Said the West Wind

In Depth Post 3, 02/17/17

I love old earth! Why should I lift my wings,

My misty wings, so high above her breast
That flowers would shake no perfumes from their hearts,
And waters breathe no whispers to the shores?
I love deep places builded high with woods,
Deep, dusk, fern-closed, and starred with nodding blooms,
Close watched by hills, green, garlanded and tall.
On hazy wings, all shot with mellow gold,
I float, I float thro’ shadows clear as glass;
With perfumed feet I wander o’er the seas,
And touch white sails with gentle finger-tips;
I blow the faithless butterfly against
The rose-red thorn, and thus avenge the rose;
I whisper low amid the solemn boughs,
And stir a leaf where not my loudest sigh
Could move the emerald branches from their calm,–
Leaves, leaves, I love ye much, for ye and I
Do make sweet music over all the earth!
I dream by glassy ponds, and, lingering, kiss
The gold crowns of their lilies one by one,
As mothers kiss their babes who be asleep
On the clear gilding of their infant heads,
Lest if they kissed the dimple on the chin,
The rose flecks on the cheek or dewy lips,
The calm of sleep might feel the touch of love,
And so be lost. I steal before the rain,
The longed-for guest of summer; as his fringe
Of mist drifts slowly from the mountain peaks,
The flowers dance to my fairy pipe and fling
Rich odours on my wings, and voices cry,
“The dear West Wind is damp, and rich with scent;
We shall have fruits and yellow sheaves for this.”
At night I play amidst the silver mists,
And chase them on soft feet until they climb
And dance their gilded plumes against the stars;
At dawn the last round primrose star I hide
By wafting o’er her some small fleck of cloud,
And ere it passes comes the broad, bold Sun
And blots her from the azure of the sky,
As later, toward his noon, he blots a drop
Of pollen-gilded dew from violet cup
Set bluely in the mosses of the wood.
“Said the West Wind” – Isabella Crawford, 1909
The deadline for the Vancouver Chamber Choir Young Composer’s Competition is looming and, yes, I have completed a song. Using the poem above, Said the West Wind, I have written an SATB piece that I am somewhat happy with. The score to it can be found right here.With the help of my mentor, he edited the piece and gave me his recommendations on things i could possibly change. I also learned about some basic “rules” of harmony (like not having middle register voices singing over an octave away, how tuning issues could arise from certain voice parts singing certain lines, etc.) as well as what a conductor or singer would be looking for in a piece of music.
Along with doing this, I have done some listening to a lot of choral music, including works by Bob Chilcott, Matthew Emery, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Ambroz Copi.

Matthew Emery is a Canadian composer who is only 10 years older than I. His writing is quite beautiful in the way that he has a usually distinct form to his pieces, and in the way it uses text with the music. His music has been performed by the Canadian Chamber Choir, and he studied composition here at UBC. Matthew Emery is also the winner of several compositional awards from Canada and abroad.

Above is Abmroz Copi’s Three Sacred Hymns written in double choir. I particularly enjoy his writing, and especially the second movement in this set. The chords he uses are almost jazz-sounding and the chord progressions lead into places one wouldn’t necessarily expect. The sound that is produced with this double choir setup is quite memorable and enjoyable. My mentor recommended I listen to some of these pieces and he lent me the sheet music to look at, study, and analyze to see what I like. In addition to this, I have been listening to an album by The King’s Singers titled Postcards, and this too has a bunch of great music. Below is one of my favourites, entitled Contigo Aprendi, which in Spanish means “with you, I learned”.

During the meetings I had with my mentor, we largely discussed the makeup of choral pieces and how they make sense or don’t make sense. My mentor has been really great in involving my in our discussions and getting me to critically think when we are working together. For example, we looked at Bob Chilcott’s Aesop’s Fables and particularly the first piece, “The Hare and the Tortoise”. The piece is written in a slightly unusual way and he asked me why I thought that this was the case. Through discussions like these, I was able to get to certain conclusions on my own, and we were able to discover some interesting things. As well, through these discussions, I’ve learned better ways to go about composing and understanding the structure and purpose in composing choral music.

With vocal and choral music, first and foremost, it’s the text. Not only do I need to serve the text, but the text – when I’m doing it right – acts as the perfect ‘blueprint’, and all the architecture is there. The poet has done the heavy lifting, so my job is to find the soul of the poem and then somehow translate that into music. – Eric Whitacre

When we were looking at the piece I had written, there were some terms my mentor were using that I wasn’t exactly sure about, such as messa di voce (which I now know is essentially a fancy word for simple phrasing). All in all, the conversations and lessons with my mentor have all been extremely interesting and invaluable to my progress as not only a composer but as a musician. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my in-depth thus far and am excited to continue.

Final notes, for the future, I plan on analyzing couple more pieces and doing a whole bunch more listening. Below is a piece that I really like and had the opportunity to perform last year. It’s called Prayer for a Child by Pärt Uusberg. The future is exciting, always.

The Worth of Cultural Genocide

When looking at negative occurrences in history, it is quite simple to create a verdict: “that was a bad event”. It is very easy to look down at the situation and believe that you could’ve done better, as well as simply dismissing the event from our minds as nothing more than an attack against humans. What is more challenging, is trying to realize exactly what happened, who was a part of it, and to try and understand the humanity and inhumanity of it. Was this person/these people just trying to achieve a seemingly noble goal that had some negative side effects, or were the intentionally trying to cause harm for no good reason other than to fulfill some misguided ideal? Looking at cultural genocide, trying to understand the reasons and outcomes of the event can be incredibly difficult, as we often don’t want to maybe take a lesson out of a negative.

I always find it a challenge to try to relate to “bad” people. When I watch the news or read history books, it’s incredibly easy to judge them and think that I wouldn’t do that. To my credit, I do not believe that I would ever enforce communism nor would I eradicate the entire Mayan culture. But, I often try to defend figures in history and just try to understand why. Why do people do what they do? Are bad things necessary to achieve a greater good?

In this post, I would like to make an attempt to understand and somehow relate to the people who committed genocide, and recognize that they too, are people. I would also like to see if genocide could be in any way, ultimately beneficial on a large scale (in the grand scheme of things), and how we currently benefit from the cultural genocide that occurred here not so long ago.

“It was a low-budget affair with a simplistic plot: politicians, soldiers, clerics, social scientists, and people of unexamined goodwill dash about North America, saving themselves from Indians by saving Indians from themselves”. Thomas King, from The Inconvenient Indian

Oh the humanity

In an attempt to try and understand the motives and actions of those who came before, we have to try and think their thoughts, and we can try to understand about them as a people.

