Sunday, 26 January 2014

See what is in front of you

Many years ago I was a student of composition. I remember the first time one of my pieces was played through. It was a brass band piece that I had been slaving over for many months.

The conductor tapped his music stand for attention, indicated the speed the band would play at and then, after a slight pause, gave the downbeat to begin the piece.

Cacophonous Chaos ensued! I had lived with this piece of music for over six months. I knew it intimately, every note and phrase, and what was being played bore little resemblance to what I had created. Had I written out the parts correctly? Had I suddenly become tone deaf? The sound created by the band was so dissonant and strange that one of the band members stopped playing, turned to me with disbelieving eyes and asked, 'Is this what you actually wrote?’

I just looked back at him, probably with the same look of disbelief etched upon my face, and shook my head sadly. No, it most definitely was not what I had written! I was bewildered by the sounds I was hearing. I carefully rechecked the score; it all seemed in perfect order. Then the penny very gradually began to drop.

I was a student composer and student composers were perceived, especially among other music students, as writing dissonant and strange sounding music. So when my hand written, different looking manuscripts were placed in front of my peers their eyes saw the dissonant scribblings of a young ‘trainee’ composer and their fingers and mouths responded by creating sounds consistent with this perception. It was a like a form of mass delusion and the longer the band played the more deluded the sounds became.

As you can imagine, I was not happy.

After what seemed an age of agony the conductor stopped the tortuous noise. He paused and looked around the band and then at me, a slight smile on his face. He then said, ‘Shall we play what is actually written now? Please focus upon the notes in front of you.’ The band did and, with some relief, I began to recognise the piece I had taken so long to write.

Sometimes preconceptions and assumptions can drastically distort what is seen, heard and felt. Seek to minimise this ‘funfair mirror’ distortion by working hard at comprehending what is in front of you rather than judging it according to your expectations. What happens when you resist the temptation of giving an idea ‘the benefit of your experience’? What direction does an idea take when you allow it to develop in its own natural and logical way?

Just 'read the notes on the page' and be open to whatever they may reveal.

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