Sketching Out the Music: July 2-14, 2012

Journal entries by composer and pianist Laurie Conrad

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Sketching Out the Music: July 2-14, 2012

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A Composer's Journal Entries: July 2-14, 2012.

Monday, July 2

Another scorching day today, the entire country seems swept up in a giant heat wave. Spent Saturday night and Sunday at Windgarth House; it was so very beautiful there. The moon large and yellow; worked in the gardens while the world slept. Sunday morning down by the lake, the martins chirping and setting up house, standing on their birdhouses, going in and out their doors - the dots of light on the lake blinding and magical... I never tire of it ...

Jotted down more themes for the Haiku cycle, this time using row #2. This second row is very different from the first one I drew up, and I am still trying to find even its most obvious possibilities. As time goes on, I will find more and more treasures in both rows ... Eventually I will know the two rows so-well that all that I need or want will emerge from the 12 tone square easily, effortlessly.... Right now everything is an adventure, a happy or unhappy surprise. Even with all the rules I guiltlessly break, even the most basic premises of the twelve tone technique, twelve tone is not the easiest compositional form to navigate - as anyone who has tried to use it well knows.

Wednesday, July 4

It is after midnight and still over eighty humid degrees outside. Too hot and oppressive for me to walk in the gardens. Instead I sketched out more Haiku; cello lines, piano motives, a countersubject in the strings... At this point the piece is just a stack of fragments on the piano rack, sheets of legal sized manuscript paper left over from other projects, basically scrap paper with empty staves, the wrong instruments and wrong number of instruments and clefs indelibly Xeroxed on. Which actually is for the best because I feel less guilty covering them with so-many newly scribbled, scrawled, disorganized notes, with arrows penciled in everywhere where I have run out of space. Impossible to be neat when the ideas come in so fast - I can sort it all out later. I seem to be writing the entire cycle all at once, sketching out the entire piece. Once the overall form and the overall wealth of melodies and motives and countersubjects have been sketched in - the next steps should go quickly. Hopefully.

I am not used to working this way, and assume it is because I have not written music for so long, possibly not for several years. It is as though I am having to pry open a Door that needs to be oiled, a Door that has been rusted shut ... The contents of the room beyond are intact and plentiful, the finished Haiku cycle is already written - I just need to somehow be able to walk into the room and find it... Meanwhile I have only short glimpses into that room, possibly a lamp goes on briefly or the Door opens a crack here and there. Or somewhat like an archeologist trying to painstakingly piece together pieces of pottery as they are haphazardly found in the desert sand, holes and trenches dug everywhere, in faith, under the hot sun....

Friday, July 6

It's the middle of the night and still too hot for me to work in the gardens. Unfortunately the gardens and I will have to fend for ourselves.

Just came upstairs after sketching out more pages of the Haiku cycle - a piano part and some inner lines and countersubjects. At one point, as sometimes happens, I abandoned the row altogether, wanting to see where the harmonies and melodies would lead. I can easily fill in the motives, inner voices and other melodies later. This haiku is shaping up nicely, ideas are starting to flow effortlessly, seamlessly. In the coming days many notes will appear on endless pages of manuscript paper, and tonight I finally feel as though the cycle has truly begun. Now, when I look within, the Heart is filled with music, with notes and melodies, with songs as plentiful as the birds singing at dawn at Windgarth, or in the woods along the path ... It is only a matter of retrieving them, then putting them into time and space in a linear fashion, using my pencil to draw them onto paper for others to translate, for others to hear and to manifest in the world. Just now my pencil sketches of the cycle look a bit like very thin winter trees, all sizes, a scattered, unhewn miniature forest, complete with clearings and copses, strewn helter-skelter across the manuscript paper....

Sunday, July 8

Sketched out more pages of motives and melodies yesterday. The overall form is beginning to take shape, ideas are unfolding quickly now. There is a new excitement as I write, as I begin to better know and understand the rows I have chosen, created; in a way they are new scales, and as scales already contain the potential harmonies and melodies within them.... The excitement and difficulty in using a new row is in finding its potentials, the combinations possible, the sounds that emerge....

