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Sometimes, it takes some time to remember some things. How it escaped the plunderer’s eye, that knew the contents of every drawer, closet, and cabinet, except for my brother’s because I had no interest, is interesting. But it was always there, as some things often are.
I remember my Mother mentioning Thomas Wolfe when I was a kid. She showed me a biography of him that had a section in the middle with pictures. One of the pictures was of a notebook where Wolfe had drawings of penises. I guess that type of memory would stick in my brain, but that was about all that stuck.
Recently, I saw a movie about Thomas Wolfe and the editor that helped him publish “Look Homeward, Angel”. I knew the book and the author, but realized I’ve never read the book or the author. So this was my next purchase download.
Reading bits between naps on a plane with my husband to see my parents in Spartanburg, South Carolina, I found the structure impeccable and voice, poetic.
When I told my parents what I was reading, they said the “Angel” was just about an hour away in a cemetery in Hendersonville.Then, my father said he had worked with Fred Wolfe, Thomas’ brother. Fred is Luke in the book. They worked at Foremost selling Ice Cream and Fred attended my parent’s wedding.
In the late 60s, when we were getting ready to be stationed in Turkey with the Air Force, Fred gave my parents a copy of “Look Homeward, Angel” with an inscription and a couple of photos. One of the photos is of Thomas and Fred, their heights in inches written on the back. The plunderer had missed all of this.
So I planned a day trip to the cemetery with my husband on my birthday, which was two days later.
It was a relatively short trip on a cold, cloudy day. The cemetery was dead and flat except for a few scattered trees and shrubs. Most of the tombstones were low and old and worn. Some were just rocks with small indents.
Wolfe’s Angel stands higher than anything else in the graveyard. It is surrounded by a tall iron fence and set on top of a four foot monument to Margaret E., Wife of E. H. Johnson, who is buried to the right.
I felt like something had been revealed to me in this cemetery. But that something was as faint and worn as the illegible names on the gravestones. I saw and searched and shivered in the cold. And, running back to the car, I remembered what I didn’t know.
The title of my new composition is “asphalt”.
“Asphalt” seems like a very harsh title. Especially when you listen to the piece, it is a bit incongruent – so it does need some explanation.
Let me start with some background on how I began writing this piece. I really just wanted to do something simple. Having just written a very complex piece that I still can’t play well, I wanted – and needed – a break from my usual piano calisthenics. Something easy enough that I wouldn’t have to apologize for playing sloppy.
As I’ve said before, I don’t usually set out to write about anything in particular. But once the piece starts to take shape, I start to associate it with my own feelings, emotions, or memories. And then those feelings or memories guide the structure of the rest of the piece to completion.
The tonality and rhythm of this piece reminded me of riding in the car and staring out the window. Looking down at the ever changing patterns of the road, I realized no matter how much it changes, it is still part of the same road. It is not just a series of separate roads, but the same road united by shifting curves, intertwining twists, inclines, declines, long straight lines. And that it is this road that actually connects us all. Passing wonders, souvenir shops, gray fence posts, wasteland, shanty, brilliant, staring, dreaming, the road I’m standing on right now is the same road that runs in front of your house. And this road is made of asphalt.
So, when I think about it this way, I feel like we are physically less apart. And in sharing this music, I hope that we are brought more together in our hearts.
Love and Merry Christmas,
Okay, this is what happens. i get totally busy, can’t really focus, continue to practice the piece – with limited results – can kind of tell what it is missing but can’t tell exactly what that is. round and round i go with it and am perpetually frustrated until i actually get some time to focus. usually this means alone in the house on a weekday.
so i went back and listened to some of the practice recordings and came across an ending to the piece that i just improvised and it kind of stuck with me. i lengthened the phrase and came up with this bit that feels like the ending to me. however, i have no idea how it is going to transition from what i have to this:
i say i don’t know but i kind of do know. but it is still out of focus and conceptual. by this i mean i know how i want it to feel but i don’t know how to express it. so it is just going to take some more time and energy – both of which are in short supply – and get over that i’m not finished yet.
