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Music Monday: Nobody’s Perfect

I finally changed the strings on my guitar. Wow. What a difference.

Will that give me motivation to play more? I still enjoy playing, but sometimes it feels too much like a chore.

It takes me a long time to learn a new piece of music (or re-learn something). If I step away for a while or start a new piece of music, the hard work dissipates and I feel I have to start over again. When I finally get to the point where it’s not going to improve anymore, it’s still not to my liking, not because it’s perfect, but because it’s not perfect. I know that my skill set is not set up for perfection.

Nothing is ever perfect though, is it? I wrote a quote that read:

“Perfection leaves you nowhere to go.”

Where do my imperfections lie? I can play a certain part correctly several times, but then make a mistake where I never before. I misplace a finger on a string. I forget a part or section that I thought was memorized. When I go to record one of my pieces, just the pressure of pressing the record button is enough to make it seem that I didn’t practice it at all, so it takes many takes to get a complete piece.

I have been trying to practice and record one of the first pieces that I wrote, “Riviera Galliarde”, and hopefully, by putting my goal in writing, I’ll be able to share it with you very soon.

Stay tuned.

-Leon


Leon Stevens is a blogger, composer, artist, and an author of three books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and Pictures, Journeys: Eight Original Pieces for Classical Guitar and The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories.

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Music Monday: Opus 6 – Progress

I sat down the other day and was able to write a few potential transitions to get me from one part to the next.

There are so many different forms that a piece of classical music can take. Some take the forms of dances: Gavotet, Mazurka, Allemande, while others are named for their tempo: Allegro, Largo, Adagio. Pieces can be called for what they are used for, such as a Study, or a diversion – Divertimento.

Like poetry, compositions often have repeated parts. Part one repeated, then part 2 repeated would be AABB. A rondo has a main part repeated 3 times ABACA.

Here is a sneak peek at the score:

As you can see there are 5 distinct parts, with the blue outline being the ending. Some parts may be combined depending how I want the repeats to go.

As for a name, not to give away the style, but I think I will be calling it “Lullaby”.

-Leon


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Music Monday: Minimalism

John Cage’s 4’33. A pianist comes out and sits at a piano and begins to…do nothing for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Is this taking minimalism too far, or is it just someone beating everyone else to the punch. Probably the latter.

My first exposure to minimalism was Philp Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi. I didn’t hear it as a piece, but as part of the movie. Either way, it’s mesmerizing.

My all time favorite is Ann Southam. Here is just a taste:

Usually, when I hear one of her pieces, I have to stop what I doing and just listen.

Enter my composition. Fast Ride on a Slow Train, which was almost called Slow Ride on a Fast Train, although I’m not sure it makes a difference, makes use of two things: Repetition and dissonance. Dissonance is the sound of two (or more) notes that the ear perceives as not pleasant sounding. I know that this can be subjective but since much of western music is based on certain scales, we do have a common perception of what sounds “right”. I’m sure this could have turned out differently if we had divided the scales into 13, 14, 15 etc. notes instead of twelve. Anyway, I like how notes can clash, but after repeating them many times, the ear gets acclimatized to the sound. Well, mine does. So here we go-let’s take a ride. Thank you, Ann.

-Leon


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Music Monday: Places (acoustic guitar)

I hope you have been enjoying my composition series Opus 1 through 5. The next one will follow once I have all the parts connected into a cohesive piece of music. How long does that take? Beats me, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ll share a project I have been working on called Places. It was written for the acoustic steel-string guitar. The composition process doesn’t differ from how I write for classical guitar. The only difference is the sound that you get from each guitar; sometimes a piece of music just fits better on one over the other.

I discovered the joy of playing acoustic guitar after beginning my classical training. My musical influences came from hearing folk, Celtic, country, and bluegrass at various music festivals. In the 80s, electric guitarists were taking guitar to a whole new level, and in the late 80s/early 90s, acoustic players were doing much the same thing.

Places (which I have shared in a previous post), is a fingerpicked acoustic piece. The beginning is actually the first part of a song I was writing called Pieces, which I absconded for this new piece because it just fit.

While I played it, it brought back memories of places I have seen, so it was natural to put together a visual montage to go along with it. I tried various video editing programs (free) but settled on the movie maker that my OS came with.

It’s a rough draft, but I think that it will work for the meantime. I hope you think so too.


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Music Monday: Opus 2

I sommelier once told me, don’t let anyone tell you what you taste. If you taste black cherry, then it has notes of black cherry. He also said that price shouldn’t be a factor. If you like it, it’s a good wine. That’s advice coming from someone whose job it is to sell us on the vineyard’s vintages.

I approach composing in much the same way. If I like the way it sounds, then it’s right. A composition teacher told the class that in order to break the rules, you first must learn them. Thus, began the arduous task of mastering music theory, harmonization, voice leading, etc.

Who made these rules? Every composer before me. The lucky ones were the ones from the beginning. Each composer wrote what sounded right to their ears, and others copied (because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery). As with anything, music evolves. New ideas of what sounds right or wrong are added, and voila, we have Barbara Wharram’s Elementary Rudiments of Music.

There are still things that sound pleasant-or correct-to our ears. That could be because we have become accustomed to the way chords and notes move and interact over hundreds of years.  Don’t believe me? Play– or have someone play– this chord sequence: G / / / C / / / D / / /, then stop. For you musicians out there, don’t worry, you can play the tonic chord now, I’m not cruel. For everyone else, it leaves you wanting something else, doesn’t it? Hint, it’s a G.