19th century English education was largely based around Christianity, and there were about as many Sunday Schools as there were clouds in the sky on a stormy day. To add to this, schools were only found in more developed areas, and those who lived in more rural areas were not presented with the opportunity to attend school. Most adults then suffered poor conditions due to the industrialization of Britain, so quality of life for workers dropped. At the beginning of the 19th century, poverty was the norm for common workers. Unpredictable harvests and the constant warring appeared to just be how the way things were, and had negative effects for the people of Britain. Support for the poor was minimal and riots were common, and the stigma that surrounded poverty like a disease continued to live. “Increasingly stringent controls, particularly after 1872, instilled in the poor the sense that they, not the state, were primarily responsible for maintaining themselves.” (Joanne de Pennington). Similar events transpired in France.

In New France, the educational system was largely based from home, and whatever other education was brought on by the Catholic Church. In Ontario, teachers were often Irish and were trained to teach with a Protestant and Catholic vibe. Quebec, at one point, had a schooling system that was apart form the church. The Ministry of Public Instruction lasted for seven years (1868-75), and was dismantled due to increasing pressure by the church. Similar educational events occurred on the west coast, but the predominantly white population of the time dealt with the incoming problem of Chinese and Japanese workers immigrating by the boatload every day, which caused the development of “intelligence tests”. In Canada, the religion was either Protestant or Catholic, and it was ingrained into the educational system. Standardized schooling didn’t really appear until the late nineteenth century.

The education of the generations that grew up enforcing cultural genocide was very minimal, and the line between facts and opinions was blurred beyond recognition. Kids from the era that immigrated to Canada knew not much but basic (yet horribly skewered) Christian beliefs and the ideals of their parents (who were generally unhappy and angry). Once in Canada, their kids still depended largely on the influence of their parents, and those who did attend school, had a very one-sided view to most issues and topics in the world around them. As children, the generations that contributed to the genocide of the Native Americans here had an unfortunate upbringing. And as numerous scientific studies show, the education and experiences you have as a young person greatly impacts how you think and act as an adult. ((For more reading on the effects of childhood events on adult life, read here. A paper by the American Academy of Pediatrics))

In the late nineteenth century, immigration was going strong and people were in a constant state of moving. Calm is not the first word that comes to mind when describing the late 1800s. The prairie provinces just became on the market, and when there is land to be developed, there are natives to be shipped away. People of a non-native heritage were moving about like water molecules in a pot of boiling water, jumping from here to there and always having to deal with new neighbours from various places (but also, First Nations people were being moved around to rather undesirable locations).

These things, plus the general struggles and stresses of living in a totally new and foreign country, can really add up on a person and can make living difficult, and can mess with the judgement a person has. I cannot say that I knew every person individually, in fact I can’t say I knew any of them at all. However, given the circumstances, its not hard to believe that people living in this era with their upbringing might commit these acts, though it is saddening and almost unforgivable.

Even now, a lot of people are still like this. They are angry and have never had the opportunity to a good education. A lot of these people exist in the states and a lot of them voted for Donald Trump. I’m not at all saying that these people would willingly participate in cultural genocide, but the fact that there are a lot of people who are confused and upset enough to so strongly believe in a politician with half a brain is really telling of how the world was, is, and could be.

The subjective necessity of cultural genocide

If events had transpired any other way, there is no telling what the outcomes would be. All that can be said with certainty is that we wouldn’t be here today, and from this, the course of the world would be altered. As regrettable and superbly horrific the effects of genocide were on the native americans, perhaps those things were necessary. And if so, to who?

(Spoilers ahead, however, this story is moderately common knowledge. Read on if you dare)

About two weeks ago, I saw the movie The Founder starring Michael Keaton. A full review can be found here.  In the movie, Ray Kroc essentially steals the McDonalds Company from the two brothers who created the place, Dick and Mac McDonald. The brothers wanted to keep their restaurant a one-time local restaurant, as it had been their dream to do something like this. Kroc, a sad milkshake-machine salesman, comes along and witnesses the genius of the restaurant. He immediately wants to franchise it and make it national, opposite to the brother’s intent. However, they give in to Kroc’s persistence and allow him to work on franchising the company. Using incredibly intelligent business tactics, Kroc is successful, but is unable to operate at his full capacity due to a contract he made with the McDonald brothers. With the advice of a lawyer and some money-eyed friends, he decides to go behind the brothers’ back and create a new company, Franchise Realty, that essentially does what he’s been doing all along, but outside of the contract he made with the brothers’. By the end, he has taken McDonald’s away from the brothers, and changed it from the original way the brothers wanted it to be. In short, the film was about Ray Kroc’s rise to success, despite having to do some rather nasty things to achieve success in business. ““The Founder” is little more than a deflating reminder, as if we needed one, that the winner takes all, and integrity isn’t always the key to success.” (Stephanie Merry, Washington Post).

What is the purpose of including this story? McDonalds is one of the worlds most successful companies, and Ray Kroc is the man who made it that way. If it had been left to the brothers, McDonalds would have lived and died in the one, solitary location in San Bernardino. I think that most of us, if not all of us, have been in a McDonalds and had a burger, fries, or milkshake. The effect it has had on the world is enormous, and feeds about 1% of the worlds population on a daily basis. Overall, it’s a positive thing for the world, I think a lot of people would be sad to see McDonalds go. Which leaves us to wonder, was what Ray Kroc did necessary to achieve his goals? In short, the answer is yes. He was the driving force behind the expansion and success of the McDonalds brand. However, as successful as McDonalds became, the cost was to excommunicate the McDonald brothers from the business and go against their wishes. Over 68 million burgers sold in a day, or being genuine and a morally righteous person towards the two brothers. There is no in between.

Not to compare cultural genocide to a fast-food chain, but this is an example of how becoming successful and moving forward can often have great costs. To the Canadians of the time, the cost of genocide was necessary. In an attempt to justify it to themselves, people allowed the dehumanizing of native americans to take place, and let themselves believe that they were no more than animals. In an attempt to make it seem right, the Church proclaimed they were saving the aboriginals by saving them from themselves, so putting them into residential schools and breaking families apart. Aboriginals were an inconvenience to development and progress, and so had to be dealt with like dealing with a rodent in your lawn.

The necessity to be in Canada was huge, and going home wasn’t an option. In most cases, it was getting to be near impossible to live at home, wether it be war, economic crisis, diseases, anything. So, given the circumstances; the problems at home, the fact that now this new land was becoming a new home, and the fact that people are people, cultural genocide was the answer to fulfill their needs and achieve their goals. They had to live in Canada, and if First Nations were in their way, then they would have to be dealt with.

