Tag Archives: music composition

Peace Post: Max Richter, Herbie Hancock and Today’s World

Like many others, I feel at a loss to shape words into coherent phrases expressing outrage, sorrow, compassion and balanced thinking in the midst of our current flood of events in today’s world.

In light of this, as always, my medium of choice is music…and music as protest/social statement has a long history. Yes indeed I, myself, did the singer-songwriter scene in my early adulthood.  Coming of age in the midst of another time of social unrest – I still embrace that genre.

Life goes on and in today’s world, my own current brand of compositional expression tends towards instrumental music. Personally, I feel it allows for individual interpretation, un-dictated by lyrical suggestion.

Which leads me to Max Richter, a favorite contemporary composer of mine.

Some time ago I stumbled upon an interview-article with Max published on Fifteen Questions. This on-line journal engages “production experts, performers, journalists, scientists and composers to discuss what music means, how it’s made, where its limits lie, and why it affects us all so differently and yet remains universal” rather than discussing the private lives of artists or their latest releases.

Here are a few of his thoughts to which I relate and are relevant to the subject of this blog post. I encourage those of you interested in musical composition and the driving forces behind it to read the full interview.

Max Richter – interview excerpts and short musical clip

Recomposed: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Spring)

What do you usually start with when composing?

Music for me is storytelling, so I usually start with an intention or something I want to say. From there I kind of struggle around in the dark, trying to find ways to say that. Sometimes it’s a linear thing where I have an idea and then go about trying to find ways to express it. Other times I will discover things along the way and the idea ends up turning into something else altogether. It’s a mixture between intention and chance.

I think the reason I write music is because I’m trying to say things that I find difficult to encapsulate verbally. Music is its own kind of language and it’s very good at saying things that words struggle with, so that’s often the impulse for me.

The role of the composer has always been subject to change. What’s your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of composers today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?

Music is a social art, kind of like talking, but in a way, music as a vehicle for political critique has evaporated in the last 20 years and that’s disappointing.

I think if we’re talking about something in music, we should be talking about the big things that are worth talking about and those things are: the state of the world; how we live and how we spend our time. That’s something that really drives me. For example, the track The Shadow Journal on Blue Notebooks, for me, is a protest song. It was composed and recorded the week after the first big anti-Iraq war march in London. And even though Czeslaw Milosz’s words are actually describing the Second World War, the imagery he used resonated with me at that particular moment in time and so social comment was most definitely the primary motivation behind this piece of music.

Generally speaking though, people are not thinking about music in those terms anymore, not if you compare it to the counter-culture movement of the sixties, when social commentary was one the absolute driving forces of music. It’s a shame and a lost opportunity in many ways.

Herbie (and the Headhunters) Hancock – interview excerpts and musical clip

And then there’s Herbie. Rummaging through some of my paper files a few weeks ago, I came across a Music and Musicians (June 2010) article I kept on hand entitled, “Herbie Hancock: Imagining the future with a plan, a piano and a vision of peace.”

I first heard of him as Herbie and the Headhunters in 1973 during my second year of college (University of Colorado at Boulder, 1972-1977). I fell in love with his ‘new’ funk sound while listening to his Chameleon on the then ‘underground’ Denver radio station KLZ FM.

Give the piece a listen as you continue reading excerpts from that article.

What did you set out to do with this (The Imagine Project) record?

I wanted to make a global record. Although I’ve recorded with artists from other countries at various times, this truly was about emphasizing global collaboration as a path toward peace. I started thinking about America basically being an immigrant country.

Most of us have ancestors who were not from these shores. So we have these issues that are happening now about immigration and closing the borders and locking things down. I understand the motivation – the fear from 9/11 and terrorists. If you couple that with the insecurity that has come about because of the economic downturn, it’s drawing people into a state of chaos.

They’re trying to find ways to blame something, to put it on somebody. I think it’s time to stop looking outside for who to blame…now is the time to proactively begin the process of creating the kind of future we want for our children and for our children’s children.

How did you translate those ideals into music?

The first thing you have to do is be willing to be open and to embrace cultures outside of our own. The second thing is respecting the cultures and the people of those cultures. What other ways can we show our respect for other cultures? One of them is through language. It’s why I decided that if I truly wanted a global record, the record couldn’t just be in English…

Today’s World – in conclusion

Max and Herbie’s comments reveal the motivation behind much of an (he)artist’s work.

