In my entry entitled “Channeling my muse…,” I mentioned that as a composer, there is an overwhelming temptation to become overly preoccupied with what notes are being put on the page, which often overshadows developing the concept of the piece as a whole. As I started to develop the melodic material of my latest piece, a sextet, I realized that I have a note obsession.
For some odd reason, I have a strong tendency to center a lot of my writing around the notes D and E. Right after that, I would rank B and F as my next two “favorite” notes. Although the majority of my pieces are written without traditional diatonic Western tonality in mind, they do have somewhat of a tonal center. I suppose I would call this “quasi-tonal.” In Oak, for example, the sections of the piece are either centered around E or B, alternately. The piece I have recently begun writing starts out with its center around E. In The Artisan and Hypnosis, the piece is centered around D. Glass Window, initially, was intended to be a modal piece, again, with E as the center, but that soon migrated to F. On top of that, a short melody that I came up with about a week ago is also centered around F.
I have no clue why I have such an obsession with these notes. At the moment, I don’t fear that it will hinder my creativity in any way; the pieces I have mentioned for example are all of a completely different character. This phenomenon reminds me about what I learned from Gunther Schuller during the Frederick Loewe Symposium of Music at U of R back in the spring. He once decided to use the same row for all of his pieces back in 1976, and he has written many pieces since (41 at the time of this article on New Music Box), none of them sounding the same.
More often than not, I begin my compositions with melodic material that I hear, and it almost always falls in these categories. I can’t promise that I’ll ever figure out why I have a tendency to do this, but I do think it is quite interesting. For now, I will see if this new piece will sound anything too much like Oak, given that it not only uses similar harmonic material in some aspects, but also the same instrumentation. It’ll be an interesting experiment.