by Arnold Schoenber...Me. Not him. Me.
My dreams of being a composer died, like Ronald Reagan, slowly. Although I cannot, like Nancy Reagan, look to the future, I am pretty much now hopeless that any music I'd write, like Ron Reagan Jr., would be an embarassment.
I have in my 19 years of life, spent hours upon hours at the keyboard, at the drums, behind the computer, at the desk, in my bed and mostly in the bathroom deep in artistic thought. Most of my improvisations and attempts at composition the epitome of uninspiredom, I have never been able to translate Moses' divinely inspired words to the Israelites as it were. I have played it all and played it out. I have searched mountain high and valley low for a muse who may put me on a hot-line to Apollo.
What is the meaning of this evolution from a young boy who wanted to make up cute little pop and jazz songs, to the ambitious young man who attemped to write a 28 minute piece for large orchestra based on menstural cycles, to the 19 year old who writes these words dejected and lost? It is the evolution of art through the ages, from the primitive poundings of a child on a table top, to the dialectical complexities of serial music pitch rotation. It is the evolution from death to death of which we take part, forced into a strange game in between.
I first remember creating music by making up simple two-bar melodies to innane lyrics of my own invention. As a matter of fact, I remember my first true piece of composition, a little homophonic ditty inspired by my older brother's mastery of the guitar:
Play the guitar,
It's really hard.
Play the guitar,
It's really hard.
Sure the melody is only two notes, but what WONDERFUL notes they are (A and E)! And the setting of words, while lacking in dramatic tension, are effectively direct and to the point like the John Adams librettos of Alice Goodman. The kernal of musical genius was there already at 7 years of age; a little Wolfgang Mendelssohn.
My favorite music has always been Christmas Carols. The nostalgia for my childhood, family, gradeschool and neighborhood plays a large role there of course, but not completely. I've always felt that the best Christmas Carols on there own are worthy of admiration. The quasi-Medieval modal nature of some of the melodic material, as well as the antiquated sentimental verse has the ability to, like George Carlin in "Bill and Ted's", transport one, all too briefly, out of time.
It was the melody of "O Come All Thee Faithful" that was the first song I could play on piano. I had in one year gone from Gregorian Chant homophony with the slight but assured "Play the Guitar (It's Really Hard)" to the more complicated world of harmony of the early Renaissance era.
As the years progressed and my tastes and creative desires shifted and grew I was soon playing pop songs and jazz on the piano. My first attempts at composition were simple chord progressions and melodies. My gifts lie not in the music itself, which was awful, but in the fine art of song title-ing; an omen of my present status as a man of good ideas with no ability to write them down or articulate. Midnight on the John Tesh Dung Mountain, Suck the Puppet, 5 4 3 2 1 Rape the Dolphins!, William Appleton's Daughters Silva and Elaine, Sewer Corn, I Get My Kicks Above the Waist (Sunshine), Call Your Song 'Untitled' to Make it Arty, (Meet Me in) Branson, Segregated Graveyards etc. are all wonderful titles just crying out for wonderful music to be written for them. It was never to be.
In my early high school years I specialized in jazz and hoped to become the next great jazz composer. I played and listened constantly to Ellington, Monk, Mingus, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Andrew Hill and hoped to learn a few things about the trade. Again, it was not to be, BUT I did learn how pathetically white I am in the process!
Though my jazz compositions, moody Keith Jarrettian reflections with Bill Evansian ethereal minor ninths and Ahmad Jamalian major sevenths are still played by me and show some skill, they are again outdone by their evocative titles: Fruitpie the Magician (the closing track on me and my buddy Chaz's full length rap LP "Notes From the Underground"), Grandiloquent Caesura, Rjafah, Moon Badge, etc.
As I became more and more interested in classical music (I had already a nice collection in junior high) my ambitions to write music became unbearable. I simply had to become the next great master of serious music.
