Night Travel

In 2010 I was asked to give a composition workshop to a room full of amateur guitarist, many of whom had never put pen to paper (compositionally speaking). I was secretly dreading it. Teaching composition beyond the basics has never come easy to me. What most budding composers want to know is not relatively simple things like how to orchestrate, or how to modulate to the dominant, but: how to get an idea from the head to the page, or: how to set xyz into music (xyz invariably being an emotion, state of being, or something otherwise beyond quixotic). It’s sort of like bumping into Albert Einstein and casually asking “Hey, you know E = mc2… well, I’m not big on maths or physics, but can you just sort of sum it up for me real quick?”.

Anticipating these questions, my preemptive solution was to try and explain through demonstration. I decided that for this workshop I would write a piece from start to finish, there and then, during the 1-hour workshop. I would think-out-loud, describe the process as I went along and take questions as I did so; a sort of ‘inside the composer’s mind’ type thing.

Without putting too fine a point on it, it didn’t really work. I suspect half of the students were bemused, the remainder bored. What I failed to anticipate is that the compositional process—or at least my process—is pretty haphazard, non-linear. How did I go from wanting to write a piece about travelling in the back seat of a car at night to some sort of lydian thing in 7/8? Who knows. I certainly don’t, and in some ways I’m nervous to over-analyse it.

The other failure was that not only did I fail to finish writing the piece in the self-allotted 60 minutes, I barely started it. But I did get my main ingredients. The idea, the basic feel (I don’t mean rhythm, but a more generic sense of the piece) and the basic harmonic language.

From start to finish this piece was written in a day. Inspired by the ancient surroundings, and maybe because I had recently recorded lutenist James Akers in the same space, alongside the lydian stuff, there is a sort of renaissancey thing in there too; I’m sure Yngwie Malmsteen would most wholeheartedly approve.

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