Monday, March 16, 2009

Guest Blog — Simon (Thematic Growth, part 2)

Simon wrote a remarkably thoughtful blog in response to my previous entry ("Thematic Growth"), and I thought I would post it here as a "guest blog" with his permission, since I fear not too many people would see it otherwise. (I would be happy to post "guest blogs" more often, if you think it is a good idea.)

SIMON MACKIE: I started out writing a reply to the blog entry on the main page, but it turned into a bit of a rant, I guess, so I decided to run with it and post it as full entry on its own. Here it is:

It's strange--I have two completely different mindsets and methodologies when I'm composing "art music" versus "popular music" (I strongly dislike those terms, but it gets my point across). With the latter I have no problem repeating ideas and figurations. If I have a cool countermelody that goes on behind the vocal or main guitar/keyboard line, I'm eager to reuse it and let it go on at length. I'll bring back a chorus three times if I think it's good enough. But with the former kind of music I feel pressured to keep changing things. Why? I'm not really sure. I have to force myself to develop some ideas, convincing myself that people aren't going to be bored hearing it the second time around. Though, in both styles I'm still driven by the fear of sitting on one chord for too long (though I'm getting a little better and allowing passages of harmonic stasis). More than just worrying about whether an idea has reached its full potential (as Kim mentions), I worry about whether I should even be using my ideas. Sometimes I come up with an idea that I'm so attached to, I don't want to use it until I can write the perfect context for it to fit in. Two reasons why: the insecurity of not coming up with as good an idea again; and not wanting it to stand out against surrounding ideas that maybe aren't as good.

Guess it all boils down to insecurity, doesn't it? It's really tough to separate ourselves from our pieces--because that's like tearing ourselves apart. Then we have to rely on our limited scope of objectivity without totally rejecting the subjective. Examining it pragmatically versus viscerally.

We also have the option of relying on an outside source of opinion. Even this presents a fair share of problems. Even if we accept external opinions, we will still weigh them against our own two views. For instance, take the following three scenarios, provided that your subjective view is that your idea is good.

-If the External matches your Objective, but disagrees with your Subjective, you face your original dilemma--though possibly in a more balanced manner depending on how committed you are to it.
-If the External disagrees with your Objective, but matches your Subjective (this may seem slightly odd), it's further reinforcement.
-If the External coincides with your Objective, which also matches your Subjective, you've probably hit the spot.

There are many other situations which would arise if you feel that your idea isn't any good but think people would like it. And, of course, all kinds of other results depending on the circumstances.

I definitely didn't answer any questions, and have probably created a whole new level of questions, but it was good to see the questions out there in the first place and see how other people react to the same dilemma.

1 comment:

Clark Ross said...

No one has left a comment yet, so I thought I'd better jump in and say I really enjoyed reading this blog! You probably knew that already – otherwise, why would I have posted it as a guest blog? – but it never hurts to articulate one's enthusiasm over another's work.

Or does it? Hmm... that's a topic for a different blog!

Anyway, you mention varying degrees of attachment to one's own musical ideas, and I think that is a normal occurrence in the creative process.

But more importantly, I think it is an essential aspect of the creative process. If a composer were to like everything s/he created, chances are that composer would be not a very discerning individual, and their music would likely reflect that.

One of the skills that I think composers need to develop is discernment; being able to evaluate whether idea xis worth pursuing or not.

The trouble for most student composers, as I have mentioned before, is that their level of musical sophistication exceeds their level of compositional technique. This results in the phenomenon of knowing that a composition, or section, or musical idea, is less than it could be, but not knowing exactly how to go about improving it.

The solution I typically recommend is to just push forward with your musical ideas, even if you are not convinced of their quality, because it is often only by doing this that we discover the potential of that idea to grow into something bigger.

It doesn't mean you necessarily keep and develop every musical idea you ever come up with; it just means that you often need to work with an idea a fair bit until you come to a better understanding of what it can develop into.

Well, this is too long. I guess I'll post it as a blog!