12 December 2006

My Ongoing Adversarial Relationship With The Act of Revision (particularly as manifested in my "classical" compositions)

As listeners, we often experience the phenomenon of a piece "growing" on us. It is not an unusual occurrence, but what if the piece is one that you wrote yourself? This would seem on the surface to be an almost impossible situation; don't you "know" the piece better than anyone else if you wrote it? Maybe it is a natural consequence of what some would see as the inherent flaws in my autodidactic approach to composition, but my own pieces often grow on me. I think I know the reason: I often make compositional choices (i.e. note choices) based on some kind of gut feeling of necessity that I cannot really explain at the time. At the immediate completion of the piece, I hear the awkwardness and almost want to change it, but I can rack my brains for hours finding an array of "satisfactory" solutions only to discard them all in favor of the original "flawed" version. Something always tells me not to change it. I recently listened back to a piece I had nearly forgotten about that has several such moments; I liked most of them and didn't like some of them, but most of all, I still cannot fathom changing anything in it. It seems to me that the rhetoric of contemporary composition pedagogy is one of striving for an odd ideal of perfection; not perfection in the abstract, but some kind of relative perfection, the best you can possibly do under the circumstances as determined not by you yourself but by your teacher and peers. I used the word "choice" earlier, but actually, come to think of it, what I'm getting at is that these things are not choices at all but inevitabilities; isn't that called having a strong vision or personal voice or one of those other press release buzzwords? According to the 60 Minutes story, the sole kink in the armor of whiz kid Jay Greenberg is an even stronger aversion to revision than what I'm describing. Perhaps a baseball analogy would be appropriate here: when Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was asked when phenom Joe Mauer would start hitting for power, he replied that he was not going to be the one to mess up Mauer's swing by telling him to hit the ball out of the park all the time. Anyone who followed the Twins regular season surge last season can see that Gardy knows what he's talking about.


No Hassle Loans said...
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Anonymous said...

Hey nice blog and I'm not going to spam you.

Although, you might post your music on here so we, your peers (more or less) can give you an independent and relatively anonymous, ie. honest, opinion about how perfect it sounds.

I say this because I think we're all a bit subject to bias and, well, laziness and unwillingness to change things that have sucked so much time and energy from our lives to create. I can't count all the essays I've written that I thought were concise and understandable, only to find that my professor or peer-reviewer found them only 60 or 80 percent perfect. (Does that make any sense?)

Plus, I think your readers would like to hear what you have.

Stefan Kac said...

Well, there's my website (www.stefankac.com) and also my Sibelius Music page (http://members.sibeliusmusic.com/stefankac). The latter has many relevant examples to this discussion, although it requires the rather tempermental Scorch plug-in from Sibelius (give it a try in any case because there's a lot of good stuff on the site). I would assume that other composers would be capable of taking the MIDI realizations with a grain of salt; I really hate using them to represent my or anyone else's work, but unfortunately this is reality for most of us wannabes. My personal website has clips of live performances, but most of it is improvised jazz stuff, where the opportunity to revise is (conveniently for me in this situation, I guess) almost non-existent. Your comment about "60-80% perfect" does make sense, at least to me. I guess the point I was trying to make was that there seems to me to be a very fine line between a dangerous ignorance and a strong self-confidence. I have a natural tendency (and no, this is not necessarily good) to be different just for the sake of being different, and to me, it has seemed that much "student" work I've been exposed to has, for lack of a better term, had no balls. Possessing an almost complete ignorance of what actually goes on in graduate comp programs, I have jumped to the conclusion that this is the result of actually accepting too much criticism to the point of obliterating one's identity (or at least their gonads). It's total conjecture, but if you really want to know what my thought process is (ironically without a chance to revise here either because I have to run out the door soon), that's it. I'd love to be part of a "composers group" sometime and get together periodically to critique each other. My dad has been in a mystery writers group for years and it has really been great for them. I'm still not ready to take lessons with an academic. By the way, thanks for reading, and even more thanks for commenting. Much as would like to keep anonymous posting available, I think I am going to have to do something about the spam, so pardon the distractions for the time being. And when I have time to futz with the formatting of the blog, I will try to put a direct link to some music on the main page. Thanks.