a hurry. I am listening deeply and consciously to what I have written, so I feel much more in tune with every detail of what I am creating. I am being a bit meticulous about knowing what comes next, and I am waiting to create more of the piece until I am in a place of trusting myself and the music. And the rest of my life's dance continues around it and within it.


  1. My knowledge of music is very limited, but can't you essentially orchestrate any piece of music so that it sounds good with any instrument/performer? So can't you take a piece written for a piano and change it a bit so that it's appropriate for a flute or a banjo?

  2. Each instrument has its own idiosyncrasies, so it depends on the music to a certain extent. The piece I am referring to in this particular case has some definite instrumentation, but I do not have any specific performers in mind. This was not the case when I wrote my second string quartet, for instance, which was commissioned by the Tremont String Quartet. It wasn't just an abstract, idealized quartet, it was for four very unique individuals. Other quartets can play it, of course.

    To address your specific question, though: It is possible to arrange music for other instruments (often called a transcription), but there are limits. A piano can do things a flute can't, for instance. It can play several notes at once, and it has a much broader range than a flute. A pianist also doesn't have to breathe, but the piano can't sustain tones very well. It would be easier to transcribe a flute solo to, say, a saxophone since the two instruments are more similar than either is to the piano.