CONCERTO FOR TWO HARPS and ORCHESTRA by ARMANDO LUNA. Long story, part 2, which connects with another premiere: DOS DALIAS, CONCERTO FOR TWO HARPS, STRING QUINTET AND GUITAR by GERARDO TAMEZ. July 5, 2010, Tacoma, American Harp Society Conference.
Part 2 of this long story (not only because it´s long on the paper, but also due to all the work involved), continues after the world premiere of that first Luna concerto.
I am trying now to organize my thoughts regarding the important aspects of any composer-player collaboration.
Two concertos premiered in less than two months is not an easy task.
Besides writing a bit about the second premiere, a very different one, I am making a list of aspects I don´t want to forget while working with composers in Stockholm as part of my Master degree program. Here are some thoughts about the two recent experiences, which, added to the information I am preparing for this fall, might be useful to young brave composers who dare to write for the harp.
-EARS AND COMPUTERS.
When I started learning music three decades ago, composers had to WAIT until for a player to sound their music.
That means: they somehow, for good or bad, NEEDED a player. Of course this meant a long delay between the writing process and the editing, correcting, changing that are part of any creative process, at least those that search for polishing and better presentations.
That also meant that music was handwritten. We all know that this crafty ability to produce it requires time. SLOW time to think, to write, to correct, to try ideas with a real player person, to change ideas, to present them differently.
Nowadays, computers offer a great help in the time saving aspect: printing scores, allowing composers to hear the music immediately after writing it, getting an overall impression of the piece before any musician has played it. I can´t deny this amount of help is very valuable.
I myself as a player like very much to receive a clean score with understandable notation from the computer programs that write music. I could not coach and collaborate with composers as fast as I can now, even if I live far away from most of them, without modern technologies.
BUT I miss the live contact between the composer and the player. Most young composers I have observed lately think that because a machine produced their music and makes it sound, it already means that it´s playable, ready and finished.
Ha! Could we please together find a balance between the old simmering of ideas, the sweetness of letting music find it´s place into the hands of a human being that plays it with all the pros and cons of a body?
Could we recall that the body is supposed to be the continuation of the instrument… no, sorry, it´s the instrument that is the continuation of the body…
Could we always remember the importance of old concepts such as breathing, phrasing, intentions, character?
-EACH COMPOSER IS DIFFERENT.
Last July 5th, our “SONDOS DUO, dúo de arpas”, premiered another, very different, concerto for two harps, now with string quintet and guitar, written by Mexican composer Gerardo Tamez, named DOS DALIAS, and commissioned by Patricia and Jim Wooster. This happened at the American Harp Society Conference in Tacoma, Washington.
The experience was completely different from Armando Luna´s concerto. Mostly because both composers are totally different persons and their languages are diverse as well. Gerardo Tamez is an experienced connoisseur of the traditional folk music not only from Mexico, but from Latin America.
This piece of his is full of fun rhythmical patterns, Mexican dance spirit, and the nostalgia of the indigenous songs of Michoacán, a land full of old traditions, indigenous Purépecha history and people, forests and lakes and, unfortunately nowadays, too much violence.
The concerto ends with a lively zapateado, where Gerardo includes a reminder of the Andalusian dances brought to Mexico by the Spaniards in the 16th Century, where the rhythms produced by shoes on a wooden platform are part of the music ensemble, as a percussion instrument, more than an ornament to a dance performance. People were jumping in their seats while listening to the last movement of DOS DALIAS, also called as well Zapateado.
Many times I have heard questions from the avant-garde music lovers about how I dare to play folk music, as if performing different kinds of music would be a kind of treason. Similar comments come from some people who perform only folk music and cannot understand how I can play new music with complex contemporary languages that are appreciated by smaller audiences.
I will compare that interest on versatility as a player, with a complete diet that embraces cooked vegetables, raw ones, fish, seafood, poultry, veal, pork, whole grains, fruits from all over the world, infusions, teas, coffee, liqueurs, dry wines, sweet ones, insects, eggs, all sorts of herbs and exotic recipes and combinations thought up by the most daring chefs. I will compare it also with a brain that has tried so many flavors that one more does not produce any repulsion or shock, like the kids who have been taught since early childhood to eat from a vast pallet of ingredients.
Once more in life, respect can make the whole difference. We players are supposed to understand the language of composers. We should recreate their creations by respecting and embracing the differences in their languages. Like any good interpreter of languages of different countries, with the same delicacy and care used by a good poet to dig deep and find the exact words for the meaning of a poem written in a different language, all done with love so it does not loose it´s original spirit.
-EACH PLAYER IS DIFFERENT.