The outcome and today

Where would we be today if not for the events that happened in history. If anything had turned out differently, the course of the world would be changed. The same goes for Canada. Cultural genocide is a terrible, absolutely horrific thing that humans are capable of doing, yet if it were not for 19th and early 20th century Canadians, we would not be where we are now. We wouldn’t be at our school, there would not be a theatre to play films like The Founder, there wouldn’t be community hockey at 6:30 on Fridays. If the settlers had fully respected the aboriginal’s right to live here independently, then all of them would go back home. Yes, one could argue that there was a way to strike an agreement between Aboriginal people and settlers/expanding Canadians, and I firmly believe that this could have happened. In fact, the story of the island Hecla, which is situated on Lake Winnipeg, is a good example of Aboriginal people and Icelandic settlers co-existing and helping each other out (but this is a story for another blog post). Unfortunately, respectful and mutually beneficial agreements did not particularly happen often. Its easier to bulldoze a forest without a permit.

I would still like to learn and understand more to why people do things that they probably know are bad, and why we let things slide. I do think that my findings here are a start to understanding the why things happened on a personal level, not a group level, and I think that by understanding an individual you can get a better sense of understanding a group. As well, continuing to search for connections between then and now.

Where are we now? Canada is super inclusive, a global ambassador of human rights, a beautiful and natural country. We are also one of the wealthiest and a politically powerful country. We are here because of the great advancements our ancestors made, and because of the attacks against the aboriginal people across Canada. Without all of the historic events that transpired, we would not be the way we are. So, as opposed to looking down on our past and feeling shame, we should be asking for forgiveness and taking part in the process of reconciliation, which we have begun to. Instead of criticizing those who came before us, we can try to understand them because all of us are human, and learn from their mistakes. We are here now, talking about cultural genocide and reconciliation, and this is because of the cultural genocide that occurred.

We benefit from cultural genocide today by being able to live in beautiful British Colombia, formerly Tsleil-waututh territory.

We are here now, so do the ends justify the means?

Sources

  1. http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/livinglearning/school/overview/in19thcentury/
  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/bsurface_01.shtml
  3. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/history-of-education/
  4. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/immigration/
  5. http://www.canadahistory.com/timeline.asp
  6. King, Thomas. The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America
  7. http://www.culturalgenocide.org/join.html

Keeping Going in Choral Music

Since the beginning of this project, there are many things I have done and have been excited to do.

Not knowing particularly much about composition, I decided to just give it a whirl out of the blue. I sat down at my piano and just started creating some moving lines and sounds that I liked. I’ve been a part of various choirs for the better part of my life, so at least had an idea of what I was doing, yet the intricacies and subtleties of composition are still a bit beyond me. A link to the sound file can be found here (disclaimer, the recording is performed by highly trained robots, so the tone and sound is not nearly as good as if it were to be sung by humans). And a link to the score can be found here.

As you will notice from both the files, there are no words to the piece. The reason for this is because I wrote the piece without text in mind. My reasoning for this, is because I thought that for choral music, the words should compliment the music, not the other way around. However, I would soon come to realize that this might not be the way to go. Looking past the lack of words, I kind of like the song. Yes there are places in it where things could be changed, but in all, there are a lot of things that I like and I could change and will change if I so feel. It is slightly more homorhythmic (same-ness of rhythm in most parts) than I am used to writing, but it still was fun to do and sounds somewhat ok in some parts. For a first attempt; not bad.

Do not only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets – L. V. Beethoven

One of my main focuses for this project was to compose a piece for the VCC Young Composer’s competition, and I have begun work on this. Realizing the difficultly of doing music first as opposed to words, I have decided to pick the poetry that I will set music to first. I have narrowed it down to two poems: Said the West Wind by Canadian poet Isabella Crawford and Hecla, My Heart’s Home by my Grandpa.

At night I play amidst the silver mists,
And chase them on soft feet until they climb
And dance their gilded plumes against the stars;
At dawn the last round primrose star I hide
By wafting o’er her some small fleck of cloud,
And ere it passes comes the broad, bold Sun
And blots her from the azure of the sky,
As later, toward his noon, he blots a drop
Of pollen-gilded dew from violet cup
Set bluely in the mosses of the wood.
Lines 33 – 42 of Said the West Wind

Photo by Thomas Fricke. Church in Hecla, next to a cemetery.

The reason for these poems is that they both speak to me on different levels, as well both have some meaning that revolves around Canada. The Crawford poem about the nature and beauty of Canada, and my grandfather’s poem is about being a settler in Canada and living here.

 

To cap it off, I am in the process of writing another song that is more melodic, and I hope to be able to perform it before the end of this project.

As for my mentor meeting, I had an incredibly enjoyable and informative meeting with my mentor, Joel Tranquilla. He is the conductor of the Coastal Sound Youth Choir, which is how I knew of him. He is also the director of choral activities at Trinity Western University, associate conductor of the Canadian Chamber Choir, among many many other titles and roles in the Canadian choral world. At our meeting, we spent a lot of time looking at some scores, particularly looking at the music of Matthew Emery. We analyzed some of his music and let me borrow some to take back. Also studied were a bit of Bob Chilcott, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Ambrož Čopi. Looking at, listening to, and analyzing these scores have been really quite fun, but also incredibly helpful in writing more pieces.

I found myself intrigued and agreeing with what Joel had to say regarding choral music. It all made sense to me and it is clear how much experience and understanding he has on the topic. I went to the meeting to simply learn from him, as he is a true expert in the field of choral music, so what he said I often found made sense and seemed logical. I didn’t find myself to be in a position to disagree, as I was there to learn and I am in no position to have any other real opinion on choral music. As for differing, there was really no case for that, as he was showing me things that I now appreciate and enjoy, and I simply didn’t know existed before.

All in all, the time from my first blog post to now has been incredibly productive and I have really learned a lot. I am very excited to meet with Joel again and to continue my studies on my own. Things are really picking up and its becoming quite fun.

Eminent Bibliography

http://www.johnwilliams.org/ – John Williams Website with all of the information one could possibly want to know about John Williams. Bio, discography, links to other useful sites, etc. 
http://www.jwfan.com/?page_id=132 – Fan Page with all of the information one could possibly want to know about John Williams. Bio, discography, etc. 
http://www.jw-collection.de/start.htm – Collection of scores and discography.

Bios
http://www.johnwilliams.org/reference/biography.html – Bio from the John Williams website mentioned above. 
http://www.thewrap.com/11-things-learned-afi-tribute-john-williams/ – 11 “Fun Facts” about John Williams. Doesn’t go into his whole biography, just the short interesting bits you would’t necessarily get from other sites. 
http://www.biography.com/people/john-williams-9532526#synopsis – Just one more biography website. 

