My latest Golconda, The Lost Forest, is now available on Bandcamp and all the digital streaming platforms. This completes a diptych with Ghost Stories, documenting the songs I wrote at PLAYA in 2018.
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I think a lot about what Leonard Cohen said to Terry Gross:
GROSS: “Do you feel, as a songwriter - do you feel a connection to, say, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen - those guys - the kind of classic American popular songwriters?”
COHEN: “Well, I think they're better than I am. You know, I just think they know more about music. Someone like Cole Porter - his rhymes are, you know, much, much more elegant than mine. I have a very limited kind of expression. But I've done the best that I can with it. And I've worked it as diligently as I can.”
I try to remember that the bar has been set very, very high, by people who led harder lives than mine. I try to be inspired rather than discouraged by this. I try to maintain a sense that the work is its own reward, and while I too am entitled to the occasional break, I am never entitled to feel sorry for myself.
Every time a famous composer dies, I read in their obituary that they possessed an “encyclopedic knowledge of music.” As a human creature, I do not aspire to the condition of a book.
I had a few teachers who judged young composers primarily on their knowledge of repertoire. Their voices wormed into my head, and now part of me will forever feel inadequate. Judge yourself based on your knowledge and you will never know enough; judge yourself based on your looks, and you will forever fear the mirror. Anyway the more I learn, the less I seem to know. But the learning gets sweeter.
My knowledge is not encyclopedic, but maybe it’s prismatic. The more I hear, the more connections I hear in any individual piece of music, bridges across time and space. The most recent quantum leap in my music came when I stopped trying to learn new pieces all the time, gave up on “catching up,” and just played the same few Mozart sonatas and Bach preludes and fugues every day over and over again, sat with a few favorite American songbook standards and transposed them through all twelve keys off the lead sheets. I send my attention into this music and watch the multi-colored light streaming out in every direction.
They’ll never say I had an encyclopedic knowledge of music, but maybe they’ll say other nice things. Maybe they’ll say I used music socially, to connect with other people. Maybe they’ll say I had a wide imagination, an abiding curiosity. Maybe they’ll say I listened with love and enthusiasm. Maybe they’ll say I was an explorer.
One of the nicest compliments I’ve gotten as a performer was when someone told me they felt, from the moment I sat down at the piano, like they were in good hands. I’ve come to feel the same way with certain composers. As I’m learning a new piece, I start to wrap my mind around its language and logic; the piece starts to teach me how to play it. That’s the feeling of being in good hands. I’m learning a piece by Hans Abrahamsen right now. While his music is notated using conventional symbols, there is a strange disconnect between how it looks and how it ends up sounding. He uses meters unconventionally, and the parts relate in unexpected ways. Never mind: after a while, I begin to understand it. Something falls into place. I’m in good hands.
One of the only bad things about choral music is how long it takes the musicians to file on and off stage.
• Gone Walkabout
• Music as Drama
• Crossroads II
• 10 Best of 2014
• January: Wyoming and the Open
• February: New Mexico and the Holes
• Coming Up
• Notes on The Accounts
• Crossroad Blues