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Art Broadway Composer Creative process Lyrics Musical Theatre Performing Arts Playwriting Songwriting

About to Advertise

So I finished the fix-its earlier alluded to, and am reasonably satisfied with all the music you can now hear on these links:

Ode to the Universe – 4:40

Urban Pathos – 17:52

Berkeley Playlist

But let’s face it.  I’m not ever going to get either of these scripts written.  All I’m ever going to do is keep writing music.  My mind is going to continue to generate new music, despite myself, no matter what else I set about to do.

So this is what I should do.  I should advertise for a lyricist and a librettist.  Somebody to write the lyrics, and somebody to write the scripts.  Maybe two different people.  But they need to be competent.  They can’t be only in it for the money.   Probably, there should be no money involved.  I want somebody who resonates with my music.  Who recognizes that these are show tunes – they’re Musical Theatre.  They suggest witty lyrics with sophisticated internal rhymes.  They suggest movement and dance.  They suggest more than mere mood.  They suggest dramatic action.  They suggest scenario.

Either I advertise on someplace like Craigslist, or I go to the nearby University music departments and drama departments, and post notices.  Or both.  But it’s got to be done, otherwise all this music will go to waste.

And there’s  too much of it to go to waste.  Also – it’s not worthy of being wasted.  There’s decent music here – but like I said, it’s show music.  It suggests a certain kind of lyrics, along a certain kind of theme – and it suggests action. 

There’s no sense in postponing “action.”  Now’s the time.

 

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Art Artist Composer Composing Creative process Lyrics Musical

Standstill

It’s been two days since I posted that last, most exuberant announcement, regarding the Creative Upsurge I so enjoyed for a time.  Rest assured that the Upsurge has all but desurgified, and that there have been no creative juices flowing per se except for a few nagging senses of a paralyzing insistence on performing multiple instances of pure perfectionism.  Specifically, I continue to get the sense that everything is at a standstill until I correct these relatively random musical errors in my already submitted work.   Not the emphasis on the word “submitted.”

It is of relevance to me that the work I must now be so laboriously readjusted is work that I have already released via social media as well as a few very vociferous email blasts.  On checking my rarely visited  SoundCloud, I find I’ve gotten 15 hits in the past twenty-four hours – the norm usually being zero.  So people are eagerly soaking in this prematurely released version of my work.  This has me uneasy, and just as eager to get the new reincarnations of these pieces into their possession.  But that runs counter to sound creative doctrine.  Best I relax, and get it turned in at its natural rate; say, around this coming Saturday or so (today being Monday.)

This will however virtually necessitate that I once again do not venture upon untraveled textual terrain, such as attempting to complete a script or libretto or lyric set, or anything along non-musical lines that may be related to any of my projects.  I cannot so venture, because my absorption in the musical aspect of everything is so exclusive.  I need to see myself through this travail, musically speaking, before anything is considered in any other area of life.

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Art Artist Composer Composing Creative process Creativity Musical Theatre

Creative Upsurge

There was a huge creative upsurge instigated last night at maybe around ten. At that time, feeling totally creatively dry and dismal, I decided to simply *listen* to my most recent playlist.   As I was listening, my creative juices started flowing again. I started randomly tweaking my “Ode” piece, and at a moment of particular satisfaction decided it was time for bed. I went to bed feeling quite fulfilled, but awoke two hours later, at around ten-thirty, with an unusual hankering to get back at it. So I stayed up till about three-thirty working on “Ode.” Then, finally, I went to bed again (or, more accurately, yoga mat on three layers of cardboard on hard wood floor.) I was up and at it at eight-thirty.

About an hour or so ago, I finished the Ode to my ultimate satisfaction. Then I pasted it to where it’s supposed to fit into my Urban Pathos sequence in show context. (This causes the “Urban Pathos” sequence to now reach 17:37 in duration.) But before I did all that, I had an insight. Also, right when I was done, I had a second, related insight.

The first insight was that, while I often am very concerned with the balance of fitting in my writing music into an overall, broader and more general, positive spiritual picture; I have been less concerned with something that I should be *more* concerned about; and that is, how my writing of music fits into my overall writing as an Artist and a writer. In taking a look at this, I have found that I have been neglecting all my other creative writing because I’ve been writing so much music.

So, I determined to finish this “Ode” and then, since I could tell I was going to finish it early in the day today, I figured I would work on one of my scripts for the rest of the day. Then I decided it would be the Winston Greene script. I’ve just gotta get that thing finished, and out of the way. And then, the second insight came, right after I finished “Ode.”

The second insight, in brief, consists of my now knowing where to proceed from here in that script. I had just reached the state, several months ago, when half of the Kids were going to defect and split off with the charming hustler Howard Trout, whom Winston discerns is actually Benzo Diablo, his nemesis, in disguise. But I didn’t know what to do next, except for that I had to bring in Cynthia Morales, but that I didn’t want to bring her in awkwardly or with too much of a sense of arbitrary contrivance according to convenience unto deus ex machina. But now I know how to bring her in boldly, in a way that will encapsulate the main character conflict between her and the protagonist, in a clear and timely manner that will surely engage the audience.

