Effortless Music

Effortless Music

Over the past seven days I have been to five concerts—a lot more than usual for me—and my head is chock full of sounds. I have heard cellos, bass clarinets, recorders of every conceivable size and shape (oh, how I love the contrabass recorder!!), ensembles great and small, not to mention loops employed for the Forces of Good.

Normally when I am up to my ears in composing a new work, I curb my concert-going activities substantially, simply to protect the music in my head from being drowned out by external forces. However, the piece I’m currently working on has been a long time in the making, and lately it has felt rather refreshing to disconnect from my internal sound world for a little while to experience some outsider sounds.

Hearing this much music in a relatively short span of time reminds me that the music I find to be the most satisfying possesses an effortless quality that I’ve never been able to completely pin down. It’s as if the music spontaneously erupted into being without any difficulty whatsoever, like a friend you go on a mountain hike with, whose white t-shirt is as perfectly clean and uncrumpled at the end of the day as it was when you began (how do they do that??).

It’s not about genre or instrumentation—because I hear this quality in many types of music—or harmonic or rhythmic content, and not even directly about technique. Obviously it is about the artist making the work, but it has nothing to do with external personality traits. In addition, I don’t believe that effortless music can be purposefully created, to continue down the path of Dan’s idea that you can’t “try” to be spontaneous.

I have the feeling that this illusory sensation about a musical experience is actually the best possible thing one can hope for—that I am hearing the composer’s real voice. When someone is creating music that is free of obvious external influences, expectations, and (perhaps especially) the composer’s own ego, the result is a staggeringly amazing window into that individual’s core being. Pure and uncomplicated, even if the music itself wears complicated clothing. Needless to say, that ain’t easy! But I am so heartened when I find it, and I think that if someone (anyone!) has that experience with your music, then you can rest assured that you are doing something right.

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2 thoughts on “Effortless Music

  1. Alvaro Gallegos

    This is a relevant issue. Once, a distinguished conductor, told me that he was aware that composition students were not attending concerts. “That is like wanting to be a writer but not reading books”, he complained.

    Most of the composers I know personally, say that they don’t like to go to concerts, because “with so many music in one’s head, how can one find his/her own voice”.

    Some composers like to write slow, reflecting on each note, and that doesn’t mean that they can’t write effortlessly.


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