Even so, I can see that I will break many rules or abandon the row entirely here and there - for me this abandonment of the row adds depth, a new dimension, to the music....

Now there are pages of manuscript paper strewn over the piano rack, some empty, some half empty, some covered with penciled notes.

Today I will continue to sketch out new haiku sections, melodies, harmonies, motives. Eventually, when I have enough material, I will begin to write the individual haiku movements, but until then I am still trying to sketch out the overall cycle.

8 PM

Have already covered additional sheets of manuscript paper with notes, mainly the piano part; some of these sections are quite long, - over several pages. I am beginning to hear all the lines now, not just the motive or melody or harmony I am writing down. I couldn't possibly notate it all down and still continue to sketch out my ideas as they flow through me - so for now those other melodic and motivic lines will have to remain in my mind and heart, to be written down later. Earlier today I wrote several pages for one of William's beautiful haiku poems - motives and harmonies to represent the wind, in the piano part.

At the moment, taking a break from composing, life has intervened - but will return to it later. Meanwhile, thought I would write these verbal words down in A Composer's Journal. Now I can inwardly see pages and pages of written notes, music I have not yet inwardly or outwardly yet heard or written... Inner Doors and Windows are opening, inner curtains are being drawn aside....

Friday, July 13

Wrote pages of piano part tonight; motives that later can be given to the other instruments, passed around between the various instruments. I am starting to see an overall form emerge... Glimpses really. In those times when I look inside I can almost see - but not quite. And yet there is anticipation, excitement as I write and think because I know, I am close to seeing and thinking and hearing clearly. There is almost enough material for the entire cycle, ample motives and melodies and harmonies. In this, I mean the basis for the rest to unfold has already been written. My pencil sketches are now a stack of legal size sheets of manuscript paper, perhaps a quarter inch thick. On some sheets, I have left room for other lines, other instruments - but not on all of them. It is almost time to start completing the individual haiku.

I am getting to know the two newly created rows, starting to know how to use them, find their capabilities and tendencies. Since I break so many rules, often instead of a tone row, the effect is more as though I am using repeating harmonies, somewhat similar to a chaconne or passacaglia in essence, in intent. A repeating harmonic progression. Since I am using the retrogrades and inversions - as well as the retrograde inversions - strictly speaking these pieces are not chaconnes or passacaglias. Nor do I always extract the same harmonic progressions from the rows I am using. However, there is a harmonic coherence that possibly is very subtle - but there none-the-less. Schonberg would not approve, of course. But perhaps he would be pleased with my devotion to the twelve tone system, even though I have claimed my own very unique approach to it.

In these rows, I have again used tonal structures, often seventh chords - a nod to Debussy and the other Impressionists. Most likely some passages of this new cycle will be based on the whole tone scale, the row entirely abandoned, as I have sometimes done in the past. Still, Schonberg's vision was to liberate music from a tonal structure, from the reliance on tonic and dominant as polarities for the other notes and chords of a specific key. And even though my music is not written in any set key - this Haiku cycle's twelve tone rows are partially built on traditional chords, often with traditional chord progressions - which in itself implies a tonic and dominant. Unlike Schonberg, I use the implied tonic/dominant to create surprise and wonder - because I will upset the traditional harmonic progressions whenever I wish, and however I wish, both in the construction of the twelve tone rows and also in how I use them - and how I juxtapose them. Not to mention the liberties I take with meter.

Saturday, July 14

Another sunny, scorching hot day - a good day to stay inside and write music. As I look into the gardens, even after all these years I can barely believe the beauty there. The depth of the colors, the sunlight illumining the entire scene, highlighting leaves over there, outlining the unexpected there, almost shocking rich colors and tones there.... Like a well-constructed twelve tone row.

Enough reflection, it is time to go downstairs and write more music.
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