Interviews & Articles
http://www.today.com/id/7749339/ns/today-entertainment/t/man-behind-music-star-wars/#.V7szqpMrLBI – Today Show Interview with John Williams.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueWVV_GnRIA – Itzhak Perlman (violinist for the film Schindler’s List) Interview.
http://variety.com/2016/film/spotlight/john-williams-afi-1201792072-1201792072/ – Variety Article on all of the work he has done, and his significance in the world. An easily digestible, yet informative read. 
http://oscar.go.com/nominees/music-original-score/star-wars-the-force-awakens – 50th Oscar Nomination.

Musical Info
https://youtu.be/Nx7NiJHIlGs – Scoring the film E.T.
https://youtu.be/xZtvm3DEQzY – How to write like John Williams. This video showed some of the musical techniques he uses in his films. It was interesting to watch and fun to try out on my own piano to see how it works.
https://youtu.be/HtifWqsON1g – A comparison to Hans Zimmer and a look into how Hans Zimmer composes. Interesting to see the difference between two very successful film composers. 
http://alanbelkinmusic.com/site/en/ – Alan Belkin’s Website. It contains a lot of information on how to compose in general as well as a letter to a young composer. Lots of subpages were used. Super great resource for general composition. 
http://www.art-13.ru/sites/default/files/musicophilia.pdf – The pdf to the book Musicophilia which I used for musical research purposes. The content is really interesting and touches on the scientific aspects of music. This would help anyone interesting in understanding how and why music works. 

Other
I used his music as a large part of the learning throughout my project. This meaning I listened actively and took notes on his music: what I liked, what instruments are used for what purposes, and so on. I also did this by transcribing a few of his themes and studying some scores that the school had in the band room, and scores that I borrowed from my mom’s school. As well, my interviews were two invaluable sources of information you can’t really get online.

Recalling the Night & Learning Center Composition

A CHRONOLOGICAL REFLECTION ON EMINENT, AND THE ANALYSIS OF MY LEARNING CENTER. 

After all that happened, all of the hard work, nervous cries, and invaluable moments, only one thing echoes in my mind. It haunts me to this day and shakes my very soul. The scarring melody that will never die and will live forever in my nightmares. An innocent thing to help me get through the hard day – a simple distraction. How could I guess it would end up like this? How could anyone know the irreversible effects of that one song – Careless Whisper.

Other than the constant horrible repetitions of George Michael’s classic, Night of the Notables (2k16) was something I could not have imagined. The sheer fear of being backstage, the satisfaction of assembling a learning center, and the absolute relief having completed this month-long project. A lot of time and preparing went into this and it was an indescribable feeling to know that it was done. But we aren’t talking about it being done yet. Before that, we have to reminisce and think back on not only the night, but the whole day.

I am not particularly good at understanding the significance of events as they happen to me. At the time, nothing had really sunk in for me. I was not really aware of the real magnitude of this event, nor was I aware of the fact that this event was in a few hours. I knew it was happening, it just didn’t seem real. So throughout the mess of an afternoon that it was, I tried to focus solely on my speech and how I would present it.

My hindsight is 20/20

My speech was written in a way that required a lot of emotion and commitment to character; two things I am not good at doing (the only two things I am not good at, mind you). There was a lot of mental psyching myself up to do the speech, knowing full well that the impact of the speech depended on my ability to commit to my character. But that was a problem for “7:30 me”. First we had to deal with the learning center.

THE LEARNING CENTER – Part 1

My learning center was something I was really happy with. I set it up so that every item at the center had a talking point and a reason for being there that complemented the rest of the learning center.
Below is a left-to-right series of photos of the learning center.

Above is my french horn and trumpet, along with a pair of drumsticks and brushes. There are two DVD sets beside them: Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park. These two films’ scores have easily recognizable fanfares and marches, that rely heavily on the trumpet and the French horn. John Williams also employs the use of French horn a lot in his writing, as it is a strong, mellow brass instrument. It’s interesting to make that connection since I now play the french horn. The use of a snare drum is crucial to the composition of a good march, so I had to include a pair of drum sticks.

The violin is for the film Schindler’s List, where the main theme is played by renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman. As well, the strings are a critical aspect of John Williams’ compositions, as the strings are a vital part of any orchestra. (And also because I think that the violin is the coolest instrument and any chance I get to incorporate it into a project I will take.) The film  Schindler’s List won director Steven Spielberg a seven total Oscars. The film also won John Williams the Oscar for “Best Score”. It is one of the most significant films in history, and definitely one of the greatest films of all time, thanks to the masterful filmmaking of Spielberg, but also the pensive and emotional score delivered by John Williams.

Continuing on to the right, lies a flute, and the discs for the movies E.T., Harry Potter, Fiddler on the Roof, and Star Wars. John Williams won Oscars for all of these films except for the Harry Potter series (which he only composed the first three instalments). All of these films were incredibly successful and critically acclaimed.

It’s pretty incredible to visually see how many movies this man has done, and especially how many successful films he has been a part of. With 50 Academy Award Nominations and 110 film scoring credits to his name, it’s astounding to just see all the famous films he scored, let alone 110 films. Throughout his scoring career, John Williams worked with the Boston Pops a lot, recording with them from 1980-1993. At my learning center, I had a CD player plugged into headphones, playing some of his most famous scores that were recorded with the Boston Pops. Scores include: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman, E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

 

 

 

 

Above are several scores of John Williams compositions. The works are three of John Williams’ and three of Tchaikovsky’s. Richard Wagner and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky are two of John William’s biggest musical influences, so I included some scores of Tchaikovsky’s (Wagner was nowhere to be found, unfortunately).

Unbeknownst to most, Andreas is secretly a piano virtuoso

Finally, at the far right of the room, I had my keyboard which had some piano music, as well as my transcribed version of the theme from Schindler’s List.
All of the instruments I slugged to school that morning, except for the violin and the trumpet stand which were graciously given to me to borrow for the evening.

Also unbeknownst to most, I am secretly a violin virtuoso.

THE SPEECH

I generally don’t have a problem with public speaking. Of course it makes me nervous but I can usually deal with it. Now, doing the two things I cannot do (deliver an emotional speech and committing to a character) plus public speaking? Well.

I think that says it all.

