Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why I Am the Greatest Composer in the History of Mankind

I have decided that I am the greatest composer who ever lived. Why? By what standards, you ask? Because you can have your Beethovens; your Mozarts; your Stravinskys; your Ravels; your Phillip Glasses (or your Phillip Shotglasses, for that matter). Short of Glass's stint driving NYC cabs, these guys did it for a living. Big deal! Me? I write around corners.

I am in a relatively unenviable position when it comes to my art. See, I really do take composition as
Sure -- all the time inthe world. 
seriously as the chaps mentioned above. I spend most of my waking hours, at least on some level, thinking about music. I'm, like, the artistic equivalent of a really, really spiritual guy who chose not to become a priest because he wanted to have a family.

This means I have to try to be Gershwin in my spare time. But he got to be Gershwin full-time. Any chump can do that.

Me? I compose amidst dog barks, kids arguing and taking baths across the hall and people knocking on the door. I have to compose like this. I have to design and record complex harmonic structures and tonal resolutions with a wet-bearded dog head in my lap.

The problem is, I have no right to make demands, because I have made my choices. If I were hauling in accolades and paychecks with my music, I could cloister myself in my studio eight hours a day and demand to be left alone. I could put a little red light outside my door to tell the family to stay out. But, as it stands, my music is just me indulging myself. Sure, music is the most sincere part of me, but, it is a self-centered pursuit.

One has to be honest with one's self. Indeed, I have no right to make demands. Yet, I produce music. Lots of it. Some of it under the conditions of last Sunday.

I sit at the piano to work on a piece. I work out some kinks, amidst the sounds of feet in the hallway, and, then, I set about recording it. The big challenge of this particular piece is a section that is in the time signature of 7/8. An "odd time." It is, in fact, a minimalistic section in which I arpeggiate chords -- play the notes of each chord separately and in a rhythmic pattern; same, full chord in both hands -- over that odd time signature. This is hard to do. This is difficult to begin with, but it is doubly hard because if one does not accent the notes properly, the listener's ear loses the pulse and the hypnotic effect I am going for is lost. The utmost concentration is needed. But the utmost concentration is not to be granted to a father of two boys and a dog and the husband to a wonderful wife who already takes on most of the unpleasant tasks of running the household, despite working a full-time job.

I start to record the section. Halfway through, my studio room door opens. My wife is standing there, patiently waiting. I feel her waiting, under the 7/8 puzzle I'm working out. I stop. I grimace. She didn't know I was recording. She apologizes. I grunt. She wants to know if I think her new jeans look good.

This was perfect.  Not mine. All credit goes to the site on picture. 
Fortunately, I like looking at my wife very much, so my annoyance disappears immediately. I tell her the jeans look good (which they do) and I hug her goodbye, because she is going out to do some shopping. She leaves.

I start the section again and the dog goes insane at the door. I stop. I go down and there is a balding fellow standing on my front porch. He wants me to vote for him for town council. He goes on his spiel. All I hear is the pattern in 7/8. I, now, will most certainly not vote for him. Not until he develops a platform for supporting the privacy of local artists.

I toss his brochure in the trash and go back upstairs.

I start again. Halfway through, I hear, "You'd better run!" and all hell breaks loose between my sons. I go down and talk like Bill Cosby for awhile. They make up.

I go back upstairs. I am again halfway through the section. The phone rings. It is my wife, Karen:

"Hi. I know you are working, but I need you to do me a favor. Could you  measure the space between the beds?" I do so. She thanks me.

I dig back into this challenging section of my piece. The phone buzzes. A text. I look. There are pictures of shelving.

KAREN: "This one or this one?" (We are doing some work on the boys' bedroom.)

ME: "That one."

I start again. The phone buzzes. I stop.

KAREN: "How long of a shelf? 22" or 35"?"

ME: "35" is about the bed's width."

I start playing again and get nearly through the end of the recording. Another text. Three pictures of shelves.

KAREN: "Which one?"

ME: "The third one. The second one is a head injury waiting to happen."

I start again. The phone buzzes. I stop.

KAREN: "Well, the pics were all 22". If I get a 35", I'm looking at brackets like the second one, no matter what."

ME: "Okay."

KAREN: "35" is just room for more junk. I'm thinking 22"."

ME: "Then go with the 22. Is it wide enough for books?"

KAREN: "Yeah."

ME: "K."

I start again. The phone buzzes. I wipe my hand down the front of my face. More pictures.

KAREN: "This one? [picture] Or this one? [picture] I think I like the funky-shaped one instead of a plain flat one. [picture of a smiley face]."

ME: "First one."

ME: "PS: You're killing me."

KAREN: "Okay, sorry. I'm done."

I start again. The phone rings. It is Karen, who is sorry, but her brother called; she begins explaining to me the process involving my brother-in-law going to my in-laws' to pick up a bed for one of the boys. The big question is whether I need to go to my in-laws' house to help him. She is going to call him and ask.

I start playing again. The phone buzzes. Another text:

KAREN: "He says he is fine. Sit tight."

ME: "K."

I start playing the section again. This time, I am three-quarters of the way through it and everything is perfect... The phone buzzes.I slam my head on the keyboard, like Don Music from Sesame Street:

KAREN: "FYI, I bought a bed frame in Sleepy's -- but not in stock there. Heading to Sleepy's on rt. 73 to pick it up, then I'll be home."

ME: "Okay. Be careful."

I cry a little. Just tiny bit. But get back to work on the section.

The phone buzzes.

I know what you are thinking: "Chris, you idiot, stop picking up. Just finish!" But, remember my premise: I have no right to make demands. I am an artist with no income and no reputation and this stuff needs to get done. Still, I let it buzz a few times, because I am on a tear this time. I am close to getting it down. The phone is still buzzing...I hold on, concentrating on the 7/8 feel...and I get it recorded.

Exultant, I check the phone:

KAREN: "$96, with tax."

ME: "Sweet Jesu! Is it platinum?"

KAREN: "Well, I figured, like 50-100, like my mom thought -- counted on the higher end. [picture of a disappointed smiley face]."

I listen to the recording, and all is well. I am a commando composer. I am the greatest composer of the ages. Gaze upon me all ye other tinkerers of music and despair!

Yeah -- you heard me. The greatest composer in the history of mankind. Let's see Brahms write under those conditions. Hmmpf.


  1. Oh, I so relate to the writer's version of this. When I read, for example, that Rilke retreated to a castle to spend a season writing...well, of course he wrote something lovely. I would too if I weren't working two jobs. Where's my inbred elitist Bavarian patron?

    1. We all deserve one, Jeff -- but life is not fair. If I were running for president, I would promise an inbred elitist Bavarian patron in every artist's pot.

  2. I just came across your blog and I will be back. I admire your strength not to give up and suck your thumb under those conditions. I tend to start thinking that in the future my art will be found on the shelves of the local Goodwill store and if one of my works is ever reviewed on an Antiques Roadshow far in the future, it will be compared to bleach-bottle pigs.

    1. Forward motion, that's the key! I'm glad you enjoyed the post and the blog! Thanks for stopping by.