Why Music: Tiny Successes

Yeah, I’m still failing to write the post that I want to – my explanation, my background, my string of tiny lightbulb moments that led me to fling myself headlong at something terrifying and uncertain. This is not that post, but I think I’m going to make it a series instead. My reasons aren’t uniform enough to fit into one cohesive post, and if I detail them all right up front I’m going to run out of things to talk about very quickly.

Tonight’s post is being written quickly, before the happy brain chemicals wear off and I fall asleep. I spent most of my day working on an assignment that I found rather difficult: I had to set a short text of my choosing to four-part harmony. Now, I have never in my life written a piece of music. Well, no. That’s not actually true – as a child I came up with plenty of vaguely musical things. I played the piano until I found out that some things sounded good together and some things didn’t. I actually figured out the basic idea behind chords really early on, and then thought “no, it has to be more complicated than that!” and stopped trying. People who know me are probably laughing right now, because my habit of second-guessing my own abilities really did start young.

At any rate, composing is like that. I honestly think it’s beyond me and don’t see how I could ever become good at it without more natural affinity than I already have. I know some of the very basic rules after a semester of Theory. I’m not bad at Theory. I’m not good at Theory, but I can make sense of it. I have to be very meticulous in checking and doublechecking my work because it doesn’t come naturally at all, but I grasp the concepts well enough to get by. But it’s not like writing – I can’t bridge the gap between knowing the rules and being able to put together something from scratch. Or at least I couldn’t until tonight.

It took me probably three or four hours, all told. Part of that was because I just learned how to use Sibelius and was testing it out. Most of that was because I was trying to keep all the rules of part-writing straight in my head. Most surprising to me was that once I’d decided on the text I was going to use (Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty”, for the curious – it was the first well-known thing that popped into my head as suitable for the style I had to compose in), I had very little trouble developing a melody. Most of what surprised me was that I got through it at all. When I played my first complete line of four-part harmony in Sibelius, I literally jumped up and down for joy. When I finished the entire piece I wanted to text everyone I know with the news that I’d actually composed something. Eight measures of something, but eight measures that follow part-writing rules and sound reasonably good. Eight measures that did not exist in the world in any form until an hour ago. I did that. It’s the tiniest possible success, but it’s something I couldn’t do at all a few hours earlier.

And that’s the first of many, many many reasons why I’m doing this.


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