Very shortly after I wrote 20 Seconds for UTD to use as the theme to the "A Conversation With..." podcast they began to use it for several different things. They were using it as background music for sizzle reels that were being presented to administrators in a variety of departments. And, I began receiving e-mails from some people I'd never met who sought me out because they wanted to tell me how much they'd enjoyed the music (what little of it there is!). Then I began hearing it in UTD's radio advertisements on several different stations.
So, they ultimately contacted me asking for a version that would be a minute long so they could use it for longer advertisements. Unlike the 20 second long version, I did sit down and put my ideas to paper for this one before beginning the recording process. But, it wasn't long before I was preserving 60 Seconds for posterity, too.
While I never heard it on the radio as I had 20 Seconds, I received a holiday e-card from UTD in which they used it. And, I heard from a friend and colleague of mine from another college in the UT system telling me that he discovered that when one calls the UT system and is put on hold one hears, you guessed it, 60 Seconds. As another colleague so aptly put it, "So, you're, like, elevator music now." Well... yes.
I hope you've enjoyed the blogs about my album everyone. Thanks for reading and thanks for supporting me and the new CD! Stay tuned for more blogs about other things I'm staying busy with, too.
The opening of Direction is demonstrative of one's full commitment to ascertaining the ultimate Truth; the decision to eschew the life one has known and perceives to be false and incomplete, in order to pursue a full and genuine existence.
I hoped to capture the sense that one was moving slowly, a bit apprehensively, yet inexorably toward a reality and a Truth that was not yet clear. When the constant rhythmic motion during the introduction breaks that person has finally had a first glimpse of reality. I endeavored to capture their wonder at all the ways reality was distinct from everything they had known thus far.
But, as the piece unfolds, the beholder also experiences sorrow, regret, nostalgia, and even horror. Sorrow and regret for all of the time wasted ignorant of Truth, nostalgia for the simplicity of a life bereft of the gravity of that Truth, and horror at just how grave the new reality can often be.
As I mentioned in my last blog I wrote all three of the movements of The Path to Truth completely out of sequence. Irrevocably Becoming... was the first I wrote. And, I originally conceived of it as a stand alone piece. Likewise, it was performed that way for a couple of years.
But, I gave it that title because of the tempo and meter change that takes place late in the piece. The mood and character change so drastically when that happens that I imagined it as a profound change that takes place in one's life that inspires that person to change radically as well.
But, when joined with the first and third movements of The Path to Truth, Irrevocably Becoming... comes to represent something more. It represents the abandonment of the life of monotony and the listlessness it produces heard in Stagnation and the thrill that the possibility of moving in a new "Direction" toward as yet unseen results can inspire. But, that thrill is tempered by anxiety and apprehension; hence some of dissonance heard throughout.
Next Week: The Conclusion of The Path to Truth.
I actually wrote the three movements of The Path to Truth completely out of sequence. The second movement, Irrevocably Becoming..., was the first I wrote. Then I wrote the final movement, and the titular song for the album, Direction. And, finally, I composed Stagnation.
But, the reason I did so was that, while I did not originally conceive of Irrevocably Becoming... as part of a greater whole, after I started Direction I began to hear a story in it. Just in listening back to the opening minute of that piece a very specific and vivid image emerged in my mind that inspired me to create a narrative around it.
The first movement was written to be the part of my story in which the person around whom it revolves is lumbering listlessly through life; completely uninspired by his duties, his role, and his path. There are little sparks of life in the first guitar at times. But, those around him compel him to maintain his course through life regardless of how meaningless it seems.
Next Week: Part II. Irrevocably Becoming...
I have always played in guitar trios more often than quartets for some reason. I think having started in a trio when I first began studying classical guitar must have had something to do with it. But, I began writing guitar trios very shortly after beginning my classical guitar studies; probably some time in 1996.
So, Imminent Loss was really the first quartet I ever wrote with the idea of playing it with my colleagues in mind. It was written shortly before I traveled to Spain with several other guitarists in 2008. We played eight concerts in 13 days while we were there. And, this is one of the pieces that we played many times.
It was one of the first pieces in which I explored the possibility of creating steady rhythms by giving each player in the ensemble just one small piece of the rhythmic texture. I did this both because it is fun to play and also because it affords the guitar ensemble an opportunity to create sounds similar to a pianist holding down a sustain pedal as they play.
I wrote Quartet in 2005. I had a very small guitar ensemble class at Eastfield College at the time; just four students! And, because all four of the them were at significantly different levels, both in terms of their playing and their music reading, it was a bit difficult to select pieces for them.
So, I went home one day and wrote a piece in which all four guitar parts are basically at a different level. If you listen carefully you'll be able to tell that beneath the melody/highest guitar part the other parts are much simpler. In fact, I had one student in the group who had never been in an ensemble before and had only started playing guitar a few months prior to joining the class. I wrote the bass part for him. You can hear that that part continues the slow rhythm that it establishes at the beginning through basically the entire piece.
This is why when I brought the students the sheet music I had their names listed next to each of the parts in the piece. Of course, I've changed that since I have reused the piece with other groups. But, that is how it was originally presented. That is not typical, however. So, when one of the students didn't notice it and asked, "Hey, which part am I playing?" He was a bit embarrassed when I replied, "It's going to be the one with your name on it."
