Noel Nouvelet, a French Carol arranged here by Corky Christman
A tune I wrote using the rhythm and "inverted" melodic ideas from Noel Nouvelet, and the influenced by the arrangement of Noel Nouvelet, by Corky Christman (above)
Two weeks ago, I began working on the Final Beginning Final project. I wrote about the first week quarter-baked homework, and 2nd week half-bakedhomework in the last two blog posts.
I wasn’t sure I liked what I started with the quarter-baked, but had to see it through, as I wanted it done. Felt like the student who goes directly home from school without any distraction to work on the homework assignment. And thinking because of this direct application to the work at hand, it might just gel without too much effort. Be a good girl and get instant results.
And I also wanted it simplish to play; so I didn’t have to spend time learning it. I wanted the easy way out; the lazy way to satisfy the homework, wanting it to sound like I had taken the form and moved on to something remarkable; and meanwhile hoping it would be great in its simplicity of execution. That would be a trick.
Working on the Half-baked, I was determined not to make it more complicated, and to keep at what I had begun, without deviating. Often I will go off in a completely new direction, only to find myself trying to get back to where I was, or going off in still more directions. I couldn’t or wouldn’t stay on course. As if I couldn’t hold in, or contain what was happening. Like spilling wind, when the wind is too strong.
In the first week, I executed the Slap bass starting up from the bass, instead of starting down from the top note: a flat, g, f#, e. By the 2nd week l decided to try to move up in the opposite direction starting on a flat: a flat, b, C#, d. This could be a study in what happens when this scale is broken apart in different directions; does this create contrast; or same effect. And I liked the conceptual layer of contrary thinking and contrary motions and pursued that idea.
Similar to the questions posed by Nouvelet Déjà Vu. If you take a musical idea, or phrase and invert it, do you get something new, or is it a rehash? And even if a rehash, maybe at some point it gains stature on its own. Which I think happened with Nouvelet Déjà vu. If I listen to Nouvelet Déjà Vu which was modeled on the Noel Nouvelet, I hear similar rhythm and tonalities, but it was successful in becoming a different melody; that satisfied in similar ways to Noel Nouvelet, but was different enough that I would want to keep listening to it. Seems like an exercise from Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon.
Deborah’s feedback counsels: simplicity, fun, try to get that swing (not syncopation). All those areas were challenges for me.
The simplicity always gets lost in refinements and new ideas; Maybe I need to challenge myself to write a simple melodic, rhythmic tune in 5 minutes.
Fun, an elusive element, because for me there’s some work and effort and attention, and repetition and thinking. Fun may not be the right word for me; maybe pleasure, which I do get when a tune seems to start taking hold, to start coming together, when I get to know it and understand it a bit. Also pleasure when I come back to what I have composed and can enjoy it, and think well of it.
Swinging the blues, is not syncopation: the swing was specific to the blues feel, and was complicated to get. Swing was a type of syncopation, but unaccented and predictable, unlike syncopation. Deborah’s description of swing going with the beat, and syncopation going against the beat, got me closer to the distinction. I have played in a swing style, but now to play it against the slap bass, and my vamp in the mid-section, was a struggle. I wanted to revert to syncopation (and did), and heard the right hand notes as syncopated, not swung.
The blues form was 12 measures of melody or “head”, 12 measures of improvisation, or “blow”, and then additional 12 measures of “blowing” as wanted, and a return to the original 12 measures of head. (I am curious about how this terminology developed…). I came up against the wind here; what tack to follow? Whether to follow the 12 bar blues format, and accept all the repetition. Or follow the sounds I wanted that went outside the form, and compose a tune which was influenced by the blues. Either choice would be a “my way”, but the blues format felt like a jingle; too pat and formulaic; and I did not know how to get it to stop sounding that way.
I think it could be argued that composing can also have these same attributes, but I felt more at home using the blues as an influence for my composition. Finding my peace amounted to taking from the blues form, not sitting down to play the blues; I ended up needing to compose it.
I was up against the grain; trying to impose my ideas; have my ideas take precedence over the blues.
Want it to be over, and to move on. Don’t have will or interest to start over. Can I just toss it off, throw it out there and be done with it. DHC would say yes; after all its just “the beginning”, though I think I might not be pursuing this blues things any further.
If you are headed for a set location somewhere and the wind changes, you can adjust your route, and your method of getting there. If you are sailing out in the open, without any destination, there's a lot more flexibility to go wherever the wind takes you.
This post is a continuation of the previous one, which was about composing a blues tune for the Deborah Henson Conant (DHC) BluesHarp webinar.
Conceptually I liked what I had started last week, but doubts crept in after hearing the feedback and questioning my questioning. I did not want to extend myself, or to change gears, and start something new. I hoped it would need little change. But to expect that I wouldn’t make changes over a week’s time? I am far from that mark.
My contrary thinking always on full display. Think the direct opposite, try the different for the sake of being different, test the structure; do something else; think in reverse. And then sometimes I end up adhering to that contrary position, simply because it seems to differentiate, and be individual. This is where the final project is taking me. Testing the vessel’s ability structurally.
In last week’s blues homework, I went for dissonance, but purposeful dissonance; not the dissonance that comes from unknown improvisation. I have limited experience with improvisation, and I suspect that after years of becoming attuned (!) to improvisation, you do gain a pretty good sense of what it will sound like. But I am not there. When I heard DHC improvise for dissonance against my vamp it worked; when I heard my improvisation, I liked some of it, but it would unravel into something I questioned and couldn’t see my way through. I’d stop and start, over and over. The improvisation would seem ok for 10 or 15 seconds, and then some notes were fumbled or didn’t make sense to my ear and this would throw me off.
In race sailing, over-correcting the sail or tiller can make the boat less efficient, and slow it down. I get slowed down by over-analysis, and tinkering. If I limited my time I couldn’t do that, but that is something I can’t do. I suppose the art of sailing and of composing, is to develop an instinct for when changes and corrections are needed, and to sense when the corrections are over-done or over-thought.