I was thinking the other day (I do that sometimes) how much easier it would have been to be a composer in the early days. For example:
- Gregorian chant? You hold that low drone for a while, and then we’ll move up and down this scale I invented. Ohhh, I got an idea! Let’s sing in this cavernous church.
- Traveling troubadours? I can use these same three chords. No one has heard them in every country song written yet.
- I bet no one said to Bach: “Hey, J.S., I love that tune, but doesn’t it kind of sound like In-A-Gadda- Da-Vida?”
We could have had more or less than 12 tones in western music, but nooo, someone decided to use that division. For you Ancient Alien fans, I think there was a show all about the number twelve. Just sayin’.
Do the math. There are many combintaions you can get with just twelve notes, but ultimately, you are going to write something that will get you sued. Bach then (ha!) everything was new. Oh, I’m sure there was the occasional fugue fight, or arguments on who’s motet that really was, or who was the real father of the symphony (psst–Haydn), but what you wrote was more than likely going to be brand new.
There are times when I am composing that I have to change certain notes because even though they fit and sound exactly how I wanted it to, it reminds me of something else that I’ve heard. You would think that it would happen more often than it does, but I’m sure glad it doesn’t.
The next few Mondays will give some insight into one composer’s process (mine, but you knew that): what I’ve learned, forgotten, ignored, and dismissed. So, you guessed it, sometimes I just wing it.
Tune in next Monday!
Leon Stevens is a composer, artist, and author of three books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and Pictures, The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories, and Journeys: Eight Original Pieces for Classical Guitar