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.
• 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