Communication – whether of a personal social statement or expression of some inner emotional response to life’s experiences – is often the result of a composer’s work; intentional or not.

For most musicians, even if performing non-original pieces, interpretational nuances shape one’s own message to be received by the audience as a gift from the heart.

For myself, my Swimming with Swans project is one such work…to give voice to the fact that those of us who have experienced or are currently in the midst of a period of displacement in a living situation or even state of mind, are not defined by that but live day-by-day and create works of beauty regardless.  And share it with all who will listen.

That’s just who we are and what we do – we count, we matter and we make a difference.

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33 NIV

Teaser Quotes from my forthcoming Peace Post

I look forward to sharing the entire article (entitled – Peace Post: Max Richter, Herbie Hancock and Today’s World) with you in the next few days.

“I think the reason I write music is because I’m trying to say things that I find difficult to encapsulate verbally. Music is its own kind of language and it’s very good at saying things that words struggle with, so that’s often the impulse for me.”
Max Richter, composer

“Most of us have ancestors who were not from these shores. So we have these issues that are happening now about immigration and closing the borders and locking things down. I understand the motivation – the fear from 9/11 and terrorists. If you couple that with the insecurity that has come about because of the economic downturn, it’s drawing people into a state of chaos.”
Herbie Hancock, musician

3rd year Blogiversary: 3 quotes, 3 categories, 3 past posts

Thank-you readers, from newest to first-to-follow, for marking this milestone with me. This year, I’m commemorating my third year blogiversary by offering the following quotes and links to past posts for you to peruse. Enjoy!

Quotes: 3 Very Different Men, All on the Same Page

original score - Goats in the Garden at Midnight by the Light of the Full Moon

my original hand-scored “Goats in the Garden at Midnight by the Light of the Full Moon”

 

I am in the world only for the purpose of composing. Franz Schubert


 

 

 

 

 

Al Bruno - promo photo circa 1940 - 1950

Dad (Al Bruno) ~circa 1945 (?)

 

 

Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn. Charlie Parker

 

 

 

 

Cesar Chavez in Community Garden-photo by Cathy Murphy

Cesar Chavez in Community Garden-photo by Cathy Murphy

 

When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit our lives are all that really belong to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines the kind of [wo]men we are. Cesar Chavez

 

 

Continue reading

UKE to the rescue

This coming Saturday morning, I leave for my third and quite possibly, last, scheduled trip to Colorado to visit with Dad (note-operative word here is scheduled). With it comes the usual deliberation on what to pack; most of which is rote routine. But those few variable items that require more thought on just how to pack along for the trip are often troublesome.

As a musician, it’s always about the music.

Yes, I have my NOTION software available to me on my laptop if the muse tickles my fancy, or I feel the need to work on compositional works-in-progress.  Heck, I’m so old-school I consider it a badge of honor to whip out my staff paper notebook and jot down ideas using archaic graphite dots.

But that’s not what I’m meaning. And I’m not talking about iPod, streaming or even radio station music, either.

I’m talking about how does one pack that part of your essential being that doesn’t fit into a suitcase, in the overhead bin on an airplane, or be safely transported as general baggage without risk or costing a fortune?  This common question faces all instrumentalists, yet there is no one-size-fits-all answer to it.

Coping with life – the good, the bad and the ugly (to borrow a phrase from a fav Spaghetti Western) – has always been reflected in my music. Prayers, supplications, questions, acceptance; hurts, healings and happy dances; all the dialogue, working through, pouring out – done with my instrument.

Rental 'beater guitar' placed across scrap quilt I made for Ma & Dad ~ 1983

Rental ‘beater guitar’ placed across scrap quilt I made for Ma & Dad ~ 1983

Borrowing or renting a classical guitar is not as easy as say, a violin. I won’t go into the technical details of why, but suffice it to say that the “beater guitar”* I scouted out to rent during my first extended visit, while hard to procure, did deliver as a sort-of security blanket instrument during that five week time span.

My second visit lasted two weeks, a doable length of time to go without direct instrumental contact so that counted as an easy fix.

But…those were solutions for then. What about now?

This time around, I’m slated for a three week stay. As much as those visits are a precious blessing, they are also very intense; filled with tender moments alongside heart wrenching end-of-life realities.

This time around, hubby booked my flight on another airline, one which allows 1 bag and 1 personal item for free as carry-ons.

This time around, I’ll stuff the computer bag with my wallet, snacks and paperback mystery novel as usual, and tote my UKE as the other carry on.