There was nothing but nervous energy coursing through me as I waited backstage, feverishly going over my lines one last time and hoping “Gee, I wonder if the sound works out”. As a fallback, I thought I would just sing my one-man acapella rendition of Careless Whisper if I both lost the words completely and the sound failed. I got up on that stage and I began to speak. Oh good lord. As mentioned before, committing to character is not my strong suit (however, the suit I was wearing was very strong). I got to the line where the music was supposed to kick in, and it did. I continued the speech, unfortunately conducting out of time, but largely hitting all of my music-to-speech cues. It was just a blur, that’s all I can say. Getting offstage and getting backstage, I was totally emotionally drained. Again, as mentioned before, I still hadn’t really processed the fact that eminent was happening, so after doing the speech, the reality of it hit me like a bus. It seems to be that I am the bringer of my own destruction. I still don’t know how I feel about my speech. I don’t think it was bad, but to what degree of “not-bad” was it? I guess I’ll never know. All I know is how relieving it felt to be at my learning center. Away from that stage and done with that speech.

THE LEARNING CENTER – Part 2

I was lucky enough to have 3/4 TALONS teachers come to my learning center and have a conversation with me John Williams. For my location, I was surprised at how many people came and saw my station. At my center, I talked about how John Williams composes and the lasting legacy he has left on the world, and the quantity of films he has done (often to the people at my center’s surprise). I also talked about who his influences were and why I chose to do him. Often, I also played a bit of piano for whoever was at my station to let theme hear some of John Williams’ themes, usually Jaws and/or Schindler’s List. During the evening, I got to talk to some of the TALONS alumni and answered their very eminent-specific questions. Towards the end, as we were packing up, my dad began to fool around on the piano and pretty soon, I was playing the first known sounds of jazz french horn that Gleneagle has ever heard to the accompanying piano my dad played.

FINAL REFLECTIONS

All of my goals for this project were achieved, and then some. I learned so much more about film composition than I had ever fathomed I could know. By learning about one of the most influential film composers, I was able to get an insight to what exactly a film composer, how they do what they do, and why they do what they do. It was incredibly interesting and sucked me into learning more and more. Even to this moment I have tabs open on sites that have information about film composing. I’m even seriously considering buying a Masterclass that’s hosted by Hans Zimmer thus learning even more about film composition, and just composition in general. All this learning and information has also greatly benefitted my in-depth project (Choral composition) and I’m even more excited to continue working on that. All in all, I achieved my goals and am proud of what I learned throughout this project.

Of course, the completion of this project wouldn’t be possible without the help of many others. I would like to thank Andreas for the numerous times he edited my speech and listened to me practice. I would also like to thank Weijin for also helping my speech, and for lending me her amazing violin and turning me into the virtuoso I am today. As well, I would like to once again thank the people who I interviewed, and to Alicia for lending me her trumpet stand. As well, thanks to Anika, Alan, and Hira who all either looked over my speech or listened to me rehearse it, and to Kendra for those pictures of me on the violin. Finally I would like to publicly apologize for making a lot of people endure the sounds of a certain song.

As for what I will remember, the better question is what won’t I remember? This whole post has been a collection of things that still stick out in my mind like a skyscraper. Everything from hearing Careless Whisper all day, to delivering my monologue, to standing by my leaning center. How could I forget?

Interviews of Eminence

Conducting the interview for eminent is one of the most enjoyable and interesting aspects of the eminent project for me. And since film composition and the music industry is incredibly interesting to me, I tried to get more out of it than last time. So I went off to find film composers and other people involved in the music world.

First, I went to the fan page of John Williams. As “unprofessional” as it may seem, I thought that they would have some more personal information about his life and his story in achieving his eminence. And who else knows more about a person than their biggest fans? I sent an email to them, and they got back to me within the day. Excitedly, I returned an email saying my thanks and asking my questions, but unfortunately to no reply.

Secondly, I went to email Evan Evans, the son of the legendary late jazz pianist, Bill Evans. I did Bill Evans for eminent last year, and I thought this would be a neat tie-together of my two projects. While completing this project last year, I discovered that Evan Evans is a film composer, and at the time thought that was pretty interesting. This year, doing a film composer, I thought to email him at his website. Believe it or not, he replied! I was now exchanging emails with Bill Evans’ son. He said he could do the interview, and sent me a link to this website that he runs for film composers, called Film Scoring Academy. This website holds a lot of answers to a lot of questions I had and proved to be a valuable resource. I still wanted to ask him some other questions but I have yet to get an email back. However, still pretty amazing I exchanged an email with the son of my last eminent person, Bill Evans.

Next, I sent out a flurry of emails. Dozens of emails to various people, knowing I have nothing to lose seeing if some people don’t respond to me and some might. I sent emails to some other film composers, musicians, and directors and only one got back to me, which in itself is pretty good. However, the person who got back to me was someone who would be very beneficial to my compositional studies; an even bigger bonus. A Montreal-based composer named Alan Belkin returned my email and said he would be able to do an interview about being a composer and what that entails. After exchanging a few emails, we set up a Skype call for a Sunday afternoon and we conducted the interview.

I had heard of Alan Belkin before, accidentally stumbling upon his website in a search for compositional information a couple months ago. I read his Letter to a Young Composer and agreed with a lot of what he said and saw it to be quite logical and sensible. So to be conducting an interview with a guy I only knew the musical ideas of was an exciting thing. But, he is not a film composer. In fact, he has never written for film before. However, I wanted to interview him to get an understanding of what it is like to just be a composer in general and all that entails. He also has a lot of students who are/striving to be film composers, so it’s not like he doesn’t know anything about it.

Our interview lasted 40 minutes, and went right down to 1% battery life on my computer. Overlooking the stress of a dying computer, it was an incredibly useful interview. Not only for this project, but also for my in-depth project (choral composition) and for myself as a recreational/aspiring composer. During the interview, the answers were not restricted to the questions I asked. They returned to past questions and answered some things that were’t explicitly stated in the question. Below is what I got out of the interview.

My questions were:
1. How should one learn to compose, as a young composer?
2. How has the music scene changed from when you were younger to today?
3. How do you compose?
4. What is your favourite part about being a composer?
5. Who are your influences and how have they affected your music?
In short (sort of),
I found out through the interview that 1. one should surround themselves with people who teach/believe in mastering musical fundamentals and theory, as opposed to style before fully understanding the fundamentals. By understanding this, you can compose more quickly, more musically, and simply better. And as a student, it’s good to learn with a teacher, but you also have to take initiative on your own and learn by yourself.
2. The internet has completely changed how one gets jobs and learns. We are no longer separated by geography and we can communicate with others from farther distances (just like I was able to interview Mr. Belkin). It can also make us more independent, meaning we don’t have to communicate in person with as many people anymore. As for film music, USC is the place to go. There is a huge difference living in the center of all your connections, and music is hugely about connections. You can make yourself known to others in person, which is invaluable. You’re a thousand times more likely to be called for a job if they know your face and name, and have talked with you at school and other places.
3. Some people compose with a story in mind, but he doesn’t. He just writes what comes to mind and develops it. After enough themes and ideas are developed, the music almost takes shape itself.
4. As a composer, we have our own little worlds, and it is our job to touch someone emotionally and take them on an emotional guided tour of our inner world. We have to be an excited tour guide.
5. A lot of very technical musical things that are super interesting but incredibly difficult to explain. His influences were mainly Shostakovich and Schreker.

