11 February 2011


On my drive home from a show this morning, "The Chairman Dances" came on, a "foxtrot for orchestra" by the composer John Adams, responsible for such operas as Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic. For the first time, I listened to every note of the mostly minimalist piece, loving every bit of subtle melody and nuance of harmonic structure. The driving rhythm and the repetitive undertow created a silky mood of floating, racing, light shifting all over, while the bits of melody and sometimes jarring other notes fabricated the scene, the chairman dancing before my eyes. When I got home, only five minutes into the piece, I ran upstairs and blew past April to turn on the radio. I had to listen to the whole piece. I haven't had a reaction like that in years. Maybe ever.

Why should this particular minimalist piece engage me in such a visceral way? My mouth hanged open at the end, when the piano and percussion are all that remain, and even the piano fades away as the record seemingly reaches the end of its track. I don't think April knew what to do with me. I didn't know what to do with me. I wanted to cry and shout and laugh. I wanted to something. But I have no idea what; that part of me has never been shaped, molded, chipped away, refined, or even thumbed over. I compose these days out of necessity and sometimes urge, but I don't feel like I really know what I'm doing. I'm playing with tools I barely know how to use. I know the materials, and I know how I feel. I can put notes on a page, and people seem to like how I do that. But the textures that Mr Adams can create. I want an orchestra to sound like that when I write.

But what orchestra? My fingers aren't as good as my mind wants them to be, and I can't really put a group together to sound good making my music. I find such discouragement wherever I turn. If only Dr Cornell had taken time to talk with me before dismissing my application to study composition at Boston University. If only I'd gotten up the nerve to say five words to the late Lukas Foss, whose office I passed three or four times a week. If only I could write everything I think in one burst instead of little bursts and getting distracted by this and that only to forget what it was I was originally writing. I'm still amazed I finished a full orchestral piece. But there it sits, languishing on my hard drive, a huge undertaking that I think would scare even Seiji if I put it in front of him.

Anyway, these are fine musings for a friday night, but I have writing to do, I'm sure. If only I could remember which story I was working on today...

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