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.