Monday, December 14, 2009

More Like Gauntlet

I recently decided to do something about the rhythm that has been nagging me from the back of my mind and incorporate it into a new piece.  The result is a fast, advanced-level piece in D Minor (occasionally going into F Major and flirting with Phrygian mode) with frequent meter changes.  I originally thought Agincourt, with its 7/8 time signature would be a good rhythmic challenge for advanced students, but now I see that middle school kids are playing it with no problem.  This new one (still untitled, of course) should be suitably difficult.

But while writing this new one, I got to thinking about something.

People always ask me "why don't you write something like Gauntlet again?" To which I have two responses.  First: I thought I have.  I'm not sure exactly how I bottled lightning with Gauntlet - it seems to be a product of the very specific state of mind I was in for two weeks in 1998 and, despite my best efforts, it remains a unique anomaly.  I think that Agincourt, Elementals, Avatar (no relation to the new movie), Gargoyles, Crusader, and Storm Trail all have that same "dark and fast" quality.  I also have dozens of unpublished pieces in the same milieu, but I still get asked why I don't write more pieces like Gauntlet.  I'm not sure what quality it is that people respond to and want me to reproduce, but it seems beyond my grasp.

My second response is: why would I want to write the same thing twice?  Even if I could write a piece like Gauntlet again, would you really want to play a piece that's exactly like Gauntlet but not Gauntlet?  Would teachers buy a piece that's really really similar to a piece that they already have in their library?  I still like Gauntlet, but all these years later I see a certain naivete in its construction and I'd like to think that I've grown as a composer since then.  While I sometimes try to emulate the dark style and fast tempo that made Gauntlet popular, I'd rather write a piece that is unique and interesting on its own merits than a complete re-tread of something I've already done.

Let me put it this way: What if the Beatles kept writing songs like "Love Me Do"  over and over for their whole career?  It was a huge success for them early on, but what if, instead of exploring new sounds and growing artistically, they kept focusing on the same jangly rockabilly sound they started with?  Another example: Hootie and the Blowfish, a band that stuck with its middle-of-the-road frat rock long after the public's taste for middle-of-the-road frat rock had faded.

My hero, Igor Stravinsky had this problem (on a much larger scale).   He spent a long lifetime writing an amazing string of masterpieces, but all anyone wanted to hear were the three ballets he wrote in his early 30's.  He never revisited the early style that made him famous and instead, focused on constantly exploring new sounds.  Still, he made a career out of it, so it's not the worst problem to have.  Another extreme example is Carl Orff, who lived to be over 100 and wrote tons of beautiful music, but all he's known for is the first five minutes of one piece that he wrote back in the 1940's.

So this new piece I just finished is like Gauntlet in that it has a fast tempo, a minor key and a legato section in the middle, but it also has unique challenges.  If it gets compared to Gauntlet that would be great, but I hope that it stands apart and can be appreciated on its own merits.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Workin' On the Opera

I've been doing some more work on my opera recently.  I actually finished it a few years ago, but now I'm taking some time to tweak it.  The biggest problem is that I initially wrote everything directly to score and then reduced it into a piano part.  Unfortunately, the multiple lines and cross-rhythms I used in the full score don't fit under two hands so well, so I've been writing a whole new reduction for four hands.  It already sounds more like the orchestral score and if I ever get into a rehearsal setting, it should work much better.

I'm also revising some of the vocal lines in an effort to make the whole piece more singable.