After all, George Harrison composed ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ on his UKE when his primary instrument was unavailable for use.

*”beater guitar” is a term used by cgers and acoustic guitarists alike that refers to an instrument that can be taken anywhere without fear of ruining it…case in point: around the campfire during wilderness treks.

***

One of my fav renditions of this piece follows and indeed, inspired several of my students at the time to ask me to teach them the UKE…thus forcing me to pursue a certain level of mastery over this little gem of an instrument -

 

New Book Release: Home to Cedar Branch by Brenda Bevan Remmes

                                 Waiting for Brenda
Home-to-Cedar-Branch-Novel-by-Brenda-Remmes
Of course wouldn’t you know, the day’s dark grey skies decided to pour forth a drenching rain the moment I stepped out of the car. Brenda and I were meeting that morning at the FloTown Starbucks on Palmetto for a quasi-interview, so I wanted to get there a bit before the appointed time.
After my mad dash into the tiny building, I quickly scanned the area for an available table. As a veteran of numerous coffee shops, I know that claiming one’s territory is best done first.  I planted my book bag atop my find as evidence of ownership then proceeded to redeem my empty bean bag* for a free cup of coffee.
Returning to ‘our’ table with java in hand, I settled in to read a few pages of ‘Home to Cedar Branch’ while waiting for Brenda’s arrival…

Home to Cedar Branch is Brenda’s second novel in the ‘Quaker Café’ series.  While not intended to be a part of an actual series, this stand-alone book clamors to be part of something larger than itself. Writing has a way of making demands on its author and Brenda is accommodating those demands by crafting yet a third book in the ‘Quaker Café’ series as of this posting.

Both novels, along with an in-progress third, are centered around the fictional community of Cedar Branch.  I asked Brenda if she would like to live in Cedar Branch.  Surprisingly, she told me that she Continue reading

wish you were here…

“Music is a place” Philip Glass

NASA The Carina Nebula

The Carina Nebula (photo credit: NASA Hubble Heritage Team)

Just a note to say ‘wish you were here’…I am camped out in the midst of prepping Swimming with Swans pieces for recording readiness.  Too cool.

From the Practice Stool: Mo Giolla Mear (an excerpt)

My hand scored copies alongside newly entered NOTION scored parts of Mo Giolla Mear

My hand scored copies alongside newly entered NOTION scored parts of Mo Giolla Mear

The other day I came off of the practice stool elated.  It was one of those sessions where everything went right.  The tone from my perfectly honed right hand nails emitted a luscious aural tapestry of sound while working through completed scores of my own creation or arrangement.  Fluidity of movement in the left hand during execution of certain passages, coupled with the flow of interpretive playing all within acceptable tempos…this is my dance, this is my place, this is my praise to the Giver of Gifts.

I was particularly pleased to master specific measures in my classical guitar arrangement of the traditional Celtic piece, Mo Giolla Mear. Written during our between homes time, it is part of my Swimming with Swans: the music project.

Yes, there is an entire story behind the discovery of this piece of music and how it relates to our life on the road.  It remains scattered in the bits and nits of my mind, journals and ‘little list’ e-mail updates jotted down at the time.  For some reason the words do not come easily right now.  The challenge remains for me to sit down, focus and craft a vignette to include in my Swimming with Swans: vignettes of our three year journey between homes manuscript.

However, while immersed in my music, that challenge is mercifully set aside. Continue reading

Potholders, Project Progress and The Sound of Paper

Surrounded by Introducing Fractal Geometry and May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude, Julia Cameron’s The Sound of Paper sits amongst an elite stash of books which grace the backside of my desk work surface.  Picking it up, I opened its pages to where I last placed a 2004 Barnes & Noble bookmark and began reading.

Searching for words to cup a myriad of incoherent and vague thoughts swarming about my heat-wave induced spacey-brain, I came across practical encouragement in my current state of conundrum.  That state of wild productivity amidst desperate isolation, struggling to finish projects that are taking on the shape of completion.

Oh – so – slow – ly.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say my ‘Mojo stopped Mojoing’ but I have come up wanting in the energy department of late.  The constant drain of daily in-ing and out-ing in this humid triple digit heat has taken its toll.  The term languid suggests more than a glamourous lady lounging alongside the pool with margarita in hand to weather the weather.  It conjures up a wild-eyed mad-hatter creative, scurrying from instruments to computer to manuscript paper to WORD documents to notebooks to research to pacing to exercise machines to eating tons of watermelon to striving to keep cool to…ad infinitum.

