A Composer's Journal Entries June 4-11, 2005 by author and musician Laurie Conrad.
A Composer’s Journal: Entries June 4 - June 11, 2005
Saturday, June 4
Windgarth 7 p.m.
Went to the end of the dock and meditated while M. practiced a Mozart Sonata on the old upright downstairs. The songs of the birds, and the Love from my own Heart enveloped me as I gently slipped into my meditation. Afterwards, the air seemed crystalline, clear, filled with Light.
Back in town, a card from a college friend I have not seen in many years. She had bought my book & sent a photo of herself & her cat, named Blue. She wrote: "I’ll never forget you taking our 8 a.m. conducting class with W.B., wearing your pajamas." I inwardly coughed. W.B. was the Assistant Dean of the Music School.
Monday, June 6
At the television studio, copying old 3/4 tapes onto digital, mini DV tapes, to send to WSKG. Thinking of sending them Intermissions, which are shorter television shows, and have For Two Pianos and other pieces I wrote as the audio tracks. Most of them are Louise singing my songs. I was also copying my new digital tape of Visions for flute & harp onto regular VHS in one of the edit suites. The door to the edit room was slightly ajar, and the flute and harp mingled with the tape I was copying on the deck in the main room. It would be hard to describe what I was feeling, hearing Visions coming from the edit suite & Louise singing my early songs from behind me as I worked at the table, all the sounds and melodies and harmonies mingled and superimposed on each other, as though many realms were represented, joined and juxtaposed in transparent layers within a few feet of where I stood listening. I felt as though I were consciously seeing my own aura; or that what I held and carried inwardly was now surrounding me, my inner world suddenly manifested, as parts of myself met me from different directions in the room. If I could walk down the street enveloped in those melodies and harmonies, surrounded by those inner sounds of my own creation, overlapping in that cloth of sound, like a magic cape - what a different life I would lead, would experience. It would be a life without all the alien and jarring sounds I encounter each day, in each place, in each moment - even the most beautiful are not my inner words and hopes and feelings. Perhaps others can feel this unity when they are in conversation with others, sharing ideas, thoughts - for me the spoken word is always outside of myself. Only music is spun from my very being, my very essence. Music, for me, already contains words within it. The melodies and harmonies are the words, articulated by the rhythms and dynamics and phrasings and tempi, and I instinctively understand those sentences. I wonder if others experience music as I do ...
As I write these words in my notebook, I am listening to thunder & the rain in the garden. A summer storm has come up, suddenly and emphatically. The thunder now like mountains, or hills of sound, echoing off into the distance, into silence. Now only the sound of the rain against the slate stones in the garden. The rain with its own rhythms and articulations and pitches, gentle and steady in comparison to the thunder. The thunder more like a theme or motive appearing and disappearing, superimposed on the steady & gentle, musical sounds of the rain.
No, I would not trade those sounds for written music, even my own music.
Tuesday, June 7
Another rehearsal of Elegie at Robert Spear’s house. The concert is this Saturday night, and tonight was the first rehearsal I have attended. There will be one more before the concert. I had forgotten how beautiful Spear’s instruments are. The sound is truly incomparable. He and his wife intently listened to the sound of Bob’s instruments from their couch, across from me. I sat comfortably at the long wooden table with my score and a mechanical pencil, the musicians to my right. The musicians themselves were arranged around a thin oriental rug in the center of the room, scores strewn by their feet in small piles and heaps and interesting geometries. The temperature hovered at almost a hundred degrees Farenheit; the windows were opened, and a standing fan near me creaked and groaned in the sweltering heat, rhythmically, manifesting a definite and pure pitch that I could not identify. Outside the frogs sang loudly, punctuating their dialogue with various rhythms and accents. As the players tuned their instruments and played fragments of my piece to warm up, I thought of a waterfall - the sounds spilling over and under each other, fragments of recognizable passages interweaving with the random pitches of the open strings, the sound of the frogs and the fans. Inwardly I asked myself, because of the lack of ample rehearsal time, if I should lead my part of the rehearsal, or leave them to themselves as I have in the past. I decided to let them run the rehearsal themselves.
