Friday, September 08, 2006


Composing the past few days has been a challenge. Living in the city (such as it is) offers its own distractions and urban noise. I am lucky (blessed) with an apartment in a solid house (even if the landlord’s waiting for a killing frost before harvesting the grass in the back yard) where I can’t hear the blastoid sound-system in the house next door. There are quiet neighbors upstairs who work during the hours I compose: they don’t bother me, I don’t bother them. Actually, with the little amount of time spent chasing pitches on the piano, I’m not even sure they’re aware of me that much.

But the dog in the house on the other side has become an issue, now. Perhaps I didn’t notice him that much over the summer because – while he was growing up from a whining puppy to a full-blown über-doberman I now call Woofgang Windbag – the studio I work in is the only room with an air-conditioner in it, so when I’m working there, the a/c is usually at least on “fan” (nobody likes slaving away over a hot piano). I really wasn’t conscious of the houndentenor until cooler weather began to prevail. Even though his back yard faces the walk-way beside my house, there’s a 6-foot fence to separate us and he's inside, I can hear him loud and all too clear.

Yesterday was a major performance. With the renovations going on at another house directly behind mine (and great weather to be working outdoors), porch work meant lots of hammering and sawing. This, normally, does not bother me, unless the workmen decide to blast a radio loud enough to be heard over their buzz-saw. These workers are relatively quiet compared to others who’ve worked on houses in the neighborhood, so that is good news. However, the doberman, sensing someone might break into his house, barked most of the morning (perhaps he thinks they're drug agents: he keeps saying "nark! nark! nark nark nark!").

It was a great performance of “Der Woofenschmied” except it really wasn’t what I wanted to listen to that morning. If that wasn’t enough, the brown-and-tan dustmop living on the other side of the block was outside much of the day, barking back at both the carpenters and the doberman. It was like listening to a dozen takes on the “anything you can sing I can sing louder” duet from the end of Wagner’s Siegfried but with a soubrette hopelessly miscast as Brünnhilde.

I got one chord done, out of four hours of work.

Eventually I just gave up and wrote a post for Dr. Dick’s Blog called “The Virtue of Dissonance” since one of the things I’d been dwelling on, between barks, was how to control an increase of tension in the harmonic progression when your basic musical language is already built on harmonies replete with tritones and major 7ths (“that would be ‘dis-harmony,’ wouldn’t it?” as one of my co-workers said after hearing what I thought was a particularly stunning chord in a work written by a composer who had the audacity to be both still alive and under 35).

Today, however, was easier. Perhaps it had something to do with regulating union breaks (do watchdogs have unions?), but other than one stretch of fairly continuous 28 minutes, it was moderately quiet, hammering aside.

And so I was able to get a few more chords written today, filling in the details of a 12-bar chord progression that is the first variation in the opening piece I’m working on (at the moment, still unimaginatively titled “Four Pieces for Violin & Piano”). I have spent the last two months working out the details of the theme which did not (as you can tell) come easily. The last and shortest of the variations was written, however, in two days, but then it was basically a precis of the theme, a kind of recapitulation. Now that the first one is done, I may go directly to the 6th Variation which is essentially its structural mirror rather than continuing chronologically. But I’ll leave that for the weekend.

Still, looking at the amount of time spent on this so far and a potential performance date in January (mercifully postponed from November), perhaps I should change the title to “THREE Pieces for Violin & Piano”? Good to have a goal, though, rather than just writing and writing until I get it done. Otherwise, I may never finish it. The more solid a foundation I give the opening of the piece – he says with a knowing snark of a smile – the easier the rest of it should go, right?

But now that I’m done for the day, I can get ready and go into the station. I will no doubt walk past my neighbor’s yard on my way out and let out a joyful “Sing it, Woofgang!” And he can spend the rest of the day barking to his lungs' content, at least until The Man gets home from work and all is well with the world. I’m just hoping The Man will be spending a lot of quality time with The Dog this weekend: I have a lot of work to get caught up on!!

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