I do invite young composers that I collaborate with to trust the player they choose to work with. They (we) might point out interesting perspectives and different ways of presenting the same musical idea, that on one hand will not be in conflict with the limitations of our specific instrument, plus might enhance or underline important aspects of the composer’s original musical idea by using the virtues of the particular instrument and the experience of many years of living by its side. Another positive aspect is that we usually know how not to fight against our instrument and we know the tricks to make it sound better.
MEETING POINTS, BALANCE TO HONOR MUSIC.
There might be conflicts in the collaboration, as in all cases. But conflicts are good if they are handled with intelligence, if balance is a word kept in mind all the time from both parties. If honoring music is the goal, then any conflict with be only a tool to grow together, to find a good solution so the composer feels her or his musical idea was respected, and the player feels understood and appreciated, when working hard to make the music sound as good as possible. Therefore, trusting each other is vital!
TRY THE INSTRUMENT AND IT´S PHYSICALLITY EVEN IF YOU CAN´T REALLY PLAY IT!
I advice young composers too, to try the instrument, even if they can´t really play it. The body language induced by an instrument is something you can´t grab without touching its material and understanding how it works physically, how the body of the player connects with it.
To know the difficulties of it, you don´t need to master it. Imagine them, place yourself there. Notice how the brain of a player has developed abilities that make him-her think in a different way from your own thinking.
Read about neuroscience. It can be a great tool to know more about ourselves and our brain, and to get in touch with our limitations, our challenges and our possibilities. Once we understand ourselves better, we (can) understand others better.
-MAP YOUR IDEAS AND THE CENTURY WHERE YOU ARE ACTUALLY STANDING.
A poet friend recommended her students at her workshop, after reading long poems with complex elaborated adjectives and figures of speech, rich metaphors and other well polished ingredients such as flow, rhythm, phrasing and richness of vocabulary, to ask the following simple question to themselves and reply it in one short phrase. Respond short and honestly: WHAT IS IT THAT I REALLY (VERKLIGEN,VERDADERAMENTE) WANT TO SAY?
Although music handles abstract materials, I think composers should, besides all what they learn at school, experiment a bit as if cooking, another amount of this and that, and also use this question-exercise. To know what one wants, even if in the route of the process of composing, surprises, accidents and new findings will happen.
A complicated issue in the nearby vicinity could be: where in time are we now standing? Again, scratching books from other centuries, we will always find the same human material. How many topics does literature have? Treason, solitude, love, death, fear, spiritual surrender… Can you think of any other?
Could we then think about what music might serve or is good at? What connection is there between pianissimo lullabies, old madrigals, sweet lieder, folk dances, post-romantic symphonies, drums calling people in the distance, wind captured by electronics?
Is there any reason in repeating the manner of saying what we want to say?
My husband uses the term unnecessary music, that is, the one that has already been composed. I think composers should fight to find their real particular and one of a kind voice. Too many are simply copying formulas, imitating their teachers, following keys to success without asking themselves what they really want to say.
It sounds easy, but it is not. We are living in a new century. Let us ask ourselves these questions, standing in this very particular moment, surrounded by what is happening today in the world, together with knowledge of what has happened before.
That of course includes researching the history of music and knowing it at depth, and reading the newspaper every morning!
-EAT YOUR VEGETABLES REGARDING WHAT YOU FEED YOUR BRAIN WITH (or how to get in contact with other disciplines).
Aging has nice sides: one has learnt, even if accidentally, that anything can be helpful and anyone can teach us something valuable. I have learned a lot from bad concerts, ridiculous conductors, mediocre bureaucrats. Even more from visual artists, natural philosophers who can´t read and write but understand life in heartbreaking ways, brave theater people, shy poets, dead writers, non famous painters, well known artists that I have only met inside my books.
All of them can nourish us without us even suspecting the richness of their influence. Our brains are amazing organs absorbing whatever we feed them with. I am thankful to parents and teachers who introduced me to culture and art in every form since I was a young girl. It has guided me to get to the routes that I want to keep walking.
Some composers and players may think this doesn’t affect their music making. I disagree: we make music the way we are. And we are what we experience. So, open the doors and get in contact with other artists. And close doors to other musicians who will be part of your professional life and always will complain and criticize your work.
This reminds me of an old story. An old couple is riding on their donkey. Peasants walking by say:
-Poor animal! Two people to carry over his back! How cruel, unfair and inconsiderate they are!
So the couple feels bad, talk about the comment and decide that only one of them should ride. Other people pass by and say out loud:
-How selfish some women can be! The wife riding the donkey looks young and healthy and the poor tired old husband has to walk!
So man and woman decide to switch places. And the next comment they hear on the road is:
-Look at that! Some men are so macho! He is riding on the donkey and she has to walk! Shame!
So the couple decides to walk together with the donkey.
Other travelers give their opinion:
-Unbelievable! Two stupid people walking on the road when they have a donkey to ride!
I finish my blog thoughts today with the quotation of a refrigerator magnet:
NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR YOUR ART!