Still Writing the ‘Unsung Songs’ Cycle: A Composer’s Journal

September 25th, 2012

The composer continues sketching out the music for the ‘Unsung Songs’ cycle scored for piano, flute, violin, viola and cello. The music is based on haiku poems written by the violinist William Hurley. A Composer’s Journal Entries: July 22 – July 30, 2012.

Sunday, July 22

Composed more pages, expanded material I had already written – and then got stuck in Haiku IV :

Autumn’s rocks and stonesHold the soul of tired earth …Anticipating.

Trying to write inner lines and cannot decide which way to go where. Time to take a break and water the plants or have some dinner.

4:30 A.M.

Still on break from composing – just returned from the gardens. While I was out clipping and weeding and propping, I heard the most amazing bird singing – the Maria Callas of the bird world. I have never heard such singing in a bird, so rich and pure and full-bodied … M. mentioned a bird had been waking her hours before dawn, and it must be this same cardinal. A Wagner orchestra, all in one little bird. Interestingly enough, whenever I began inwardly praying the cardinal would start singing, and then the other birds would also begin, weak pale reflections of this young reincarnated Maria Callas – choir members I suppose.

Monday, July 23

Woke this morning with the intention of finding new effects and patterns, new sounds in the piano for the two poems that mention wind, Haiku V and Haiku IX. Took out a few sheets of blank manuscript paper and propped them up on the piano rack, on a volume of Brahms. Covered three pages with notes and rhythms, a framework for V and IX, the frame for all the other notes and melodies and phrases to hang on, to evolve from – in a way, the Essence of V and IX in those few pages of scribbled notes. The rest should easily follow. Generally when I have found this Essence to a section or movement or piece, I consider those sections or movements or pieces already written, finished – even though the notes and rhythms have not all been found yet, identified, chosen. I consider the piece already written because the remaining notes and phrases are in some mysterious way already contained within those essential motives or melodies or sounds – and so they logically and effortlessly manifest as the piece progresses.

Later tonight, I will see if any new ideas have surfaced for Haiku IV, solutions to any of the knotty problems that I could not solve earlier. Sometimes I hear the music deeply within myself – but cannot clearly hear and identify the specific tones. The problems I am having in Haiku IV are more complicated because decisions must be made, and I cannot yet make them. Sometimes we have to wait for answers, music cannot be rushed or forced into being. Most often the composer must allow the music to reveal itself. Technique cannot solve it, nor experience – although all that is new is based upon them. But they alone cannot create something that belongs to the soul.

Tuesday, July 24

Still stuck, mired in Haiku IV. Put those pages in the manilla folder for the finished sketches, but marked it unfinished.

After my day and its various events and tasks is over, I will begin expanding and filling in the sketches I made yesterday for Haiku IX.

Thursday, July 26

Worked a bit on Haiku V, new motives and effects in the piano, last night and today. Also sketched out a bit of Haiku IX

Sunday, July 29

Yesterday finished sketching out Haiku IX. Even though I had already sketched out some motives and other ideas for the overall form, I had to work at getting inwardly quiet enough to compose this piece. It is scored for piano, flute and cello, and I wanted it to reflect the poem’s haiku brevity and clarity. Moreover, I wanted to capture something I was seeing in my mind, snatches of score – something more in the style and feeling of my early two line songs… And this rarefied two line music is surrounded by silence, inner and outer, in a way my other pieces are not. I am not sure that I did capture what I was seeing and hearing inwardly – but this is still only a preliminary sketch to be filled in later. In time, everything seems to fall into place, easily, effortlessly… Sometimes, often it is only a matter of waiting.

Began sketching out Haiku V today, a few pages for the piano, possibly a fairly long and complicated piano introduction. William’s words for Haiku V:

Wind hands and frost teethDrag heavy Autumn onward …Cold the winter road.

Haiku V, at the moment, is still a stack of manuscript paper covered with motives and harmonies and melodies, held together by a paper clip. I am using the whole tone scale throughout this cycle, and abandoning the rows for stretches. Haiku V is scored for all the instruments, piano, flute, violin, viola and cello and so a bit more complicated to think through and notate. It all gets easier as more notes and ideas are written and thought – one always leads to another…

Although sometimes, in a way, I prefer the fragments of motives and melody and harmony to the finished piece. To a composer, at least to me, music organized and scored, scripted from beginning to end, all the myriad decisions made and scored – can feel too choreographed, stifled in a way. There is something very very special about a motive or a fragment of score sitting by itself alone on a sheet of manuscript paper, even visually… Possibly because it has been freed from the rest of the score, possibly because it contains unlimited possibility – where will it come from, where will it lead, what other instruments will join in or not… Yes, that is it… Freed and holding unlimited possibilities, infinite possibility – a few beautiful sounds surrounded by silence, like stars in the Heavens, alone, yet a part of the night sky…

Monday, July 30

Played through all my preliminary sketches for Haiku V, the Winter Wind. It’s all there, the entire piece, more than enough ideas, motives, melodies, harmonies – possibly too much. Now to take those sheets of manuscript paper covered with notes and ideas, organize them into a piece, a coherent unfolding of sounds and forms. That is the task – the ideas are already there, the sounds and shapes and textures. What goes where, when – and how. In a way a beautiful jigsaw puzzle….

And yet once I plunge in, I know the piece will in some mysterious way write itself, dictate itself to me, the scribe, the stenographer. Because this piece is already written, I am just retrieving it, reconstructing it from the deepest reaches of my being.

Enough thinking, it is time to go downstairs and start writing, make decisions, create the finished sketch. Later, I will go through this same process again, filling in and making changes to these completed sketches. The magic of music: revelation, genius, mystical intuition, flashes of insight, Glimpses of the soul – and a long series of disciplined steps and hard work.

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