In addition to my 365 project, I’m also embarking on a bit of a self-improvement thing. I promised myself this summer that I would begin walking for exercise each evening, and that I would use the time for this project.
One of my weakest skills as a composer is my interval-recognition abilities. You would think I would be able to hum a melody and write it right down, but history has proven that I’m pretty hit or miss about these things. I have very good relative pitch when I’m singing, so my sight-singing in a chorus is very accurate, but just making up stuff and transcribing it? Not so much.
So in order to get better at this, I have bought a Moleskine pocket notebook with music staff paper in it. I carry it with me on my walk, and I force myself to compose melodies and write them down in the notebook. I will also be using it to work on my harmonic analysis skills. Eventually, of course, I’ll get to be just like Beethoven, seized with ideas and whipping out my notebook to sketch in a symphony or two.
Last night I went for my first official walk, and other than working up a sweat, I filled eight staves with ideas for a theme for Symphony #1. I have not tested them yet to see if they sound at all correct. It also occurred to me that a sonatina for piano four-hands I wrote some years ago could yield a theme for the final movement, so I wrote that down. (To be clear, I wrote down the idea, not the theme; I couldn’t remember it exactly. I had to open up that particular piece and copy the theme this morning.)
Actually, the Beethoven example is pretty germane to what I’m trying to do with this project. He was notorious for scratching out more than he wrote. Ideas would come to him, and as he began to work on them, he found himself dissatisfied with them in some way and so began to modify them. He rewrote the opening to the Fifth Symphony at least eight times. The first attempt is recognizable, but clearly imperfect.
This is important for those of us who create with a little less giftedness than Ludwig: if someone as godlike as Beethoven couldn’t get it right the first time, why do we think we ought to? Get it out there, get it on the paper, and then revise it.
I know this, but I find it hard to follow. Back in 2004 when I was working on the “penguin opera,” I would start a piece by writing “abortive attempts” at the top of the score paper. Just go ahead and name it as a wasted attempt. Whatever I put on the page, I had no expectations of it except that it would be a failure. And then, two or three revisions later, I’d have something that worked.
But heavens how I hate it.