COMPOSITION FOR ME
"Seeking truth through great music."
I heard this phrase as an undergraduate at the Brigham Young University School of Music, and it has been the impetus to my lifelong struggle with what music means to me. As a Christian composer, specifically a Latter-day Saint (Mormon) composer, the word "truth" carries strong weight. Truth, put simply, is something that exists. We know it exists by observation through the five senses, devices that extend the abilities of our senses (such as a microscope to enhance vision), deductive reasoning, and experimentation. Most importantly, I additionally consider intuition and inspiration from our Source of Being as an equally viable source of truth--perhaps the most direct source of knowledge. If I am to seek truth through music, the following questions are important:
What truth do I seek? If truth is anything that exists, then all sounds are truth. Or, because all sounds are created from energy from an active source, all sounds are the evidence of a truthful event. I love this idea; I can enjoy every sound I hear each day. I can find fascination in unique sounds or combination of sounds. Many regard the majority of existing sounds as "noise," dismissing it as trivial; however, that sound is the evidence of something's existence. As a Latter-day Saint composer dealing with the search for truth, I rejoice in noise. It witnesses of creation, energy, and the variety in the universe. I align myself with experimental composition because it brings my ear to delight in both the subtleties and enormities inherent in the sonic world. Much of this music exposes me to acoustical phenomena that I would otherwise miss. Rejoicing in this sort of truth takes a meditative spirit, a keen ear, and a willingness to appreciate sound as is. It is one of the most fulfilling experiences with sound one can have.
If all sounds are inherently evidence of truth, then why would one organize music? Music sets apart a portion of eternity for making sounds (or abstaining from sound). It could be described as a consecration of sorts. Though sounds inherently represent the existence of an object, variants to the duration, pitch, timbre, rhythm, register, space, or harmony (or any other aural parameter) create opposition. Musical studies focus on opposition within these parameters of tension and release, repetition and change, departure and return, and so forth. The manner in which a composer uses these oppositions creates an artificial experience during which the listener becomes involved in the oppositions. Perhaps because it maps well to the opposition inherent in the human experience (such as joy and sorrow, life and death, sweetness and bitterness), the sounds carry meaning. Within this chunk of eternity, the artificial rules set by opposition--mostly between regularity and surprise--take a new role. The music, without needing a program, evokes emotion and conveys messages. These messages are interpreted according to the life experiences of the listener, but the oppositions seem to connect with the listener in a more direct way than any other verbal communication. Though it is not a language of words, it is a language of deep complexity; every subtle change during any duration seems to hold some sort of meaning that we can map into our own emotional/spiritual framework. Thus the composer's role in organizing music is to provide the circumstances in which a listener will have a musical experience. That experience, if successful, will evoke emotions and ideas that should reflect the human experience.
How would one seek truth in a composed musical experience? As a composer, I hope to compose music that brings to light new perspectives. I may create a program to guide a listener towards my experience with the musical materials, yet the music should ultimately speak for itself. The truth in great music is found in listening to it. Its truth is found in the interactions between ideas, movement, variance, style, and all other musical forces. Many of these oppositions are learned in the natural sound world and others have developed over years of musical tradition. But truth of the human condition, beyond the self-evident truth of sounds themselves, is found through the composer's artificial world. Seek truth by listening intently to the sounds. Take note of the details the composer indicated. If the composer allows the piece to unfold slowly, explore the sound world with the heart. If it uses rhythmic drive to carry the listener through, be carried by it. It may be an experience that requires an amount of emotional vulnerability. At times, music will make one feel uncomfortable because it enters into a set of emotions that have been largely unexplored or abandoned. But let music teach the heart about these emotions without experiencing them from real circumstances. Or let the heart empathize with those who do experience these things by way of music. My musical experience has made me emotionally stronger as I have allowed myself to be vulnerable to music's emotional power.
So what is composition for me? I compose to seek truth. I do not always know what I am expressing beforehand. It is largely an exploratory art form. Sometimes my music feels right, and other times it feels unsatisfactory. I doubt I will ever understand all the complexities of the human response to music, but all I know is that it works. And I know that I have learned great truths through musical experiences. I learn much more from my own music than anyone else will. But composition for me is sharing musical experiences that shed light on truth. I hope my music allows for deeper understanding of and commitment to life's purpose and experience.