Saturday, October 27, 2007

On Baseball

I've spoken before about my believe in baseball, and with this year's World Series having an off day today, I figure there's no better time to revisit it than now.

But I'm going to be short and sweet. In other words: I'm going to let someone else do the talking for me. But this pretty much sums it up.


"What baseball means to me...A sense of continuity...A cavalcade of characters...Enough anecdotes to fill a hundred rain delays...Debates that always rage, and are almost never settled...Familiar surroundings, always holding the possibility of something you'd never expect..."
Bob Costas

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why Music?

My private teacher gave me the assignment to journal (yes, I'm using it as a verb) my thoughts on what I want my music to say. It is pretty rambly and self-exploration-filled, so I thought it would be perfect to post here. If you read all of it, more power to you...I'm sure there'll be more of these coming, as I want to get back to blogging more regularly for my own good...even (especially?) if nobody reads it.


I know I was supposed to think about what I want to say in my music and why I compose now, but to arrive at this, I think I need to work through a few questions.

First, is of course, what composition is to me, and why I compose. Partially because of Duke Ellington's “Prelude to a Kiss.” I was given the recording off of “Indigos” by my high school piano teacher, and the combination of Duke's writing and Johnny Hodges' playing, it made me speechless. I said right then that I wanted to do that.

I guess what I want to do with it starts simply with that I am a hopeless romantic, and to me, composing is just like falling in love. Sometimes it feels good at first but then it loses all meaning as time goes on. But sometimes, it feels good and then it grows truer and truer with every passing moment. And when trying too hard to re-create the latter, the former is inevitable.

I feel like I've only ever written three songs that feel true after they've been written. All ballads, by no coincidence. (Partially because I'm drawn to ballads as a pianist because of my lack of chops and the 1925 upright piano I learned to play on whose hammers were so warn that its tone was made for ballads, and partially because I feel emotion runs through me and through ballads easier...) The first was a piece I wrote in high school called “Away,” that the melody and chord changes still hold that emotion to me whereas a lot of the rest of it doesn't, because it was used as an audition piece and therefore I worked it until it was dead. I'd love to go back and re-work it now, and still intend to. And the latest was “Broken Love Song” last May, which was an undeniable result of the time at which it was written and the horrible depression I was battling through and the breakup that happened to spiral me downward into my worst. (I was already battling depression and the breakup made things worse when it looked like they were finally getting better. The breakup did not cause the depression.)

Perhaps not so ironically, “Broken Love Song” was the first step to getting out of the depression. Part of what was depressing me was the fact that my music felt forced and lacked that emotion that I so deeply craved, and was reminded of every time the gods decided to cruelly play that Duke recording when my computer or MP3 player was on random – which seemed to happen more often than mathematically possible in a digital library of over a month of music. “Broken Love Song,” when I wrote it, I actually was quite unsure of it. When I was singing the melody still two days later, I knew I had something I'd be happy enough with for class.

The day of the reading was probably one of my darkest as far as the depression goes, having nothing to do with the reading itself. At that point, the only thing keeping me going was a blog I kept – and continue to – that at the time was a mix between a cry for help, amusing anecdotes, and an up-and-down journey of self-exploration. (I deliberately do not say 'self-realization', because that's a long process that I'm still exploring, if not entirely obvious by this piece of writing.) The reading was the first step to help, and it's the small things. I'm going to quote my blog from the next day:

I'm looking for the right words of wisdom that I've gotten in order to end this entry, but there are no words. Just looks. The look Bill Kirchner gave me Tuesday night after a new piece of my was read by a big band. He knew I wasn't sure about it, and he just looked at me, smiled, nodded, and said, "Ya did fine."

So that, more or less, gets me to the present day. And I'm scared to try to answer the question of what it is I want to say with my music now, my artistic statement, if you will. I'm scared that exploring this question, I will only be able to answer that I'm saying in my music that I'm depressed and need help. Right now, the only thing my music is saying is that I'm young, have a decent technical knowledge, and have a hell of a lot of growing up to do, both musically and otherwise. As much as I hate to admit it, I'm still an immature kid in a lot of ways. I'm just under a month shy of my 22nd birthday, and I've never been accused of being my age. On the one hand, I look at myself as someone unbelievably mature for my age who has done a lot of things in his life and has some great stories, especially for a 22 year old. And on the other, I'm immature and hide it.

I guess the fact that I have so much trouble answering this question adds to my fears that I am a fraud. I mean, it used to be so easy for me to just sit down and write. Some of the things that were easy for me once are still easy for me: I can still play by ear with little problem. I still memorize by sound – only better than ever because my ears are better – but that's because my brain will only internalize by aural abilities. I can take a lead sheet and arrange it for 3 horns or 4 horns easier than ever.

But I don't. Maybe for the same reason that it's hard for me to write as easily as I once did, before I called myself a 'composer'. (I wouldn't call myself a 'musician' or a 'composer' until I had outside validation of acceptance to music school. Before that, I was an 'aspiring musician' or someone who did music heavily in life and that's where my passion was, but I didn't throw the terms around lightly. Comparably, I write, and I write better than many 'writers' I know, but the fact that I have no outside validation – and don't look for it – with writing, I will never call myself a 'writer'.) Maybe it's harder for me to compose now because I have too much knowledge and I have higher standards. Or maybe it's simply that I'm not at a piano every day anymore – both because I do not have a piano in my residence, and for the physical issues of my shoulder injury that a piano does truly hurt if I play too much. (Which creates some issues in some classes when I cannot physically get the work done. To pass out of piano lessons, I had to do an extra semester and make a deal that I would be passed more on effort than on results.)

So this all somehow brings me back to what it is I'm saying, or want to say, with my music now.

I guess, more than anything, I want to say that I'm not a fraud. But beyond that, I want to paint portraits and evoke emotion. I don't want to paint portraits in the film score sense – although that would be nice for financial reasons – but I want to paint emotional portraits. I want to be able to capture something true.

I wish I could be less vague, especially because I bet I cannot find a composer alive (or dead) who would ever say he didn't want to capture truth. So perhaps I should figure out what my 'now truth' is.

So I want to capture something that is both hopefully for the future and nostalgic for the past, and yes, unhappy in the present. In a way, I think doing this is what makes something timeless: something that speaks to both the past and the future and it's only real relationship to the present is that it exists now.

But my problem with this is simple: I don't like the thought that I am stuck within the constraints of ballads and songs with a minor feel – even if not in a minor key. So beyond that timelessness of an unhappiness that, in my mind, isn't really unhappy but better described as 'romantic', I also want to capture a timelessness of childhood and innocence. (Best example I can think of off the top of my head is Marian McPartland playing “Moon River” on her Piano Jazz program when Henry Mancini was on. It has longing in it, nostalgia in it, and even an up-tempo and playful/childish section in it. That one rendition basically sums up what I want my music to say.

I've got a long way to go, though, and I know it. And the work to get there excites me and scares me like nothing else. I'm excited by it, but scared because I just don't know where to begin. My natural abilities have only carried me so far, and they're running out and I cannot keep playing to them before I fall into the “all his music sounds the same” place. I like having a distinct voice, but I don't want it to be a monotone voice.

And that's probably enough self-exploration for now. I'm sure there'll be more, much sooner than I have

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Composing and Love

Composing is just like falling in love. Sometimes it feels good at first but then it loses all meaning as time goes on. But sometimes, it feels good and then it grows truer and truer with every passing moment. And when trying too hard to re-create the latter, the former is inevitable.