I posted a blog a few weeks ago about another video game produced by the Arts and Technology department over at UTD for which I composed the music titled Happee. But, Marching Ever Onward was actually one of the first I composed.
The very first game I did for them was called The Digital Calculus Coach. They asked specifically for a quasi-Django Reinhardt style of composition for that game. And, while it would've been fun to evoke the relationship between Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli by using guitar with violin I decided to write all of the cues for two guitars instead so I could be prepared for recording more quickly. That was certainly a daunting task as I'd never played or written in that style before. But, it was a lot of fun and the game designers were very happy!
So, when they invited me to do the music for another game for them they were already interested in having more guitar music. And, I once again wrote it for two guitars. This time the game was Marching Ever Onward. It was the first game developed for the UTD Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology. I mentioned that in my blog about Happee.
But, Marching Ever Onward was intended to get the game player to think about the kinds of decisions he or she makes throughout life; what kinds of things they spend time doing, what kinds of things they avoid doing, etc. And, since the entire game was designed to be a microcosm of life, I begin the theme with a high, repeating harmonic which is supposed to sound like a heart monitor. And, that sound serves as a kind of musical pedal that reemerges throughout the composition as a reminder to the listener/player about what the game represents.
As I said my blog for the Happee video game theme, you can all play the values games for free at the following link to hear this music in context:
This Night is a Rope was done in 2008. Though A Life of Consequence was the only solo I'd composed before it I was inspired to approach this piece completely differently based on the success of 20 Seconds. Since I was able to put that piece together so quickly during the recording process I wanted to see what would happen if I attempted to do the same with a solo guitar piece.
But, I was also motivated to do that again because it happened that my engineer, Justin Schaefers, and I were both going through some personal struggles at the same time. We were both happy to have something to keep us busy and keep our minds occupied. So, getting together to record even when there wasn't already some music prepared seemed like the ideal way to do that.
Of course, what came out in that session didn't musically or expressively resemble 20 Seconds in the slightest. And, that was both because I wasn't trying to complete a commission with a certain style or energy in mind and, unlike 20 Seconds, this piece became a much more direct reflection of what I was feeling at the time.
So, at the end of that night of recording I had a completed guitar solo. And, as is often the case, no title came to mind right away and I knew that would most likely take a few listenings to sort out.
But, when Justin e-mailed the MP3 to me the file was titled This Night is a Rope. When I asked why he explained that the piece sounded very grave and, based on what we were already feeling, seemed not only to be a reflection of those feelings but an amplification of them. According to him This Night is a Rope sounded exactly right. So, that title stuck!
I wrote A Life of Consequence in 2006. And, with the exception of a couple of doodles in high school and college it was really the first solo guitar piece I composed.
I have been writing music of one kind or another since I was a freshman in high school. And, it was very shortly after I began studying classical guitar in college that I was writing music for guitar ensemble; mostly trios. But, the prospect of composing solos was always a bit daunting to me because it was so easy to say what I wanted to say musically with an ensemble. Writing a solo that sounded good, felt complete, and really hit all the musical and emotional marks for me seemed much more difficult.
Also, there is something very exciting about composing music and being able to realize that musical vision with other performers that adds a new layer to the joy of sharing it. But, the inspiration for A Life of Consequence was a little more personal and the piece was going to be best served as a solo.
Having finally taken that plunge I've enjoyed being able to play some of my compositions whenever and wherever I want to! And, it's been enjoyable to have private students come to me and express an interest in playing the solo pieces, too!
The title, Dark Comedy, is an allusion to films of that genre. But, it was actually inspired more specifically by films directed by Danny DeVito. While I am huge fan of dark comedies like Grosse Pointe Blank and Wag the Dog I wanted to compose a piece that captured the mania of films like DeVito's War of the Roses and Death to Smoochy.
The characters in those films are so stylized and the dialogue so calculatedly campy that I appreciate the effort that goes into making something so silly work so well! It was my hope that I could do something similar with Dark Comedy. Armed with most of the silly percussive techniques that can be achieved on the body of the guitar I sought to let both the players and audiences in on the joke. I used some of the same techniques in Invocation. But, it was my hope that I could use them in a way in this piece that would divorce it from the gravity I was trying to cultivate from that one.
I intended for Dark Comedy to be premiered by one of my student groups. And, it ultimately was. But, because of the lengths to which I went to promote maximum silliness it wound up being the most challenging of the beginning/intermediate student level pieces I'd written thus far. However, I was told by most of the students that they has so much fun preparing the piece that it was ultimately the most fun they'd had in the ensemble, too.
POSTSCRIPT: Dark Comedy has probably been performed more now than any of my other pieces. It has been performed on a Guitar Foundation of America youth showcase by the students of Andrea Cannon's Guitar Arts Studio, it was performed at the Texas State Capitol Building in Austin by the UTBrownsville guitar ensemble under the direction of Dr. Michael Quantz, I myself have performed it in Mexico and Spain, and there are plans in place to have it performed by the GFA Youth Guitar Orchestra at the 2013 Convention!