till next time, cheers, timothy
i’ve been thinking about doing a video for “a guide to misinterpreting the past” awhile. the piece, for me, is really about how we remember the past and how those memories are always mutating based on our experiences since that moment. i did a draft using some old super 8 footage i had from my cousin of our families; and just spliced together the pieces that weren’t really about anything – just images of houses, roadsides, blurs, etc. but i realized that those were still specifically about a period in time and i wanted the video to be about the viewer’s experience – not mine. so i came up with the idea of using the liner notes for the CD and sequence them in time to the music with no images, just text. this way the images are about the viewer’s own imagery and memories. at least that is what i attempted to do with it.
anyway, as with anything, you can be the judge if that is what i accomplished.
So I find that I’m still struggling with the opening phase. To me it sounds like a jumble of notes falling on the ground and bouncing around. But, because I keep coming back to it, it makes me think that I should keep it. This is the back and forth that I have sometimes; not trusting that something is right (and yes, sometimes it isn’t). But usually it won’t get this far along in the process. I’ll move on and the piece will come out completely different. With “Tight Rope” for instance, I started out with a devise where I kept adding a note onto the initial phrase; playing the first four notes four times then the phrase becomes five notes played four times, then six notes played four times – and so on. At some point in practicing the piece, I made a mistake and heard this kind of descending note theme within the first four notes. I got the idea that I could layer an additional part of the original idea on top of that. So instead of having a continually lengthening phrase, I had a more compact phrase with three distinct voices.
With this clip, you can hear how I’m trying to find any alternative to the opening phrase and add in some of the other elements I came up with to complement:
With this clip, I really like how the second phrase moves solidly back into the opening phrase – to me another indicator that the opening phrase stays in.
What I finally came up with to “justify” the opening phrase was to alter the pattern on the second repeat; which makes it a longer phrase that is repeated twice rather than a shorter phrase repeated four times. I really don’t think anyone is going to hear the difference except me. But if it stops we whining about it, then it works. Sometimes it is just time to keep moving and let it be what it is. This clip is the opening phrase with just the right hand:
So with that, and combining all the other bits that seem to be working, it sounds like it is starting to take some shape. I now have four sequential phrases that seem to go together – at least to me – that are repeated twice and then move into a development section that is still totally TBD. But it sounds like it is part of the same piece.
Now I just have to figure out where that is going and what it is trying to say.
Okay, this is the part that I don’t like when i’m composing. I just have a little tidbit and I’m like, “what am I supposed to do with this?”. So I play it over and over and over – except that this is one of those times that I’m really not sure if I like what I’ve written – so I want to figure it out fast. The phrase – to me – sounds broken into a series of triplets. It is not going to work unless i can make it a single line. The other thing I have against it is that its in 7/4. I really don’t think about meter or key when I’m writing. My last piece was mostly in 7/8 – and 7/8 is kind of upbeat to me – but 7/4 plods along putting one foot firmly on the ground until it is absolutely sure it is firmly planted before picking up the other foot. Maybe this description is a tidbit overblown.
So what I usually do when I’m not liking something is fight with it. I never win, but I always do it anyway. Maybe I’m getting it wrong and it just needs some “adjustments”. This clip has me taking the first few chords and just improvising – trying to make the phrase not so busy.
Then I think that maybe the phrase is really not a phrase – maybe it is a transition between phrases (a phrase by any other name). I alter the rhythm a bit more and then try it with a transition at the end – going nowhere.
Wow, that was really bad and it really doesn’t work at all. But the interesting thing is – at the end – I had something come out that sounded like it belonged with the first phrase. So I played them together:
So the first phrase is back in. I’m still not convinced about it is “it” – but am curious to see where it leads me – and really glad to have more than just a little tidbit to play now. More in a week or so,
Maybe this is a big mistake. I got this crazy idea to map out and share my creative process in real time while writing a new composition for piano. This can potentially be very embarrassing because the intention is to post audio clips warts and all – mistakes, bad EQ, piano out of tune – all those things that make a big difference to the listening experience.
