What it is…

“They lived and laughed and loved and left.” — Finnegans Wake

I feel like I have been going to a lot of funerals lately.  That isn’t true, really – it is a testament to how incredibly lucky I have been throughout my life.  The Joyce quote above was put on a sign at my grandmother’s funeral this past May.  Today, with the funeral of my wife’s grandfather, I was reminded of it again.

What a cathartic experience.  Looking around at my wife’s – my –  loving family, I was left only with the thought and prayer “I hope I am this lucky.”

It has been a long time since I have gone two days, two emotional days, without thinking about music, school, teaching.  I came back and immediately sat down to listen to something, something to study – I think it was Nono? – and was hit in the face with “it”: what the hell is this?  I mean, I know what it is – technically, artistically, philosophically.  And I think I know what the “point” was/is (if you think there was a point, or if you care there was a point, or whatever).  But…

…just not enough time.  It doesn’t feel like enough time for Nono, today.  Have to write, have to teach.  So much to do before departure.

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…so I told myself at the beginning of the summer that I was going to post more often.  For whatever reason.  And here we are, June…how ya doing June…and one post.  Way to go, me.

Just about finished with my orchestra piece.  Writing for orchestra is kind of like writing for wind ensemble, with strings.  But not at all because the roles of the instruments change so dramatically.  Anyone else find this true?  Hopefully, because that is the thesis for my dissertation, more or less.

The piece is, finally, turning out OK.  I had a draft done the second week of May which I asked my darling lady to listen to.  Dramatic genius that she is, she gently let me know that, in so uncertain terms, the piece was pretty bad.  And thus began the process that has led to today.

I think that in a few years I will be able to point to that day, as I was sitting on deck talking with Shannon, as the moment I figured out how to write music.  All throughout school I finished assignments, pieces for requirements, for other people, demonstrating the technique of getting things on the page by the next lesson, with some sort of linear (or not) narrative.  The process itself is important – can you make something look good, sound good and have it be done by a certain time.  But the output, the product, is not important.  I’m not proud of anything I showed my teachers over the last few years.  It is music that shall be forever stuck in second gear, driving on the shoulder of the road at 35mph.

Now, all that said, I am proud of some music that I have written over the past few years.  But it isn’t what I was writing during the semester.  It is music that I wrote as I stretched out, away from school, as I pretended I was an artist.

What I discovered with Bloom is that writing music is actually, indeed, supposed to be linked with making art.  Not solving a puzzle.  Not producing something for tomorrow that will be complete.  It is so much harder than that. It has to be perfect.  And it doesn’t matter how long that takes.  No one would care that The Messiah was written in a month if it sounded like hot garbage.  And no one cares that Varese only wrote the seemingly insignificant amount of music that he did.  Because its all so good.

So, I ripped the piece apart.  Then I did it again.  And again.  Each time starting over, but each time a little more focused.  I would have turned in any of the drafts to a teacher and felt proud of the accomplishment.  Now, as I am writing this, all I want to do is rip the piece apart again, to get it closer to what it needs to be.  Peter Jackson said about editing the LoTR movies that you can’t make anything perfect, ever – you just run out of time.  I get it now.

Oh, and the Cubs are terrible.  Yeah, life!

Studying for my comprehensive exams (called “pre-lims” at U of I) has been an interesting experience.  I am starting to understand that 1. I have learned absolutely nothing in my classes (this is not true of course, but it is a grain of sand in the desert of everything music), and that 2. this is how you live as a professional musician. One step at a time, one composer, piece, artistic style, philosophy, social movement, whatever at a time.  Until you think you know everything.  Then you look at the students of every composer that you just studied.  Then you take a nap and do it again.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember names to save my life so I am pretty sure I’ll be reduced to drawing crude pictures of Schumann and Brahms holding hands, or of Schoenberg riding an atomic bomb while wearing a cowboy hat.  That outta do it.

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QC Wind Ensemble performance 5/1/11

Absolutely wonderful premiere of “to have seen the worst…” yesterday by the Quad City Wind Ensemble in Davenport, IA.  Many thanks to all the performers for their hard work, to Susan Hanford for approaching me about writing the piece, and of course to Brian for pulling it all together.

I have not experienced a darker time in my life than when I was writing this piece – it was, in all ways, a struggle.  There were many times during the process that I almost sent the email returning the commission.  I think at one point, I actually had an email open!  Writing music is hard, made only more difficult when your head is filled with a sad, sad buzzing.

But in a big way, this is what ‘it’ is all about.  Making music is a great force of healing – pushing through the process helped me move on and now, with the piece out in the world, I truly feel relieved.  As my dear friend and mentor David Maslanka has said, “make music like your life depends on it…because it does.”   No doubt I am in a better place now because of this experience, hard as it was.  I only hope that some of that came through the notes on the page to the performers, and to the friends of wind ensemble who came out to celebrate this truly special ensemble.

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UNL Golden Gray performance

I don’t know how I forgot to include in my previous post, but the Carolyn Barber and her group at UNL programmed The Golden Gray on Tuesday, April 19th.

Well, I just got the recording of the concert – wow.  Fantastic playing!  The shape of the piece is not especially easy to grapple with (the climax is somewhat delayed, coming around the 80% point, with a slow burn up to that – coupled with a short period of falling action – eek.), but the piece speaks beautifully.  And the clarity of the ensemble, the individual lines, is so crisp – it really sparkles in the dissonance.

As I said in my previous post, I feel extremely spoiled.  It is one thing to write music, it is another thing to write music and get it played.  It is a completely different thing entirely to write music, have it played somewhere you are not by people who want to play it simply because they feel some sort of connection to it.  Happy day at 221 Florence.

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So, I think I finally understand…

…how this works.  Though it seems strange to me that you, or anyone, would be profoundly interested in what is happenin’, alas, we do live in a post-steroid era, iTunes society.  I recently bought an iPad and have learned what ‘apps’ are – apparently, they are kinda a big deal.  I got this one that is a metronome – !!! – the 21st century is, by all accounts, here at last.

Upcoming performances of wind music – Quad City Wind Ensemble, premiere of To Have Seen the Worst.  Really excited for this one – the group has been fantastic, accepting a piece that wasn’t exactly what they were thinking they would get.  But, say-la-vee.  Also, found out that my alma mater, GHS, is going to be doing Transcend the Night this May.  Very exciting, especially considering it is quite loud and, unless things have changed, will be performed in the gym – even moar loud.  Yay!

Is this even where I am supposed to be posting this stuff?

Lining up commissions for the summer – so far, saxophone quartet for Paul Nolen and the Iridium Quartet.  Very excited and honored to write for such a fantastic ensemble!  Also, finishing up some details on a possible chamber clarinet piece – also, super excited!  It is a wonderful feeling to not have to worry about what to write.  I feel spoiled, for sure.

All for now!

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Welcome to RoyMagnuson.com!

Greetings, friends!  Welcome to the site.  More to come soon!

Be patient as Roy plots his next move.


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