Here’s the first cut of the first track. It’s rough. There’s gaps, there’s tempo and voicing issues. Right now it’s just notes on a page. There is very little in the realm of instruction to the pianist other than, “these are the notes”. There is no, play this loud, accent this or slur these notes. It’s clearly a rough draft. It’s merely the shape of the song that will come to be.
The biggest issue though, and the one that will be hardest for me to fix, is that I am not a pianist. I have no knowledge, or limited knowledge, on how one plays the piano. And because I don’t know, with any real authority, how it is played, It’s really just my best guess as to how to write for piano. My friend and mentor, J. Michael St. Clair, calls it unpianistic and it is a fair term.
Click to play track -> Untitled 4-11
The song is less unpianistic than most of my piano work. But how does one play it? How do the notes fall under the fingers? Do the dynamics and expression (loudness and how the music is played) make sense? There’s more to it, of course. There’s always more to it. “It depends,” is a term that I came to simultaneously love and hate. It all depends on the function, purpose and 1,000 other considerations. Simply saying, “I like it” isn’t enough for me. It might be plenty for myriad composers, but for me, it is not.
I ask myself, does the piece do what it is supposed to do? Does it address the question asked? Does it answer it? I set out to accomplish something with each song, not just write something that I like to hear. Moreover, I set out to learn and grow with each song I write. Music, like any art, is constantly growing and changing. And even if it wasn’t changing, there is still too much for any one person to learn. I refuse to just regurgitate over and over again what I’ve already learned. That’s not creation, it’s stagnation.
Since this song is for myself, I get to set my own completion criteria.
- I have to be happy with it on my terms. The first thing that I want to accomplish on this song is to learn. What makes a song pianistic? Why is a song written for piano vs saxophone?
- Next, I need to get feedback on how the song feels under hand. Is it easy to play? Do the chords fit? Are there areas of concern?
- Lastly, I want to step away from my typical style or chordally written music, or music that follows a predictable pattern. It’s safe and uninspired. And again, its not creation so much as it’s formula. It’s better than nothing, but it does nothing to help me grow.
It makes me nervous to work on this song. The song itself is dangerous, unexplored and completely foreign ground. I am certain that I’ll make many missteps, but it’s ok. There are lessons to be learned in failures. Still, I don’t want to fail. And I’m not the kind of armchair philosopher that vomits out pithy cliches like you learn more from failure, blah barf. Because you don’t. The only thing you learn better or in more abundance from failure is how to cope. You learn more from success.
That’s what I’m striving for here: success. The beauty of any art form is that I don’t have to stop until I’m happy. I can edit until the day I die. Just ask George Lucas. In all seriousness though, I get to say when it’s done. It will never be perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. I don’t think art ever is, really. I’m reminded of a quote, I apologize but I don’t remember who said it. “Style is what we do wrong.” If it were perfect, it would be boring and unimaginative. It’s the mistakes that make it ours.