Jul. 4, 2016


The thought of writing a successful piece of original music set in a minor key (d minor, let's say) based upon an austere chorale theme which begins in the bass, all by itself, can be intimidating and can give us "butterflies in the stomach."
But then again, speaking of butterflies, if we take a page from nature we can let it guide and lead us, just as our fear points us in the direction of doing the work that matters [See blog, The Lizard Brain, Parts I-VII], as we translate that page into music.
For example, think of a beautiful monarch butterfly (photo), which is comparable to the theme harmonized in its parallel [major} key, the beautiful finished product which will appear at the end of the work [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part III], in the final section (which is why you compose this section first); nature, of course, teaches us that it never starts out that way; like everything in the living world, it follows a life cycle.
It starts out as a primitive egg, the equivalent of nothing more than a theme in single notes in the bass voice; it then becomes a caterpillar which is equivalent to restatement of the theme in a bit more elaborate way, i.e. harmonized in 3 or 4 parts, with the tune this time in the top line.
All this time, other things are going on around it in nature; other caterpillars are out there, doing the same thing; which can be represented by a second theme in the dominant key (a minor), harmonized in 3 or 4 parts (you're going to take this second theme from the left hand line of the final section because both themes will be combined at the end, and the two themes, like full grown butterflies, will, in effect, emerge into the sun together).
What these caterpillars do next in nature is find a place to spin a cocoon in anticipation of emerging, after a time, in their full glory as butterflies; only, at this stage, this musical cocoon is suggested by nothing more than a D major harmony embedded within a short 2 part canon at the octave; the canon at first gives the impression that the D major harmony belongs to its own dominant key (A major), but as the canon concludes the ear is led to a different region of musical space, and the D major harmony settles finally into the darkened gloom of its own mediant key (f# minor).
Once this happens, the motion increases to reflect the physical changes that are occurring within the developing cocoon (depicted by the second theme restated in an agitated way in the subdominant key of g minor, using an accelerating tempo) until finally, a few bars later, everything unravels down to a single line again, as if the cocoons were breaking down, and, lo and behold, both themes emerge in their full beauty in the light of day, in the radiant key of D major, unencumbered finally by all the previous phases through which they passed, to combine with each other finally, in consonant harmony in the final section.
Once this amazing metamorphosis has passed, a short, restful coda, ending very quietly, rounds out the piece.
The sense this work gives the listener is that something which started out very stark, almost severe, has passed through a number of disguises, musically, and has risen from an obscure and relatively inferior position to come out on the other end as something unexpected ... very quiet ... very wonderful ... that gives pleasure to the senses.
Those who think a mental image like this from nature is too farfetched to actually correlate with the writing of a musical work would be laboring under a serious misconception; a score exemplifying this very plan, detail for detail, has been posted on this web site for free downloading and printing [See blog, Free Stuff, Choral in d minor].
By sitting down and giving your writing a try like this, and adopting some image from nature, a natural process, a story, a myth, or some historical event, taking a page from nature, history, literature, or theology and letting that image guide and lead you like this, and by pressing forward with that image in view to bring something new into existence, to do the work that matters, no matter what, you undergo a metamorphosis yourself.
You become something you weren't before ... a creator of something out of nothing, something fine and good and lasting and beautiful.