Journal entries by composer and pianist Laurie Conrad
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Saturday February 1
Continued writing the Dance, sketching it out - an expansive melody line with eventually a complicated bass line and - note inner voices. For now just empty stems and held octaves in the lowest voices as points of reference to be filled in later.
Sketched in the moving lines for the melody I wrote earlier, instead of continuing on in the Dance. Left the flute part for later. For the moment am sketching out the broader ideas, so that an overall form can emerge, be built, be constructed; everything will hang on this overall form. The overall form of a piece is comparable to the rough wooden beams that become the skeleton of a house, the pieces of wood that both define the structure of a house and also hold all the walls and floors and ceilings in place... In this way, the composer is also a draftsman and an architect ... a builder ... And the musician can see this process clearly, as he composes, and as he interprets the music of others ... The listener is also aware of the form, even if not a musician, although not as consciously. Even the non-musician will know if an overall form has not been constructed or thought out well, even not knowing technical terms or compositional methods - just as we all would notice if a bathroom designed for a new house ended up in the kitchen ... Or if an added on room had no doors or windows and suddenly appeared in the hallway...
Will stop working now; M. is out of town for some days and I made dinner arrangements with friends for tonight. I expect some interesting conversation and some welcome minutes of clear, winter air as we walk to our destination. Later I will begin writing the start of the Dance, at least put some sketches down on one of the empty sheets of manuscript paper that are now on the piano rack. The manilla folder that holds my sketches for Glimpses continues to thicken, and soon there will be only a few blank pages left...
A warm night, almost forty degrees; took a long leisurely walk after I returned home from dinner. Wonderful to feel a pleasant breeze on my face, instead of the bitter winter blasts of the recent past. A happy winter stroll without boots or gloves; some remnants of Christmas lights still strung and lit as I passed various familiar houses. The architecture in our neighborhood, in fact for most of Ithaca, is one of large old wooden houses with various intricate features - scroll work over windows or doors, tile roofs, gargoyles, stained glass windows scattered here and there, interesting porches ... Inventive designs in general, and no two buildings really alike, either in size or shape or temperament. Since I have lived in Ithaca for so many years I know most of the houses very well from the outside, although only a handful of the owners or tenants. And because of my fairly regular nocturnal walks, I also know what windows will most likely be lit even at midnight or early morning, and for quite a radius of our house. In this way I have formed a personal relationship of sorts with most of the houses and inmates of these houses within a mile or so, even though I hardly know more than a few of the inhabitants, even by sight. Ithaca is a college town, and most renters rarely stay put in one house more than a few years, if that, and the faces and voices of the neighborhood are continually changing. None-the-less, on my late night walks I inwardly greet each house and lit window as an old close friend ... And have my own vague impressions of the persons or families living within those houses and past those numerous window panes, a fleeting and involuntary wonder about the innumerable and changing stories unfolding under those shingled or tiled roofs...
After returning from my walk, began sketching out the beginning of the Dance, only a hint of a dance at first ... As though the listener is walking through the forest and has not seen the dancer as yet - or perhaps only a glimpse from afar through the trees, before entering that quiet glade. At the moment I am considering a tango of sorts to begin this movement - the halting syncopations of a tango might set the stage nicely for what follows - a simple, transparent tango surrounded by the silence of the forest ...
The idea of using a tango to begin this movement also appeals to me because “it takes two to tango” as the saying goes - and there is only one dancer. Therefore, our dancer would have an imaginary partner - and we do not know if the solitary dancer of the poem is imaginary, solid - or in another realm.
Whether to continue the tango throughout the movement, or here and there, or at all - is one more decision out of thousands. In any case, for the moment, I am considering all possibilities and already enjoying my solitary dancer in the forest ...
Sunday February 2
Still working on the opening of the Dance. A very grey day, I have had to put lamps on - it is one of those dreary days that I choose to call mysterious or mystical. But being inside the house, with only my tango melodies and the cats for company, I might prefer sun coming through the windows, the sun in the woods of my lone dancer. As it is, my new tango melody is slow and melancholy like the day outside ...
Monday, February 3
Took a walk into town this afternoon, colder; the start of a downward slide culminating later in the week. Tiny snowflakes on the way home, playing in the road, coming towards me as I walked, melting almost before they reached the ground ... An innocent prelude to the storm predicted for tomorrow night.
Worked a bit on the Dance, but decided it was time to finish writing the first two poems and copy them out into a main score. Tomorrow.
Tuesday, February 4
Woke this morning to a grey sky with the grim, unrelenting look of a storm on the way. Tango chords and melodies inwardly played as I ate and waited for a friend to come by. Immediately after returning home I went to the piano and wrote a page or so of chords and rhythms and melodies to sort out later - this tango has to be in my own style, and the tango chords and rhythms and melodies must fit nicely with all the other notes I have written for this piece. But progress has been made, to be worked on more later tonight, when the events of the day have ended and the world is finally asleep.
Worked on the tango - then took a long walk knowing the coming frigid weather will soon keep me indoors for some days. Did not meet any deer tonight, they must have found refuge in the nearby woods - preparing for the storm.
Even as I sit here now, in the warmth of the living room and writing in this small notebook, I can see snow steadily and persistently falling in lamplight, gathering intensity in the silence snow often brings. For now small flakes in a downward journey, an infinite number of them - and in the distance, the houses and roofs are surrounded by a mist, a moving, changing haze created by the falling snow, half lit by lamplight. At intervals I will gaze out the windows many times before the sun and M. are up. Meanwhile, the tango I am writing continues inwardly, effortlessly, and I am seeing the piece as a whole for the first time.