Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Day in the Life of a Budding Composer

When I was in my senior year of High School, I was accepted by Westminster Choir College. I remember feeling awestruck, and decided to try my hand at composing. I took the "Veni Creator" as my text and launched in. I came up with what I thought was a great piece of music, but did not show it to anyone.   Time marches on...

I had completely forgot about that work until I was sorting through a box of music recently. There it was: the somewhat faded manuscript from 1965 - hand written, as we could only dream of computers in those days.

I sat at my keyboard and went through it. Oh my. The counterpoint is primitive, the modulations graceless, there is no theme to which the piece anchors itself, "wrong-note" chords everywhere... And then I started to giggle. My great work! Oh deary me...

Yet, in retrospect, there were glimmers of the future evident. A future to emerge after further study of theory, counterpoint, and the critical listening to hundreds, maybe thousands, of works by the great composers who have gone before.

Later, at Westminster, I asked my dear teacher, Dr. York, about this. And he reassured me that every composer, perhaps even Bach, did this. It is called Juvenilia, and often goes up the chimney on a cold winter day, at the hand of the composer.

Mine is still extant, and the later works show a remarkable resemblence to Herbert Howells' writing. My Artistic Executor has directions to burn before reading...

Then one day, something happens. You sit down and write a piece. Then you feel compelled to edit it, once, twice, thrice, or more. You know when it is ready.

And then you write at the top of the manuscript, underneath your name: "Op. 1"