A Composer's Journal Entries August 10-20 by classical pianist and composer Laurie Conrad.
A Composer’s Journal August 10 - 20, 2005
Wednesday, August 10
Another beastly hot day, over 100 degrees. Errands with JF. A trip to the post office. Ice cream, a new flavor: chocolate covered praline crunch with swirls of chocolate fudge & caramel. JF said it was too sweet; I loved it. Came back to air conditioning & wrote in voice parts & added more notes - it’s almost done. Well, the sketch is almost done. Will work on the last stanza tonight or tomorrow. I am pleased. Played with the form a bit, a rough ABB’A’B" with coda as it now stands. Virtually no changes made to the original sketch, just added lines, voices. Then to complete the intro. I will do that last. Last, so that my thoughts can continue to the end; I do not wish to interrupt them now. Also, when the rest is done, I will have a better sense as to how long the introduction should be. All these little notes, falling into place so willingly ... As I thought, all the material was there. A few minor changes, added some intro and coda, that is all. Decided on a form.
At the post office, JF stayed in the air conditioned car, reading. The woman behind me waiting stoically, expressionless. Rather sullen, hostile. "Hot day", I said. "My car thermometer said 99 degrees", she answered. I apologized for all my mail, & how long it was taking the clerk to process it. "They’re going out all over the world, for Save the Children children. My letters & toys give them hope I think." The woman brightened. "I live in the woods, in Newfield. I’m in a hurry because it’s my lunch hour, & I’m on my way to buy a plastic swimming pool." She paused briefly and frowned. "I’m worried about the animals in this heat & lack of rain. I’m going to put a swimming pool down outside my house, & whoever wants to drink from it can." She had average features & height, average length hair, average width & stance. Glasses. Wrinkles around the eyes, a lifeless voice of average pitch and rhythm. Ordinary, nondescript. One would not notice her in a crowd, not even walking down the street. Tears came to my eyes. I looked inside & gave myself a mental spanking for judging her on externals. How many saintly & kind souls are tucked away under boring & sullen externals, walking this earth with me & quietly helping others with open hearts ... "A touching thing happened in the post office", I said to JF & she said "Hmmf .." Her usual response.
6:45 The rest of "Hail, Holy Queen" is done, save the very end. Perhaps I will finish it later tonight, or tomorrow.
After meditation class, worked the sketch to the end. Still must add some voice parts, a few changes here & there - but it is essentially done. The introduction is very short, starts with the harp triplets & plunges into the voice parts, floating. The end is a combination of the B & B’sections, run together, mainly in 4/4; a coda of sorts at the very last. Very tonal. Decided to quote words from other stanzas in the final BB’ section, although I might change that later. Emphasized ‘Pray for us Holy Mother of God’, & then ended with the final words of the prayer ‘That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ’. The last words sung are: Holy Mother of God. The hard part comes next, copying it all out & making the final decisions - that phase will take many hours & days of diligent work. This version of the Prayer will be for Robert Spear’s new string octet & choir - which means eight lines for the strings and four for the choir on each page of manuscript paper, i.e. twelve lines altogether.
Quite a day for composing. A few days ago, I had not even decided on the overall form. And now here it is - finished ... A new stack of papers on the music rack, all scribbled up. True, only the rough sketch. Often I was in too much of a hurry to even write stems to the notes, much less all the lines. Basically, a few small note heads of melody & choir parts for the last however many pages of BB’ - which are now B"B"’ to be more accurate, for the choir parts & words are different from the first entrance of those sections. The rest should be easy to fill in. Many ideas waiting to be written down. I suppose most composers would be horrified at the way I work, but the choir parts seemed more important than copying down all the lines, the overall ideas. Hearing a choir & string orchestra inwardly - is exhilarating really. None-the-less, I had better copy it all out before I forget what all those dots & squiggles & arrows on the page mean ...
Two days ago, I had "crashed" from my injuries, from talking too long to the computer man. Flat on my back for an entire day & night, mind emptied of thoughts, the heart open. And tonight, in meditation, most extraordinary - as though my heart lit the universe ... Hmm ... And the piece is now essentially done.
Thursday, August 11
Woke & went to the piano & wrote some notes for the choir. I am tired today. Will let the piece sit for a while & then go back to it. Meanwhile, I am trying to envision the last movement, the prayer to the Holy Spirit. Will look for a text sometime this week or next.
Other projects to complete, the piano & string piece revision for instance. Also I had wanted to record my piano pieces. Where has the summer gone ... I haven’t even taken the piano scores out as yet, found them in the stacks of scores piled in the living room. They might be in the large, heavy wooden box that Vicki Romanoff made for me years ago - from planks of white oak found when I lived in the country, on Black Road. I would use it as a desk, except that it is piled with manuscripts & books. And crayons & sticks of coloured clay for Ian.
Thursday, August 18
Matt came & fixed the computer & hooked up the printer. He said our monitor is dying, we should buy a new one. Luc e-mailed me. He no longer wishes to water the gardens. He came twice. M. said to ask him how much we owe him.
Friday, August 19
Windgarth. Cooler. Low 70's. Very windy. The waves are breakers today, curled before hitting the beach. Rhythmic, emphatic. Larry’s daughter Nicole & her husband & dog are visiting for a few days.
Yesterday, Pam & Serge were here, staying upstairs. The diver came, to clean the water filtering system. Calm & sunny, we had floated on the lake, quietly talking. Tonight, the wind & waves are almost deafening, a wind shear. Words are carried away on the wind ... No moon, although it would be full and brilliant against the sky, if it were not for the clouds. Hidden. All seems hidden tonight. I am sitting downstairs, with all the windows open. It feels as though there are no walls, no protection from the emotions and moods of the night. Earlier, visiting Ester, papers flying everywhere as we tried to look at her photo album, seated at the kitchen table, overlooking the lake. A certain wildness. A good night to read Wuthering Heights, the winds sweeping across the moors ...
I left my score at home. Next week I will begin copying out the finished score, fill in the missing notes & lines as I go. I will face the usual decisions: should it begin with the harp triplets alone, or should I add other voices? Later, should I drop the bass line out, keep it transparent there? Or should all the lines continue, a continuity of sound & texture... This is where one must be very brave & decisive. One extra note, one less note - can change everything, everything. I tend toward the more transparent.
After this piece is done, I will write something for Bob’s string octet, without choir. Easier & cheaper to perform; more practical. Instead, I now hear music for mezzo soprano & strings. Intense, romantic - brooding. Fast & complicated inner lines, ascending & descending, wandering, agitated triplets. It must be the coming storm & the tempo of the waves beating against the shore. It is as though I breathe the sounds of the night into my very being.
Saturday, August 20
Woke at dawn, with the sun. M. & I spent an hour or so carrying bucketfuls of seaweed to the gardens - the wind & water had brought them to the beach overnight. Today calm, still cool. Strong sun, burning my eyes. We will go to the Amish, to buy bread & cheese, vegetables & fruits. The little blond girl is now learning her numbers, using the calculator - & helping to carry our things to the car. She rarely smiles. We have not seen the young boy all summer. He might now be plowing the fields, drawn by the underfed, frail Amish horses ....