Following this successful interview, I then interviewed my Uncle Robert who is an avid film fan and has adjudicated at a number of film festivals. We set up a time and I called him one Thursday evening to talk about how film music is used most effectively in a movie. Again, he is not a film composer or a musician. However, since he is very knowledgable in films, I thought it would be beneficial to know how film music affects the sensitive viewer and how he thinks it is used best. Our interview lasted a solid half hour and I got a lot of useful information from it, especially if I should ever want to compose film scores (which I might, who knows? I probably do).

1. How do you feel that music in film gets used most effectively? What about film music makes it “good” for you?
2. Do you feel that movie soundtracks have changed over time?
3. What are your general thoughts on John Williams’ music?
4. How do director-composer relationships affect the film?
5. What are some films you particularly enjoyed the music for?
In short
1. The music should be supportive and not the driving force, since film is primarily a visual medium. If the music becomes too important to the film, it becomes almost like a crutch, sort of like how visual effects can be a crutch (if you take it out, how good is it?). This is not a criticism of the composer, but of the filmmaker. The music and the movie should match in quality, they should be on the same level. You have to have a good balance.
2. With technological developments, it’s easier to do things regarding orchestration etc.
3. HIs music is best when it’s exciting and accompanying a scene. Sometimes he can be a bit too sweet and emotional, since you shouldn’t have the music tell you how to feel, it should just amply the emotion (but that was mostly directed at one scene in War Horse). Exaggerate what is going on onscreen.
4. It’s just easier to have good relationships, especially with someone in such high power (in this case, Steven Spielberg). A good director-composer relationship makes it easier to get work done, as they know each other well and it becomes one less problem in the production.
5. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and The Apartment are his two favourite film scores.

Finally, a huge surprise. As I am writing this post, I just received an email from one of the people I sent an email to. Their name was Matthew Fields and he was a composer of whom I have read many of his writings on composition, as well as the writer of some pieces that I quite like. However, the email was not from him, it was from his wife, notifying me he had sadly passed a few months ago. My deepest condolences go to his family and those he was close to. (The following are two of his works. The latter is for a choir)

All in all, my interviews were fun to do and I got a lot out of them. As it turns out, people are actually great sources of information (who knew?) and asking questions can help you out a lot in learning (weird how that works). Of course, I would have loved to do more interviews and I have a few people in mind I would like to do them with, but alas, this project is over. However, that shouldn’t stop me from asking them questions and learning from professionals and experts in the field.

Document of Learning: The End is (Bas)Soon

To begin my document of learning, here is the link to my slideshow recounting my solo adventure to the Coquitlam Public Library.


Writing a speech is not an easy task. It’s quite a large task to take on and accomplish, but breaking it down piece by piece helps the process. Slightly.
The speech I wrote is set in 1981, during the recording session for the soundtrack of Steven Spielberg’s film, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. The speech is from John William’s Point of view, as he stops and conducts the Boston Pops.


John Williams conducting the score from E.T.

(stop conducting)

Alright, let’s try that again at 248.

(music fade in, begin conducting again)

Now, cellos, more sweetly, and everyone a bit quieter; I want to hear that harp. Flutes, you and the oboes are going to be a golden beam of light shining out of this nebulous fog, and we need that. Violins, I need more heart, I need more feeling.

We have to emulate this emotion perfectly.

What is happening here? E.T. is finally going home. This is the part in which we understand that we sometimes have to let things that are most important to us go. A teary-eyed bittersweet. We have to put this heart-wrenching understanding into a melody – to put our hearts into this feeling.

We are musicians and we are artists. The makers of dreams, the builders our own reality. We are the ones who add colour to dreams. So let’s add a colour we cannot see, but one we can hear.

We do this so we can wonder, so we can dream, so we can believe. Let us breathe belief into this movie.

Yes! Strings, make my heart soar! Make me weep! Make me believe!

(music fade out)

(refer to 0:00 to 1:12 for the music I will use during the speech)


For me, the greatest challenge was (and will probably be throughout my speech-writing career) making the speech sound natural and real. To not have it sound forced or, dare I say, scripted. It was just the idea of making it natural, but also getting my point across. Another challenge was writing it so that I could get the emotional impact of the music and the movie, without showing the movie itself. Timing the speech to the sound is going to take some more practice, but I am definitely getting there. The purpose of the speech itself, is to show the significance of music in film, and how music can affect our lives and manipulate our emotions.


 

piano-1

piano-2 player-piano

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, to do a musician and to not learn/play some of his music would be absurd. John Williams is the composer of some of modern-day’s most beautiful music – part of which is why he has been so successful. Personal favourites of mine being the 11-minute bike chase scene at the end of E.T., the theme from Schindler’s List, and the march (specifically the love theme) from Raiders of the Lost Ark. So I spent a bit of time listening, studying, analyzing, and finally transcribing/arranging some of his music for my purposes.


Undoubtedly, I have learned a lot throughout the course of this project. I have learned a lot about John Williams the man, as well as learning about his music: why it works, how it works, etc. Needless to say, this knowledge has greatly helped me in composing music and has given me a lot to think about when listening to orchestral scores and the like. As for IEP goals, I was able to complete a lot of research and planning much earlier than expected, so I was able to manage my time and work more efficiently and effectively.

All in all, eminent has been very enjoyable for me to do, and I’m excited to see what night of the notables has in store for me.


PS. I would like it to be known I spent several hours devising a clever title that was funny and had a bit of zip to it. I apologize to everyone for my lack of creativity and a funny, zippy title.

A Sad Bassoon, just like me. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53bf2b1ce4b0369fa55d0caf/t/5646ab60e4b0ac3d5288fbba/1447472208643/Bassoon

 

John Williams

There are not many more frightening sounds than the two-tone tune that plays just before a death by vicious shark, nor more victorious themes than the theme we hear as an grave-robbing “archaeologist” rides off into the sunset, nor are there many more recognizable songs than that fanfare that plays in a galaxy far far away. Since the late ’60’s, one man has been revolutionizing the sounds of cinema and adding a fundamental, vibrant colour to the stories we see on screen.

Without John Williams, bikes don’t really fly… We do not wonder, we do not weep, we do not believe. – Steven Spielberg

John Towner Williams is perhaps the world’s most prolific film composer, and has scored the music to dozens upon dozens of landmark films of our lives. From creating the heart-wrenching string melody of E.T., to the trumpets of Jurassic Park, he has been in the background of many of the world’s greatest films. And one thing all of the directors of these films have said is that these films would not have been as successful if it weren’t for the musical storytelling of John Williams.

