Apr. 3, 2019

Getting Started With Writing, Part XLI

(con't from Part XL)
Looking at it through the lens of the organ, anyone focused on composing organ music these days is writing for a medium whose core repertoire spans hundreds of years and is automatically entering into a dialogue with the past and having enduring works for models.
It's therefore natural for us to give some thought to what it might take for our own writing to become something that speaks to a broad variety of musicians and music lovers over a span of cultures, places, and even epochs -- something that might have a life beyond its original premiere and even possibly labored over, loved, interrogated, or admired by future generations.
The overwhelming majority of music being created today is made with an entirely different goal in mind, i.e., to create a hit, catching fire with the broadest possible listening public at the moment, with no concern or regard for any kind of historical endurance.
The desire to write a piece that would enter the organ repertoire is particularly apposite, and contemporary works simply do not figure prominently in the organ repertoire; we see this, notwithstanding noteworthy contributions by such eminent composers of the last 50 years as diverse as Philip Glass, David Lang, Milton Babbit, and Gyorgi Ligeti, among others, and the tireless efforts of people like Carson Cooman who proselytize for contemporary organ music.
Nevertheless, if our own writing expresses a certain stylishness, substantive ideas, integrity with a seriousness of purpose, craft in the sense of attention to detail, and an inner propulsion that carries the listener forward from start to finish, including perhaps a little of the unexpected, it will be on the right side of history.
If within it we can find elements of intricacy, subtlety, and sophistication that balance simplicity, contrasting ideas which generate interest, and a form molded with the intention of creating a satisfying sense of a musical journey, it will be on the right side of history.
History teaches that all of these are necessary conditions for a contemporary work to enter the standard organ repertoire.
It is not for any composer to say whether their own music, or even their own performing, is "good" or not; that is for others to decide.
What can be said, is that if their work has most, if not all, of the above characteristics, it is crafted on the same principles which have withstood the test of time for hundreds of years.
Bearing these things in mind, in order for succeeding generations of audiences to find a language of warmth and meaning in our music, in order for it to be embraced by posterity, each of us needs to take a fresh look at our scores from the listener's point of view and ask ourselves these same 6 questions:
1. Is its thematic material memorable and capable of elaboration? The composer has to have something to work with, and the listener seeks, whether consciously or unconsciously, to associate the name of the piece with its theme(s).
2. Does it have a clear beat? The listener's mind seeks a clear beat.
3. Is it in a key (or mode)? The listener's mind seeks a tonal center, a primal place or region of musical space to which all the other tones bear a relationship.
4. Is there cohesion in the harmonies? The listener's mind seeks connectedness, order, logic, and beauty in the way tones sound in combination.
5. Does it have form? The listener's mind seeks architecture that provides a sense of a satisfying musical journey.
6. Above all, does it move? The listener seeks an inner propulsion and a sense of drive that captivates and holds the attention, that stirs, even thrills.