The discovery of Alban Berg led me to attempt several 12-tone pieces, each with secret Bergian references to my own life. There are infinite things wrong with this, the most blatant being a untrained high-school student attempting to write music like one of the most intensely gifted and byzantine masters of the 20th century, and believing it interesting that the first fiery notes in an angry score (I had Berg's first String Quartet in mind) of mine would spell out some teacher's name I didn't like. Perhaps I secretly hoped to be taken seriously and cared about in a way, so that some future George Perle would find my 10th grade yearbook and piece together the secret codes of my fascinating and genius work, and my crush on that junior girl, Sarena.
My lack of talent still did not cease my far-ranging creative goals. In desperation at the pathetic nature of my first pieces, I retreated into a John Cage-esque Zen dadaism phase, far more suitable to my penchant for ideas and lack of compositional prowess. Thus I had moved from the 1930s to the 1960s. But unlike Cage, a brilliant thinker AND a trained composer, my compositional ideas had no profound aesthetic purpose; I just liked being silly.
I sketched ideas for a piece that would involve a whole reading of the Bible (in its original languages) entitled "The Bible, a Masterstroke in A lot of Parts for Optional Speaker, Optional Harmonium, and actually....really Optional Everything. Yeah... Actually...Don't even bother. It's not worth performing. The Bible sucks."
Next was a aleatoric piece that like Cage's "4:33" would involve silence. It would be called "Silencio" (whispered) and would be performed whenever there is a good amount of silence somewhere. It is still my most popular piece.
After that I got even more disturbingly silly. One score that I actually started to write down but never titled, got only as far as the 5th bar. After some strokes of a Tam-Tam and Webernian broken arpeggios on a celesta, a S & M leatherman is whipped to which he replies in Sprechstimme: "Owwwww! You're mean!"
Finally I had two huge ideas for what would be my magnum opuses or opui if you will.
The first was to be a colossal set of variations on the theme from Salt n' Peppa's 80s hit song "Push It." The bigger the orchestra the better, and I demanded in addition to the orchestra of Gustav Maher's Eighth Syphony, a backstage wordless choir, a fully functioning steel mill (with nine trained workers hired from Allentown Pennsylvania to perform), a helicopter and a couple of pipe organs (to balance out the steel mill). The musical language would be late-late-late-late Romantic, and I hoped to outdo Max Reger in proliferation of quadruple fugues, modulations, chromatic wanderings and lack of tension release.
The second was written under the influence of Harrison Birtwistle's Gawain, Secret Theatre, and epic Mask of Orpheus. I envisioned a half an hour, deathly serious work of musical theater for large gamelan orchestra, and an assortment of ballet dancers, Japanese Noh theater veterans and Wagnerian orientated opera singers. The ancient rite that was to be shown in all its primitive but still frighteningly vital glory was (and this is where you should stop reading) the distressing act of bukakke. The piece was to be called It's Gonna Get Messy!. Strangely, right around this time was when I stopped taking my anxiety medication.
It was also around this time that I stopped composing and retreated into deep study and meditation. Aside from a few little things here in there, and my hip hoppin beat makin work as Kid Icarus, I mostly stopped writing music down altogether.
About a month ago I sat down and wrote a short little piece for piano called "Meadowlark Lemon" which despite its poetic exoticism is actually the name of a founding member of the Harlem Globetrotters. It's a austere and modal piece and canonic in many parts. It has a Arvo Part feel without all the spirtual hoo-ha. I finished it in about an hour, wrote it down in red pencil, scented it with some lemon perfume and gave it to a dear friend. I don't plan to write anything again for a while. I have better things to do then to waste time on lost causes.
Who knows? Maybe like a Janacek I'll write my masterpieces in my final years. And also, maybe like Janacek, I'll get to bang a Czech girl named Kamilla. I really cannot say. I'm a hopeful person and I am by no means heartbroken. It's all the turn in the road that will no doubt wind again some other direction soon enough.