I learned all the rules. I composed fugues and inventions according to convention. Sound boring? You wouldn’t be completely wrong, sometimes it was. In the 20th century, composers began to rebel against these rules and made their own. Some went toward the minimalist approach, others used math to determine the outcome, and the rest took the forms that they liked and used the notes they wanted.

Let circle back to the sommelier, not because I like wine – I do – but because he was right. Don’t let anyone tell you the music sounds wrong because if that’s how you want it to sound, then it’s right.

Next week: The Beginning of a Composition (or, Where did That Idea Come From?)


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

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Music Monday

Book trailers. Got one? If you have released a book, you have probably at least thought about it. Do you need one? I don’t think it is necessary, but it doesn’t hurt.

When I was working on my poetry book, part of the package was a book trailer. Now, did I want to leave the entire process in the hands of a team I did not know? I didn’t want to give up that much control so I put together a rough trailer and sent it off to the production team.

I knew that I wanted to showcase the illustrations in the book, and to let the reader know, I wrote this short description: This book has words to encourage you, to make you laugh, and to invite you to reflect. With each chapter, a lens opens, revealing a different observation. I slightly modified it to match each frame that I chose.

I then used an acoustic guitar composition that I had been working on-it took a while to record it (I keep making too many mistakes when I’m under pressure), but eventually I had it ready. Then came the rain. The rain sounds, that is. I added them for two reasons. First, as a calming intro/outro to the video, and second-and I’m not embarrassed to admit it, to mask any little background sounds. But more for the beautiful sound of rain. Don’t you just love walking in a rain shower?

So, I sent off my idea, and after a bit of back and fourth, I had my book trailer. Sometimes I just listen to it for the music…

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Music Monday: Music and Poetry-The Connection

I wrote this guest post for the blog Spines in a Line (great name, right?) so I decided to post it here today.

Music and Poetry-The Connection

When you think about poetry, music doesn’t always spring to mind. When you hear your favorite song, most people don’t connect it to a poem. Song lyrics, on their own, have to be categorized as a poem, don’t they?

Definition of Poem: A poem is an arrangement words that convey or express a thought, feeling, or emotion, in an imaginative style. Poems will often have rhyming and rhythmic elements, sometimes in a repeating or predictable pattern.

It is a broad definition, which is why there are so many different classifications of poems. From the classic Shakespearean sonnet, Japanese Haiku, to concrete visual poetry, poem styles number in the hundreds. What I like about poetry is that as long as you are able to paint a picture with your words, you are a poet.

Music also has many styles, but I think composers have a harder time stretching the boundaries, because the human ear is used to the 12 notes in Western music (and a few more in Eastern). Because I am more familiar with the former, I will limit myself to that.

Music has been a part of humanity longer than spoken language, although you could say that music is a language in its own right. Tribal celebrations with music (or just rhythms) were some of the earliest ways to convey emotions and information. Early church chants were religious texts set to the seven notes of the modern scales. Traveling troubadours sang about events, and composers turned from instrumental compositions to operatic masterpieces. Africans, brought to America as slaves, fused their own culture with the music of colonial Americans, giving birth to Blues, Jazz, County, and finally Rock & Roll.

I started out writing song lyrics, some which became songs- others are still waiting for the right music to come along (good at writing melodies? Let me know…). Some of my songs remained short and unfinished, and those became some of my first poems. As I wrote poetry, sometimes inspiration would lead me to think that some of my poems needed a little something more to create that imaginative style.

The first poem that I set to music was, Never the Same, which describes the loss of a friendship. I think that I was noodling (that’s the technical term for playing random notes/chords on the guitar in hopes of finding something that sounds cool) on my guitar, and what I came up with was slightly sad, but introspective. It made me think of that poem as I played, and I believe that the poem is a much better creation because of the marriage of the two.

The next poem, If (The Refugee), started the same way, but this time I decided to write music specifically for it. I also experimented with recording techniques and layering.

I am going to do more with poetry and music. They are two of the things that I enjoy, and being able to combine them gives more depth to the creation.

-Leon


Leon Stevens is a composer, artist, and author of two books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and Pictures and The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories. Visit www.linesbyleon.com

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Music on Monday: Places (acoustic guitar)

For me, music is emotional. I think that is true for most people. Music conveys the feelings of the composer without having to explain the impetus behind it. Can these emotions be misinterpreted? Of course they can-but that isn’t a bad thing either.

When I write music, I have certain ideas of what the music is saying to me, and I don’t expect others to feel that same way, but hopefully it does evoke a feeling or memory in the listener. Because that’s what music should do.

I started to write this latest piece, before I decided what it meant to me. I am working on a video for it, which I will share at a later date. The music may mean something completely different to you (it probably will), and that’s OK. It’s kinda like a gift card that you can go buy whatever you feel you need at the time.

-Leon

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Monday Music (on a Tuesday…Tuesday Tunes?)

So I dropped the ball this week. I was going to start posting some of my music on Mondays, but got distracted and wrote a cartoon/humor related post. I think perhaps I will use Tuesday as my music related post (should I still tag it as Music Mondays? Can I?)

Short back story: I play guitar.

Not such a short back story: I have always enjoyed music. I took piano lessons as a child/teen, as well as guitar lessons (wanted to be a rock star – How’d that work out you ask?). After bouncing around college for a few years I decided to pursue music studies, and after 6 years I received my Bachelor of Music, majoring in classical guitar. I wasn’t a great performer. Nerves, stage fright, and blanking memory doesn’t make for a successful career.

Life got in the way. I forgot/lost many of my early acoustic pieces, but then began to write again.

As with performing, recording is a difficult process-perfection isn’t an option-but I am starting to get a few compositions recorded to the best of my ability. I hope that you enjoy them too.