Oh – so – slow – ly.

Backside of potholders

Quilted design on backside of potholders

Resulting in?

Potholders.

See here the fruit of my labors.

A set of potholders made from fabric purchased some 21 years ago.

Say, what? Continue reading

Anna’s Hawk

As hubby and I drove the last few yards towards our driveway coming home from an outing the other day, the soundless swoosh of a hawk made its dramatic landing by the side of the road. Just as suddenly, it took flight to who-knows-where.red-tailed-hawk-in-flight

In those few moments, the raw heft of this bird of prey left a palpable presence. Bringing to mind my friend Anna’s novel, The Hawk. 

I’ve been reading it on Smashwords, where she has self-published many of her other novels. I respect the fact that as a creative (he)artist, she does the work necessary to get her work out there for others to enjoy.

She believes her novels are examples of faith in action.  As she says: “And this is where faith comes into the process; it’s trusting your instincts as a creative force to just let the words, or whatever artistic tools you choose, go where they will.”

Thank you Anna for that reminder. Continue reading

It’s All About The Music

My Swimming with Swans project.

Imagine a single sunflower blossom, filling the mind-canvas in O’Keefe fashion.

Sunflower-Eye-copy

The center, filled with potential protein tidbits to be harvested after the bloom has died, is the current focus of my Swimming with Swans project.  It is the source from which all else emanates.

It’s All About The Music.

Prose, dance/animation, fiber art and documentary infuse individual project-petals emerging from that sunflower center.

SanFran Sunflower

My Swimming with Swans project-petals emerging from its music-center

It’s All About The Music.

Recently, I awoke with that O’Keefe-esque visual imprint in my mind’s eye.  Often, the Lord speaks to me through such visuals.

It’s All About The Music.

How that basic fact escaped me during the early days of organizing Swimming with Swans: vignettes of our three-year journey between homes can be understood in the reading of its working title. In reigning in the scope of my Swimming with Swans project, first steps were found in the Kevin Powers article I read and wrote about sometime last year.  Still, it only addressed the written aspect of my project.

It’s All About The Music.

From the very start of our Between Homes journey and on through to the bittersweet end, music was my calling card.  Wherever the work sent us, whatever job opportunity hubby pursued – performing opened doors, initiated relationships and provided supplementary income. The Music also served as a precious tether connection with my true self amidst the current Reality we were navigating.

Early on, a colleague jokingly spoke of our Between Homes lifestyle as my personal sabbatical.  While I was certainly immersed in composing, playing, performing and practicing, the circumstance of our journey was not something I’d label as a sabbatical.*

But truly, output gleaned from that Between Homes time resulted in a large body of work.  A large body of quality work, some of which has been presented in bits and pieces on this blog in the form of ‘individual prose-project-petals’ as re-edited vignettes, reflections of re-entry into the mainstream, photos of fiber art created as a result of that experience, and the desire to Give Voice to the experiences of others in similar situations across the country.

All to the exclusion of its core element: The Music.

It’s All About The Music.

To be fair,** the sharing of musical projects on a blog is not easily achieved.  Posting mp3 audio snippets or pdf score excerpts of works in progress is problematic on many fronts.  Copyright protection just doesn’t seem to count for much of anything in this digital age.  Aside from that, there is this old timey view of discussing current projects and ideas that I hold as truth.  Any creative (he)artist knows what I’m talking about: the dreaded speak it, talk it, discuss it, and it will disappear! In other words, don’t share all the details of a current project or idea during the creating of it or the energy will just vaporize; just do it!

And that’s exactly what I have been doing since the beginning of the New Year…

It’s All About The Music.

Swans on a Misty Lake, by Alex Saberi

Swans on a Misty Lake, by Alex Saberi

With the music in its proper place, Swimming with Swans is fleshing out naturally.  It is beginning to glide effortlessly across the lake of completion with strokes of fluid motion, like the swans themselves.

 

 

*Definitely something worth writing about more deeply in another post/vignette.

**and in the spirit of full disclosure: the last few months of our three year journey, I walked away from the deepest part of my self-the music- which took longer to heal after our reentry. That time to the beginning of this year represents a period of restoration and reconciliation that is relevant but not appropriate to recount in this post.  Possibly open to dialogue further in another one, though.