YouTube – Arvo Part – Fur Alina


Just before I went to Toronto in 2008 to record Ken Tizzard’s “Lost in Awe” CD I came across this video on YouTube. Watch and read.

It takes a little while but the gist is obvious.  Minimalism and the atomic-level focus on melody and counterpoint can yield drama and emotion from two rather staid and undramatic lines. “I’d say that I had a … need to concentrate on each sound, so that every blade of grass would be as important as a flower.”

A couple of the keyboards on Ken’s CD recall the way I felt about this presentation – mainly the idea that the search was not for melody as such, not so much to fill up the space with content, but instead to lend importance to each moment. My thinking changed and I looked at each note first as something I could remove or leave in, or something I could adjust or tailor to the moment.

Especially when I write music at the piano, my inclination is to shape the music the way my hands like to feel the notes, then find in that result the music I’m looking for. Directing myself toward minimalism I found I would start with that method and prune what I didn’t want. The way Michelangelo would purportedly remove the marble that was not the statue.

When I busted up my wrist in the summer I was presented with a couple of unexpected challenges. First, I had started writing a score that was in essence minimalist, but still was based on a piano motif. When I tried to continue with one hand I could poke around and get to the parts I wanted, but I felt the sense of flow was lacking. I realized that my writing at that point was reliant on my being able to play, even if, once played, the music could be drastically modified.

I could say I took up the gauntlet… or at least the wrist splint. But that score would have to wait until I could play again before I could complete the writing to my satisfaction.

Here’s the problem:

Having now completed all but one of the cues for this project I am able to sit back and look over the whole score. What is immediately apparent was that the parts I had written previous to my injury (which has since healed completely) are too full of ideas. The content is in the way of both the emotion of the music and the scene I am supporting. Willy nilly, my writing must change as a result of my shifting perception, as does my assessment of the previous work.

Reviewing the video of the maestro I realize I can remove about 80% of the score I’m writing and have it be better, more appropriate, more emotional.

Anything that smacks of piano-playing can go. Anything that moves dramatically can go. Heat can go. Accompaniment can go.

Minimalism is not simple.

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