Some random thoughts

My plan is to begin working on music in a fairly serious manner tomorrow night; it will be the start of my fall push. You may remember how I have realized that I work better with a schedule, so I’m devoting Sunday mornings and Tuesday and Wednesday nights to composing.

What will I be working on? I got email today reminding me that the deadline for the Welcome Christmas Carol Competition is next Friday, so I think I’ll see if I can knock something out for that. I should do some work on A Day in the Moonlight, but Mike’s in Africa for a while, so it’s not as if he can check up on me.

The challenge this year is to set a carol for SATB chorus and a five-octave celesta, which apparently is a big deal. (Del Mar’s Anatomy of the Orchestra says that four octaves is in fact the norm.) This is the instrument that plays (and indeed was first heard) in “Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy” from Nutcracker. It’s a very quiet instrument, played like a piano, unable to be heard above much of a mezzopiano.

Again, as I mentioned I think in May, finding the text is the hard thing. Maybe after I finish musing this post.

Last week, Diane Mize, my painting instructor from GHP so long ago (we have a mutual pact not to mention that number of years ever again), sent me an email from one of her favorite creative bloggers, Robert Genn, a painter. Like me, he recognizes that there are particular times of the day when he’s most apt to work spontaneously, but recently he came across an idea he shared in his biweekly letter (explained and subscribable here.)

The idea is to perform one more creative act before turning out the lights. Tiredness contributes in a way one does not expect. Casualness and the feeling of “something extra” make their mark. A lackadaisical twenty-minute afterthought becomes a creative bonus.

He talks about it being a way to use up extra paint, in his case. I’m wondering how I might do this. My creative times are in the evening anyway. I work best when I have specific times set aside, and I usually quit precisely at 9:00 unless I’m really burning through material. So an hour later, would there be “something extra,” or would it be just thoughts based on what I’ve already done? Again, I’d benefit more if I were able to jot down things I heard in my head in any kind of accurate way.

Genn makes it sound as if one is to return to one’s workspace, but “before turning out the lights” implies bedtime to me, especially since I work nearly up until that time anyway. Perhaps I could have some kind of bed-journal. This keeps sounding like yet another Moleskine notebook. Ah, well, if I must…

Yesterday, we went to the High Museum to see the Annie Leibovitz exhibit. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by an exhibit like this, not just through the sheer volume of great stuff that you have to assimilate before your legs give out, but also of the sheer greatness of the mind you are encountering.

Leibovitz was an enormous force in photography. Her celebrity portraits were witty without being gimmicky, and were often sumptuous. Her photodocumentary works were stark and powerful. Her “informal” photos, of family and such, were as carefully selected as her other work.

Much of her work stays with you, indeed, much of the exhibit one would have seen before when it was first published, but the portrait of Daniel Day Lewis especially intrigued me. Having such a handsome subject always helps, I’m sure, but I keep remembering the richness of his attire, the layers, the vest, the shirt, possibly a scarf or cravat, the greatcoat, all dark-colored and tumbling about him. He sat in near profile to us, his legs crossed elegantly away from us, and looking out from the dark background. It was somewhere between a dark Renaissance portrait and a Regency rake.

Of course, it is very hard not to regard the output of such a great mind as this as a rebuke, or at the very least, a challenge in several ways.

First, it seems to challenge you to respond to the art, to the mind; to know, to appreciate, to understand what the artist has accomplished and to embrace it, not only the polished result of a lifetime of seeing and doing, but the struggle of that seeing and doing in the result you see before you.

After looking at Daniel Day Lewis for some time, do I know him better? Of course not; that’s a fallacy of Vanity Fair readers everywhere. But I do know Annie Leibovitz better. I see her ability to see Lewis in terms that will reveal him to the viewers of this portrait. Despite her claim elsewhere in the exhibit not to be able to produce decent work in a studio, the Lewis portrait is a masterwork of sensuality and chiaoscuro.

This great work is of course a challenge to one’s own meagre doodlings. It’s a challenge to produce, to meet Leibovitz on her own terms, to explore and push your boundaries as she pushed hers, failure is not an option, even it it seems clear that it really is the only option. You want to play as well as she has.


2 thoughts on “Some random thoughts

  1. Three Responses to Three Parts

    You don’t necessarily have to use all five octaves. Or do so by doubling.

    But didn’t Proust have Marcel go to bed early?

    Regarding Day-Lewis’ portrait: in yoga it’s called the “cobbler’s pose.”

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