Composition out of imitation

“What gives the artist real prestige is his imitators.” Igor StravinskyIgor Stravinsky

I deal with insomnia often. When this happens I try to do something productive. I’m a teacher, so I try to use this time to think about teaching or projects for my students. But before I was a music teacher I was a freelance musician. As a freelance musician you tend to give yourself project to match your thirst for creativity. At one point I decided to arrange a few pieces of music for a brass quintet. I did this often because I happen to be a member of a few brass quintets and thought, I might get some good traction if this arrangement becomes part of our normal repertoire. However the piece I choose was not working out in the way that I wanted it to work. The version I wanted to use as a scaffold was written for a large ensemble and a vocalist. The piece is by Kenny Wheeler and it’s called “Gentle Piece”.p03kc96g

After several attempts, over a few days, I totally hit the wall. At the time, I was also working on a graduate degree and preparing for a recital. So I had a lot on my plate. However, these sounds which I thought would work so well for the brass quintet and didn’t, felt great coming out of my out of tune piano. In fact when I tried the improvised section of Kenny Wheeler’s piece, I stumbled on to the opening ideas to my piece for trumpet and piano call “Fractured Trance”.33010

The opening idea lead me to explore more ideas around rhythm and space within that movement. That idea lead to a two more movements and later this became my first piece for trumpet and piano. I followed the same process with the second piece I wrote for trumpet and piano, which were both recorded by a Brian Chin. Finally I used this same process to compose a piece for my middle school students.

Out of that experience I figured out that I can use another source for inspiration, with the full intent on trying to recreate an idea, a vibe or a feeling offer to us by another person. It’s okay to imitate. This kind of imitation can lead to personal breakthroughs.

Song Exploder Podcast

A few days ago I found a new podcast to add to my rotation. And apparently, I love this podcast! Song Exploder is hosted by Hrishikesha5eMUALj_400x400 Hriway and it’s super interesting if you are into deconstructing modern songs.

I downloaded 3 episodes which included artist I admire and listen to often. I was blown away with the interviews and then felt more invested in following Björk, Tune-Yards and Open Mike Eagle.

Here are some links to those episodes on the Song Exploder Soundcloud page. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.SongExploder60-600x298

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Teaching Modern Music

There are times when I think I’m biting off more than I can chew. However, unlike most things I dread doing this could potentially one of the coolest topics I teach this year. I’ve decided to take on introducing three ideas of modern music composition to middle school students.

It give me a chance to explore aspects of music I truly enjoy: Serialism, Minimalism and Electronic Music. There have been many hours spent admiring the processes of some of the 20th century’s imaginative composers. So now I get to indulge in a not so secret vice.

Igor Stravinsky 2sakshy

I get to talk about and research composers and performers like Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Steve Reich, James Brown, Bjork and Hip-Hop artist/DJ’s of the late 80’s and early 90’s. There is potential for students to learn more about my personality through this unit.

Venn Diagram for next unitThe only way to express this for me is a venn diagram and these Youtube videos. Gonna be fun…at least for me.

Modern Music

At one point in my early musical life, I became a fan of modern classical music.  So much so that I remember not listening to anything that wasn’t written before 1952. I thought I knew something none of my high school friends were hip enough to know about.  It was my little secret.  When ever I gave the name of a composer to one of my teachers, they would in turn give me the name of another composer I should listen to.  I played this game for years with my library.  Some how I worked my way backwards to early music using this process.

Lately, when ever I play modern music I joke around with my colleagues that some modern music is essentially sound set to math.  Recently I played a concert with an orchestra which is devoted to performing modern music.  During one of the rehearsals I came the realization that math is beautiful….the figures and equations surrounding this music are beautiful.  In the same way that architecture is beautiful.  Working from pure concept, then putting it on paper, to finally producing a product for the public.

I suspect composers marvel in the space where math and music become art.