Sunday, November 18, 2018

Lessons from a Puzzle (Musical Transfers)


As I was putting this very difficult puzzle together (I was working on it for HOURS....), I began to think about the puzzle as a work of art (...and WORK it was!). I began to see melodies, themes, motives, and all sorts of musical elements in "Las Vegas." I have enlarged the photo so that you can more clearly see exactly what I saw in terms of the individual pieces that came together to make the whole.

1) I began to consider the creativity of the person who could "imagine" such a scene as a puzzle (composer). The most frequently asked question for me as a composer is the following: "How do you come up with the idea?"....."How do you get started?" These are the difficult questions in my professional life. I can tell you truthfully, there has only been ONCE in my life as a composer/arranger when I just sat at my computer, not knowing what to do next. I have been writing choral music since 1990...so I guess the fact that it has happened only once is somewhat remarkable. I can tell you...once was enough. It was really scary to me. I thought my creativity had just decided to end. In case you're wondering, that state of being lasted one day...only one. My best analogy is this (stay with me...no rolling of eyes just now): Being creative is sort of like being allergic. If you are allergic, you simply are, and there really isn't anything you can do about it. One could move to the other side of the globe, and eventually, there would be something there that would be an allergen. Well....creative people are creative. That's how our minds work. It is my opinion that almost everyone is creative in their own area of expertise.  When I go to the doctor, I want the doctor to use every creative thought process imaginable (big word in creativity) for diagnosis and treatment of the problem. I want my banker to be creative in finding solutions to financial issues. I want my accountant to be creative, within the laws of small business operations, etc. I want my plumber to be equally creative in solving problems with pipes and water flow. You get the idea. I believe we are all creative, and I am delighted that there are enough creative people in the professional community "out there" to get all of my problems solved. Don't bring me a choral music writer to figure out the problems with my dishwasher. I need a creative plumber!!!!

2) Specifically, the working of this puzzle gave me insight into the visual representation of music:

--Color: This puzzle was ablaze with color. As you know, in music we use the word "color" to describe qualities of sound...dark, bright, rich, thick, thin...all referring to the sound we are hearing. However, I noticed something about all the colors in the puzzle...the brightness did not last forever. As the "theme" of the color was evident in the puzzle, it changed gradually sometimes, and eventually morphed into a totally different color. However, it was so gradual, it was hardly noticeable from piece to piece. So much like the human voice! We use so many colors to express the various emotions in one piece of music, and in many cases, we have moved through the various colors with so much expertise, no one could really say, "That person sounded really strange in making their sound different. We have learned how to move from one section of color to another in order to communicate better with our audience.

--Themes: I am not sure I would ever have completed this puzzle without finding certain "themes" within the whole...fences...parking lots...domes of buildings...street lights...styles of windows...colors and styles of rooftops. The themes were the only things that gave me even a glimmer of hope for completion. It allowed me to at least get the similar pieces into the appropriate areas. And no...I was not always right. Even though the themes were there, they were not without a surprise every now and then. Sound familiar? I'm thinking of orchestral symphonies, with the presentations of the themes being presented just a tiny bit different every time (key, mode, octave, instrumentation). Familiarity and variation...the inherent interest of most symphonies.

--Unifying Material: I see the trees in this puzzle as non-descript visual material that is necessary to the total picture, yet somewhat insignificant as to providing real interest to the eye. Wouldn't you know? The trees were the toughest part of the entire puzzle for me. It was so difficult to find the exact "shade" of green to locate and place in context, but some of the same shades of green were used throughout the photo itself. I could only use "trial and error" to get the puzzle completed. I could gradually see the number of pieces decreasing, so progress was being made.

--The Lines of Design: In music, we call these phrases. Take a look at the visual lines, some are square, some are diagonal and intersect the squares. In some cases the dovetailing lines are obliterated by the trees that are underneath. The "theme" had arrived and was woven into the puzzle without our realizing it.

On another note:

I am not a person who generally looks at the "sample" photo of the puzzle. I just start trying to make the pieces fit. My co-creator was just the opposite. He referred to the puzzle many times during our work. We can make a transfer from this tendency into how one goes about finding their own interpretation of music. Some choral directors listen to other performances by other choirs, pick the one they like the best, then begin to move their choirs toward a similar product. I am not critiquing this process one way or the other. I am just aware that even in writing choral music, I determine where my piece is going...get it almost to the point of completion...then go online to hear what others have done. It is a different way of doing things. It's all good, trust me.

We all have our process for creating our works of art in the classroom. One thing I know for certain: we are all wired differently. I am now writing music I "hear"...I am not concentrating as much on "market demands" as I did at one time. I'm not sure if that is good or bad. I just know that life is short, and I am trying my best to write whatever music I choose to write, before physical "stuff" starts to become diminished. My hearing is so important, but so is my sight. We have a history of loss of both in our family. Not good.

When we see art, can we see the beauty of the completed work and enjoy it? Are we so wired to be analytical souls who are concerned with physical components that we can't really enjoy a work at all. I sat through a lot of beautiful music...analysis, analysis, analysis. In my younger years as a professional, I truly lost some of the joy of hearing others' remarkable works of art. I really have no opinion about such to say "right or wrong," I just think I lost a bit. I listen differently now and enjoy it more.

We are all striving to make beautiful works of art that are meaningful. We are either trying to solve the puzzle through composition, or trying to understand the puzzle as we study the process, getting students ready for performance. We cannot do everything at once. Both approaches have a final product swirling around in their heads, and we must select pieces of the puzzle to solve in a meaningful and sensible order as we move toward whatever it is that we hear in our heads.

Being a choral director is a fun gig. Being a choral music writer (composer/arranger) is a fun gig, too. We are all solving, creating, performing, and moving toward an imagined goal of sound. One thing is for sure...we are very fortunate to be in this beautiful profession of creating sound. There is no "puzzle" within...not at all.

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