A week ago three little pieces of mine were played in Washington, DC — or actually the first three I’ve written from a projected longer set. They’re for piano, and the pianist also plays a drum. They’re based on prose poems by Anne Carson, her Short Talks. Somehow I think there will be 11 of them in all, which is one of those artist’s intuitions that’s based on pure instinct. It’s not as if I’ve gone through the poetry, and picked eight more texts. No, the number eleven just asserts itself, inside my mind.
The pianist — the pianist-drummer — was the wonderful Jenny Lin, who did a spectacular job. Among other things, she had to develop a drum technique, though the pieces are tricky enough without that. And she had to coordinate the piano and drum. And she and I had to decide what drum to use, and where it should stand or sit while she played. She and I (but mostly she) chose a small hand drum, and she went to the trouble — all composers should be grateful for a collaborator so devoted — of building a small stand for the drum, so it could be raised off whatever surface it would be placed on. It had to be raised, so as not to muffle its resonance.
I’ll have recordings soon enough of Jenny’s performance. But for now, here’s a link to the score, and to computer demos of the three pieces:
Anne Carson, I’m very happy to say, has given me permission to use her poetry. For me, no small thing, since she’s one of the most distinguished living poets, and (closer to the bone for me) one of my artistic touchstones.
In my next posts: something about the very nice concert on which these pieces were played, and something about the process of composing, which I think is very little written about. Much of the writing on composing comes from non-composers, who analyze composers’ scores, and make comments on what they think is notable. Too often, I think, they hit on niceties of harmony or form that the composer was almost surely unaware of.
Or else they cite things that probably were sheer inspiration, things that (like the number 11 for me) just jumped up in the composer’s mind. (Or in — digression here — the composer’s boots. I once asked Little Richard what he thought of Freddy Jackson, the late-’80s R&B star, and he said, “He makes the big toe jump up in my boot!” Inspiration can be like that.)
What analysts often miss (or mostly miss), I think, is the things that composers have to work out — all the many details that (unless you’re Bach or Mozart) can take endless time and patience. In future posts, I’ll comment on some of those in my own music.
For now: there’s a small discrepancy in one of the Short Talks, between the score and the computer demo. What is it? Why is it there? What silly mistake did I make?