Born in 1932 to jazz percussionist Johnny Williams and mother Esther in Floral Park, New York. He was very close to his father and his grandparents, and was surrounded by music in his youth. In 1948, his family moved to LA where he attended North Hollywood High School in his sophomore year. In 1950, he graduated and attended UCLA where he studied privately with well-known Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Castelnuovo-Tedesco was a highly skilled guitarist, having written over 100 works for guitar, and was a composer for MGM. A perfect mentor for young John Williams. Afterwards, he attended Los Angeles City College for only one semester, for the sole reason that they had a jazz band.

In 1952, John Williams was drafted into the Air Force, where one of his duties was to conduct and arrange music for the band there. After his time with the Air Force, he returned to New York, and went to Juilliard to study piano, as his dream was to be a concert pianist.
During this time, he was also a performer in many of the city’s prestigious and famous jazz-clubs, as well as working a bit as a studio musician. Apparently, when wandering the halls of Juilliard, he overheard many of the other musicians and said to himself, “If that’s the competition, I’d better be a composer!”

Returning to LA in the 60’s, he began his work in film and television scores. During this time, he worked with musical greats, most notably Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, The Twilight Zone, Citizen Kane, The Day the Earth Stood Still) and Henry Mancini (“Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther), as well as many other great musicians. Here, he developed the habit of writing something every day, whether it be good or bad. He began working as a studio musician and played piano in the films Some Like it Hot (starring Marylin Monroe) and To Kill a Mockingbird.

John Williams and Steven Spielberg

Soon after, he was first approached by long-time-collaborator, Steven Spielberg, to score Spielberg’s first feature film, The Sugarland Express. This was the beginning of dozens of projects the two would work on together. Williams was once again invited by Spielberg to score his next film, Jaws. The film was a huge hit, and rocketed both Spielberg and Williams careers. Soon after, up-and-coming filmmaker George Lucas was looking for somebody to score his new “Space Opera” film. Steven Spielberg, who was friends with Lucas, recommended John Williams to him. And as soon as Star Wars was released, John Williams secured himself a spot in the history books for writing the most iconic film soundtrack of all time.

Over the 64 years as a professional musician, John Williams has scored the soundtrack to over 50 Oscar nominated films and dozens more, was the principal conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra for 13 years (1980-1993), and has written 46 symphonic/orchestral works (one of which was premiered by Yo-Yo Ma). His most notable films being Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982), Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler’s List (1993), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), and Munich (2005). Along with this, he is also the man who composed the iconic Olympics fanfare we hear every two years that accompany the televised coverage of the olympics.

Like many of us, I have been surrounded by John Williams’ music my whole life, without really knowing it. From hearing it watching Superman with my grandparents, to screaming the Star Wars theme song while duelling with invisible lightsabers in the backyard, to whistling Jurassic Park walking down the halls. The most iconic films and the music have planted its roots in me, and I’m sure many others too.

Another connection I have to him is how we are both sons of Jazz musicians and that we are both pursuing jazz piano in our adolescence. However, the day, age, and location in which we grow/grew up in are drastically different, thus the music scenes and opportunities are different. As well, his musical influences and my musical influences would be different as well.

As a youngster, I never dreamed there could be a career actually earning a living writing music.

He is also the world’s most prominent and eminent film composer, which is a field I may want to go into in the future. His ideas and the way he wrote scores for films totally changed the way film scores are made now, and his works will stand the test of time for their significance. Not to mention, his scores are very enjoyable to listen to and one can almost see the scenes of the film in your mind when you listen to them.

Through this project, I hope to learn more about the world of composing and composing for film. These are both fields of study I am interested in, and understanding how an extremely successful composer gained his reputation and was able to solely compose for a living will be very interesting and insightful to what I might want to pursue as a career or just as a hobby. Evidence of this can be seen here at my first in-depth blog post for this year.

[on the musical scoring of films] In the future, I think serious composers will become ever more interested… More connections between the audio and visual world would also open possibilities that young composers find increasingly intriguing.

This whole project will assist in my In-depth studies, and will be an all-around interesting project. I am very excited to be doing it and I know that I will enjoy it just as much, if not more than last year’s.

Choral Composition

Music composition is an absolutely vast field of study. There is an impossibly huge amount of knowledge on the subject and an astronomical amount of works written for another infinite number of ensembles. As someone who wants to learn about composing, knowing how huge the study of composition is can be quite daunting. So, I decided I will focus in on studying choral composition for In-depth 2016-17. 

Coastal Sound Youth Choir, Indiekör 2016

Another reason for me choosing to study choral composition, is that there are more opportunities and people I know in the choral world that can help me in the project. I am a member of the Coastal Sound Youth Choir and volunteer weekly with the Coastal Sound Boychoir, and my mom is a manager of the choir, along with having many connections of her own in the choral society which I can tap into. Studying choral composition makes most sense for me in terms of finding a mentor and since I am constantly surrounded with choral music. It is the most accessible to me, and it is something that I have been wanting to do for a while. As well, choral composition is an incredibly interesting and challenging topic and that it’s something that I’ve always thought I could do, but never have. It is something I think I will greatly enjoy learning about and will benefit me in the future for recreational purposes, and if I ever decide to go into music post-secondary.

As far as mentors go, I would like to meet with them at least once a month, no matter who they are. My mentor would help me learn more about musical theory, teach me on how to use certain chord changes or voicings, as well as critique my work as I go along. I plan for my mentor to be someone who is a part of the choral community in Vancouver who can offer me insights as to what works and doesn’t work in choral pieces.

<http://www.vancouverchamberchoir.com/images/CHOIR_LOGO.jpg>

To give my project a goal, I am working towards submitting my completed choral piece to the Vancouver Chamber Choir’s Young Composer’s Competition. The submission date for the competition is March 15, 2017, so I have a solid due date as to when I have to have my project completed by. It is a competition for young composers, both locally and abroad, and has a theme on “Canada” as it is the country’s 150th anniversary this year. A pdf of this year’s competition can be found here.

By the end of this project, I hope to have a better knowledge, understanding, and appreciation for choral composition and be able to apply this knowledge to other compositional endeavours I may pursue, whether it be for instruments or voice. By the end of this project, I also hope to have gained a better work ethic and developed my own method of concentrating and working that will not only help me compose for this project, but carry on into school and other work. Finally, by the end of this project, I would like to have a better appreciation for music. Seeing all the effort and time that it takes to create music will give me an appreciation for what composers do and how much they put into it.

