Monday, December 3, 2007
Menaloas, Once the Gayest Swain
Ever since the Baroque era, when words donned black leather and started smacking music around, text has been an important, if problematic, element of composition. Smart composers attach themselves, lamprey-like, to good poets. Stupid composers find bad poets. And stupider composers make up the words themselves.
The twenty-first century being the age of individualism, it's this latter category that's exploding. You're not just supposed to compose anymore; you're supposed to create. And as a creator, by golly, your text damn well ought to be an expression of your soul. Hence zombie armies of pop songs with catchy tunes and lyrics reminiscent of the poetry I wrote when I was thirteen. Hence the I-can't-even-tell-you-how-many student compositions I've listened to -some quite aurally interesting- with titles like "I Will Always Love You," "Black Darkness," or my personal favorite, "Tears of Blood."
"Tears of Blood" was an orchestral triptych written by a wiry, shaggy-haired undergraduate composition major whose notebook I once accidentally stole. He served as a keyboard monitor for lower-division theory classes and had a way of staring fixedly out the window as you slogged your way through some swamp of a progression toward the Neapolitan six. Seven or eight years later I don't remember his name, yet I'm still haunted by the urge to take him aside, grab his shoulders, and hiss that he needs to outsource. Outsource, please, for the love of God!
Then I catch myself. What if everyone did outsource? What would be the result if composers only composed, if poets only wrote poetry, if everyone was afraid to budge an inch beyond their training? Why, perhaps the kind of stultified, stratified approach to art that characterizes too much of academia today. If we are only specialists, if we never explore, if we lack the freedom to write truly horrendous poetry, then we've dammed creativity. Sure, we can canoe and fish and launch paper boats on our handy man-made lake, but we've lost the capacity to be overrun, to be flooded, to capsize ourselves and come up swimming.
For a brief period, in college, I accidentally became a member of a collective of creative types who would get together every Sunday for the purpose of "inviting" art. I'd been asked to join by a friend of a friend; there were two composers, one cellist, a painter, a belly dancer, a poet, and me. In practice, "inviting" art mostly consisted of sitting around the group leader's house munching vegan goodies, but every now and then someone would suggest that we all hop on one foot for fifteen minutes, or close our eyes and hum.
Eventually I decided the group would be better off without me: I had trouble keeping a straight face through any given session and I lusted for cheese. Pleading factitious overcommitment, I bowed out. Yet, bemused as I'd been, there was something in that group I'd responded to. Some idea that art is everywhere, like air, that it ravages limits and overgrows disciplinary boundaries. That all you have to do is hop on one foot and art will happen to you.
Bring on the bloody tears.