Hilltop Diary, January 24, 2023

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It has been a rather uneventful couple of weeks, so this will be shorter than usual but I hope of some interest. I have started a short break from composing, in order to catch up on editing these 47 minutes of orchestral ballet music I’ve already written. The conductor’s score has grown to over 200 pages so far and already plays two minutes longer than my recently released second symphony.

The finished ballet will have a total of around 70 or more minutes of music, which is pretty typical for a ballet. A typical “full evening ballet” performance, like Swan Lake, lasts around 100 minutes, of which 70 minutes is music and the rest is the time it takes for applause for the many solo and duo dances plus a 20-minute intermission. If 100 minutes total sounds short compared to a musical theater show, remember how athletically demanding it is to dance for that long. And most movies last only a bit more, at 110 minutes.

“Editing” a score is firstly a cosmetic process, since the music is essentially all there and done. That means simply tinkering with the layout and dragging things around on the screen to make the spacing look pleasing and readable on the page. A second part of editing is proofreading — adding forgotten dynamic marks or crescendo wedges, additional articulations like slurs or accents, harp and timpani pedal marks, and re-checking the up and down string bowing marks.

This is crucial to help 80 to 90 orchestral musicians know how to interpret the music precisely together as one. Such markings are usually improvised by a jazz, rock, or country band with four to six players. But 80 – 90  improvised interpretations could sound chaotic! So, they all must follow the composer’s score details like scripture. Editing may seem perfunctory, but it does involve some pretty crucial creative choices. Thus, it must be done “solo” entirely by the composer, unlike movie composers who collaborate with a hired team of orchestrators and editors.

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While editing is the proverbial “perspiration” to go with the “inspiration” of classical composing, to be successful, classical composers also have to balance several personality issues. They must have not only their dreamy inspirations, as people imagine, but a willingness to endure this kind of long, tedious work of editing. They must have enough introvert’s reclusiveness to work for hundreds of hours alone, yet enough extroverted salesmanship to recruit performers to play it and to do public talks and interviews with a smile.

They need enough ego and belief in their own potential to risk putting their work out there for anyone to criticize (and thick enough skin when they do), yet enough humility to possibly wait till they are in their 40’s or 50’s before they finally get any respect or decent recognition or finally have enough skill to do it well. Brahms didn’t finish his first symphony till he was 43, after working on it for fourteen years. Elgar’s first important work was done in his 50’s, Bruckner in his 40’s, and Janáček and Franck in their 60’s, to name but a few of the great late bloomers. So, take heart, there is still time for some of you to write your symphony! 

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On to another subject, I’m excited to share the news that my wife Crystal snagged the lead part of Mrs. Bella Manningham in the (non-musical) play, Angel Street at Nashville’s Lakewood Theatre, to be performed three weekends, March 17 – April 2 (Fridays and Saturdays 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees, 2:30 p.m.). This play was adapted for the famous classic movie, Gaslight. Crystal will be in the Ingrid Bergman role. This is only Crystal’s second non-musical play, the first having been Shakespeare’s As You Like It last summer. Later, in May, Crystal is scheduled to play the title role in my own musical, Dear Miss Barrett.

Apart from my editing during these past two weeks, last Thursday I did another radio interview (with video for simultaneous video-cast) about my new Symphony album. Crystal and I took in a very good touring performance of “Les Miz”; had guests over for dinner; did our annual Valentine card photo shoot in costumes out in the woods, hint hint; dealt with home repairs and trips to the Vet; I had some rather painful dental crown work done; chopped a lot of firewood; and did my normal routine chores. What is more stressful about all that to me – maybe to you, too — is not so much the amount of activity but the dizzying number of different activities to keep track of, all swimming around in one’s head. The clock and the calendar are both moving too fast!

As I’m fond of saying. . .

“Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”

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