“To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist.”
– Robert Schumann

In conclusion, I am very excited to be doing this project and I believe that with a good attitude and work ethic, my goals will be easily achieved in this project and it will be enjoyable to do. I am excited to see how this goes!

PS. if you are interested, <here> is a personal blog I will be using to post my experiences, feelings, joys, distresses on composition and music in general. This blog is casual and will be updated more frequently.

Spirit of Fire

Spirit of Fire

Spirit of fire descend upon me in a thousand flaming tongues. Set my soul ablaze with your burning reds, oranges, and golds. Fill my entire being with music and let me ascend to the transcendent. Spirit of fire tap my toes. Make my fingers play the music that has been inspired divine. Make every parting breath leave with the gift of a note. My whole existence thrives off of it; the drug that has been passed down through humanity as a gift from one generation to the next. It is the only record of my life I can leave behind.

The stained brown pews feel like solid stone and the hushed whispers of an anxious congregation make the nerves in me jittery and agitated. The knowledge of an incoming performance destroys any chance I had of keeping calm. My hands are clasped together, resting helplessly on my lap like two duelling elk whose antlers have become intertwined like a monstrous bramble. I wish to knot my fingers together, to unify them into one horrific mess that cannot be undone. The hall is dark, as only weak lights dangle from the ceiling. At the head of the church, on the tallest wall, hangs a 20-foot-long statue of the crucifixion. Jesus’ eyes gazed towards his Father, hands and feet nailed to the wood of the cross, keeping His mortal self chained to the brutal, harsh world that is ours. The pain is evident, even in the face of the Messiah. Below the cross sits the tabernacle, and to the left are half a dozen chairs, to the right stands the pulpit. The altar is empty.

Spirit of mercy deliver my poor, worthless self. Save me from the shaking arms, the wobbling legs, the frigid fingers. If you care for me, show me a sign in the form of a lightning bolt, an earthquake, or a swift and graceless heart attack. Get me out. Don’t make me perform. 

Directly below the altar sits a hollow wooden bass, a small set of scattered drums, and a long, shining black piano. A trio of suit-wearing men come out from the back of the church and sit at their respective instruments. The congregation is hushed as though a fog of silence set over the pews. Nothing happens for a few seconds. Time stands still and the frozen silence makes everyone sit on edge. But not me. I shrink farther and farther back into my seat, sinking into the murky depths of insignificance from which few people ever return. Let me slip away.

With the force of an atomic bomb, the trio begins to play. Golden sounds fly through the thick silence like a cannonball.The previously dark hall becomes engulfed in this new bright light streaming from the strings of the bass, the glinting cymbals, and the old white keys of the piano. From dead, inanimate objects comes this pure life-force put in motion through the gentle acts of pressing metal strings and tapping sticks. Sentences and phrases begin to grow out of the noise like a flowering lilac bush, and soon, whole paragraphs and storylines materialize out of the bright sound. It’s beautiful.

Spirit of love, tuck my heart away. Do not let it see the glorious light that is. Shelter its ears from the melody that surrounds us. Let it not feel the rhythms of life coursing through its being. Spirit of love, I beg of you, tuck my heart away.

A buzzing congregation does its very best to contain the excitement that boils underneath the surface, letting out only the occasional whistle or high-pitched scream. A fervent melody reaches its peak and ends in a bombastic manner, leaving the world stunned. What seems like thousands of cheers reverberate off the stain-glass walls of the church, the sounds spilling out into the winter’s night of a thousand eyes.

I sit there in awe and wonder like a dullard, with no way of comprehending the violently wonderful attack on my soul. How the sound penetrates my every defense, jumps through every loophole, dodges every obstacle. No matter how hard I try, I cannot hide the raw feeling and emotions that tug my entire being and drag me to music. No struggle is strong enough, no resistance is tough enough, and no force of will stands a chance against the horrible, beautiful music. I hate how I love it.

Spirit of strength, put blood in my legs. Give my body reason to get up and walk. Help me to walk to the stage, where my name has been called to play. Empower my resolve and assist my heart, as they are weak and cannot do this alone. Spirit of strength, help me to perform.

Hot stage lights and a cold piano bench wait for me. One by one, my feet drag themselves up towards the stage, weighed down by the ball and chain of my own doubts, my own failures, my own invisible struggles. Some days the weight is too much and I let my spirit fall to the floor like an old rag doll. After an eternity in an instant, I find myself at the bench of the grand piano, staring across at the bassist and the drummer. I have to call a song, but what? I have to play, but what? Hit a note!

Spirit of passion, let my heart soar. Help my soul to find its voice and to create beautiful, perfect sounds like the others did. Set my heart ablaze. Give me purpose, give me life. Give me reason to wake up every morning and rest my head at night. Help me remember and help me know. Spirit of passion, tell me who I am. Tell me that I can. Tell me it’s possible. Allow me to love what I do and do what I love. Exist through me. Make my notes golden, and do not lead them astray.

Did I play a wrong note? Spirit help! Where is the time, the beat is lost and I can’t feel it. How dare I sit up here with these others of another league? Who am I, who do I think I am? Spirit of passion give me reason to finish this miserable song. My playing is erratic, it resembles the ripped edge of a cliff face. Gold is not the colour of my music; it’s an off-putting yellow that immediately deters anyone who hears it. I have to stop, but I can’t. Terrible, awful playing! The rest of the ensemble hasn’t looked at me yet, out of disappointment I’m sure. Spirit of passion, set me on fire. Let me burn into a thousand smoldering embers and fly me off in a cloud of ash.

And now the silence. A lying crowd erupts in thunderous applause as the monstrosity is done, but I know it is all for naught. Eyes fixed to a non-existent pattern on the floor, I navigate my way back to the pew I sat in before. The people around me tell me how great it was, but I know the truth. People are nice, and those who can’t take criticism don’t give it. I have failed once again, disappointed once again, and made a fool of myself for the umpteenth time. The brown pew I sit in graciously begins to consume me whole, letting me disappear from the world completely, as though I never existed. My mark on the world is a claw mark, more of a work of graffiti than a work of art. The crowd instantaneously forgets my mistake and the original trio returns to the light, drawing all of their rightfully deserved attention to themselves.

Spirit of fire, descend upon me in a thousand flaming tongues. Set me ablaze in your reds, oranges, and golds. Empty my entire being of music and let me fall back down to earth. For I am no longer worth the trouble of dreams, nor am I worthy to be creative in an art that sits tantalizingly out of my grasp. Eventually dreamers wake up and gamblers lose it all. Tell me I am no different and make sure I can no longer perform. Spirit of fire, set me ablaze and let me run this vicious cycle once more. 

Amen.