The other thing is, I don’t always like what I write. What if this piece ends up being one of those that I just abandon because it just doesn’t work? I tend to fight with my compositions a bit. By this I mean, sometimes I try to make it something it isn’t – and then I keep changing it over and over – adding and subtracting, adding, subtracting, until I have exhausted every possible variation and discarded everything except, what I feel, is working. It can be a very tedious process. I can already tell that this piece is going to be one of those pieces.
I usually don’t write from beginning to end. I’ll come up with some idea – which usually bares no fruit – but in the process of working that out, I’ll stumble across something that catches my ear. This first phrase did that – but it is very unusual for me with parallel fifths in the right hand pretty much on the diatonic scale. It “disguised” the parallel fifths with a complementary overlapping triad in the left hand – but not as well as I would have liked. I then worked out contrary motion in tuplets.
These are painful to listen to – apologies in advance. But this is how it sounds when I’m first putting something together:
Then, to try and play the phrase better, I isolated my right hand and found that it seemed to make a good introduction and contrast to the two hands. So It ended up sounding like this:
At the end, I can tell it needs to go somewhere else but don’t know where just yet – so I just kind of klunk out.
I’ll try to keep posting updates once a week until the piece if finished – hopefully that won’t be years from now.
the first time i remember noticing music was when i heard Van Cliburn play the first 8 bars of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. i listened to those eight bars over and over. the subtle changing of the chords. the increasing intensity and power and emotion. i did eventually listen to the entire piece – which, i found out, was equally as brilliant. i felt like this was a language i understood and wanted more than anything to speak it well.
the tattered, torn two piano four hand score that you see in the photo above has been with me for so long that i don’t remember ever not having it. i do remember playing the second movement over and over throughout high school. that is, when i wasn’t playing synths in a rock band.
I was cleaning out my filing cabinet the other day
or, rather, I was thinking about cleaning it out and remembered I had a press kit from the concert the Armenian Prelacy organized for Alan Hovhaness in honor of his 80th birthday. I was studying with him at the time and brashly asked him if I could tag along. I don’t know why, but he said yes. It was 1991 and the concert was at Carnegie Hall – I had never been to New York. This was over 20 years ago and my memory of the trip is a bit fuzzy – although the press kit has jarred some memories loose – so I’ll try to tell you a few things i do remember.
A Symphony had been commissioned
for the concert by the Armenian Apostolic Church of America. I was able to see the piece – bits at a time – while he was composing, talk to him about it, and then see it performed. I have a discarded page of a sketch from this piece in the pic gallery below.
I remember meeting Karel Husa
and thinking he was a very dynamic personality. Luckily – and quite by accident – I had been studying one of his scores, I think it was Two Sonnets by Michelangelo, so I had something to ramble about.
I got to go to all the rehearsals
at the rehearsal hall downtown and at Carnegie. Walking around the floor in Carnegie listening to orchestra rehearse was a pretty amazing. When they were rehearsing – I think it was Armenian Rhapsody No. 1, – there was a question on a particular passage and a bit of discussion about how it should be played. Alan wasn’t there and I don’t remember if they called him at the hotel or exactly what, but after a few minutes someone spoke up and and said “Hovhaness would like us to follow our intuition.” This was so typical of Alan – it is the most important thing he ever taught me.
from Alan that always makes me smile. I had shared with him that, when I was growing up, my father was in the Air Force and for a few years we were stationed in Adana, Turkey. Alan, for some reason, felt this was a connection between us – contrary to, and despite, the well known tensions between Armenia and Turkey. But he always got it mixed up – thinking I had been born there and/or had some Turkish blood. Hinako, his wife, kept trying to set the story straight by reminding him that I was “too white to be near eastern.”