Elegie was written during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and I began writing it late one night and finished it the next afternoon. It is only fifteen or so pages of printed score, and was my first piece for Spear’s instruments. The Alfred Consort premiered Elegie over a year ago - but now there were two new players, and another had changed from mezzo violin to the soprano violin. Therefore, I was curious to see how they would interpret the score. The mezzo violin begins with a pizzicato triplet, and this new player began at a faster tempo than they had used in the past. As both a composer and as a performer, I am always amazed at the difference even a slight change in tempo can produce in the interpretation, sound and phrasing of a piece. In this instance, suddenly my Elegie - which had seemed more Schubert-like, almost romantic, on the previous concert - sounded more French pre-Impressionist, and I thought of Faure. I said nothing, and decided to allow the musicians to find their own tempo - a combination of curiosity and a willingness to experiment on my part. Musicians of the future will not always have me sitting there across the room from them during their rehearsals - nor always have a CD of the piece to listen to beforehand. Partly, I was interested in seeing what interpretations are possible for the piece - and if they could all work, or only some. If the answer was that only one tempo & interpretation expressed the music I had inwardly heard, then I must be very careful to mark the exact tempos and phrasings and dynamics in the score. Being both a composer & interpreter, a pianist - I have always preferred to allow the musicians some leeway of interpretation. This allows both the musicians and the piece to breathe, to live and stay alive. If the composer writes everything into the score - the interpretations will hardly vary from performance to performance. This is not good for the piece, nor for the interpreters. In any case, that is my view. This attitude might also partially stem from the fact that I was also a professional clarinetist in my youth, and played in many orchestras. Conductors are notorious for stretching or changing interpretations of scores, and orchestral players spend endless hours comparing the various interpretations of the various conductors and orchestras on recording. It is not unusual for an orchestral player to hear a few measures of a recording on the radio and guess the piece, the composer, the conductor - and the orchestra.
The tenor violinist forgot to bring her score of the Quintet, so I cannot yet begin to make final changes to the master score. The musicians stopped playing. Discussions on tempi, sustaining held melody notes between the voices so there are no gaps, scribbled notes to myself in the score, to discuss later: Bill m.43, e to e flat slur; for some reason thought of the flat mushrooms on the tree stump at the entrance to the falls that I saw with Suzanne yesterday ...
Outside, the stars & planets above me, & a firefly pretends to be a small blinking star ... The quintet now rehearsing a Bach piece, and melodies & harmonies reach through the open windows, & a gentle wind comes towards me, over the hills.
Saturday, June 11
Another sweltering day. M. went to Windgarth yesterday after work, & stayed there overnight. I had to stay in town because of today’s 2:30 rehearsal of Elegie. The rehearsal went well, & Al was there taping. Afterwards went to Claus’ shop. More books and CDs had sold. Brought him a few more T shirts of the book cover & he asked if I was keeping track. I said "yes", I was, & asked what his cut was. He asked me what we had decided & I said that I could not remember. "I’d like to make a little profit", he said. I agreed. He named an amount & I thought he should take more, but he said it was enough. I wrote it down on a piece of paper. Said I would tally up at some point and he said that would be fine. Walked home, and the plants in the gardens along the sidewalks looked as wilted as I felt - except for some sturdy Hosta recently watered and in the shade. On one corner two children playing violins, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star without vibrato and very out of tune. After just hearing the Albert Consort, with their extraordinary musicality and sound, I almost turned around and headed back into town in spite of the heat. When I looked more closely, I saw a simple folding table, the sort we used to call "card tables", two large pitchers and a stack of paper cups. A large, bright orange piece of posterboard announced Lemonade in crooked letters. Yes, it was the kind of day for such a venture. The children were trying to bring in customers with their violins. I smiled as I slowly shuffled past, and met an even smaller child coming towards me on the sidewalk. This child was wearing a white T shirt that said "A good day to buy some lemonade buy some from us" handwritten in magic marker across his chest. I heard a bit more violin and then a young high voice said: "I did walk around the block" answered by: "Well, walk around again". If it weren’t one hundred degrees or more, I would have laughed.
M. came back from Windgarth in time for the concert. The quintet played Elegie very beautifully, and I will collect the scores later, so that we can make changes to the master score. If this group stays together, in spite of their not getting paid, they will become very well-known one day. World known. After the concert I went up to Bob, to congratulate him, and he turned to me and said: "We need a grant". On the way home M. uncharacteristically added: "Write a piece for Bob’s octet without choir. Be practical." My beautiful Prayer to Saint Michael. I wonder if I will ever hear it performed. If anyone will.
Downstairs, the fluffy pink & white peonies in the green ceramic vase.
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