Ode

“Ode to the Universe” from Eden in Babylon.
Copyright © 2016 by Andrew Michael Pope.

All Rights Reserved.

So – all this stuff has come together for me, all at once. Now I need to run with it.

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Art Composer Creative process Creativity

Ode to the Universe

I lost a pretty large number of files recently when I moved them from my DropBox to my desktop, not realizing this was going to make them disappear from my DropBox.  The computer I had at the time was later stolen, so I then lost them off of my desktop.  One of the files that I lost was the original 2011 score to my song Ode to the Universe.   I did not lose the mp3, only the musical score from which the mp3 was ripped.  If you want to hear what it sounds like, go right ahead:

Ode to the Universe

“Ode to the Universe” from Eden in Babylon
Copyright 2016 by Andrew Michael Pope. All Rights Reserved.

Usually, when a file is “misplaced,” I spend laborious hours searching for it.  Moreover, I curse myself for having been so sloppy.   Furthermore, I won’t rest until I find it.  Not so, this time.

Somehow last night it dawned on me that, as I endeavor to create the 2016 version of Ode to the Universe, it’s actually a good thing that I have misplaced the earlier file.  Now I won’t be tempted to draw upon any aspect of that file in producing the more mature version as it has evolved in my mind throughout the past five years.  As I worked on this version last night, I found myself very thankful that I was diligently starting from scratch, rather than trying to work off of a previous, premature, primitive version of this piece.  I even have the older mp3 to scrutinize, to try and determine just how and where it is primitive and premature, so that I can reverse those charges in the present day.

The fact that I was able to let go so easily of this substantial loss further confirms that I am on the right track with my project.  If I know God, He’ll probably cause the older file to show up right at the exact moment I’m done with the new one.  Then again, I may not know God very well.  

 
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Composer Composing Creative process Songwriting Spirituality

A Manifestation of the Divine

Because this blog is supposed to be about the creative process and how it fits into my spiritual perspective, I must report that I had another mysterious experience of affirmation and synchronicity that validated, for the time, my path.

As I probably have mentioned many times, I wrote a number of tunes “in my head” while I was walking about the notorious college community in which I once attempted to live.  I had no computer in those days, and I’ve never been very good at writing by hand.  So I kept track of all the different parts in my mind and resolved that when I was better off I would obtain a computer and notate the music using my Finale software.  One such song is Bubbles Taboo.

If you bothered to click on that link, you no doubt noticed that it led to a song of standard studio length, approximately three minutes long.  But it was supposed to involve both a lengthier introduction and a substantial instrumental break prior to the recapitulation of the main theme.  I just hadn’t gotten around to sequencing those sections at the time.

The instrumental break involved many modulations – so many that I had never even bothered to count them until tonight.  Their number is twelve.  Observe:

C  – G – F – C – Bb – F – G – A – G – D – G- C

See?  Twelve separate keys.  (Now some of those keys might be more majory than minorish, but since they’re all bluesy, I left out those details.  If you’re a musician, you probably understood that statement.  If you are not a musician, you probably aren’t reading this blog.)

Not only did I have no idea how many modulations were involved, but I also had no idea what key I was going to wind up in.  But look: I wound up in the same key – C – from which I started.   Now what are the chances of that?  Since there are twelve tones in the chromatic scale, the chances are one out of twelve.  In other words, the odds are eleven to one against it.

If you don’t believe me, check it out.   The break with the twelve modulations takes place between 3:50 and 5:00 on this 5:36 clip. 

“Bubbles Taboo”

Copyright © 2016 by Andrew Michael Pope.
All Rights Reserved.

See?  It lands on the same key it started on, the key of C, after all those modulations.  Ir could have landed on any other key – but it landed on C, against the odds.  But that’s not all.

What are the chances that the number of keys in the break would be the same number as the number of pitches in the scale; that is to say, the number twelve?  Or that the mystic-laden break would end at exactly 5:00, for that matter?  Quickly, things becomes astronomical.

Although there is a chance that it is all a coincidence, isn’t there a far greater chance that this was on some level the process of elegant unconscious creative incubation, or – better yet – a manifestation of divine principles?   I hold the latter to be self-evident.  Music, as I will attest to my dying day, is a Manifestation of the Divine.

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Art Artist Christ Christianity Creative process Creativity Spirituality

The Love of God in Art

Recently, as I was trying to get a handle on the concept of the “love of money” being the “root of all evil,” I naturally turned to these Scriptures:

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. – 1 Timothy 6:7-10

As I was pondering how common it is for people to be lured into money worship in our society, and to place the love of money before the love of God, it suddenly dawned on me that I know plenty of “starving Artists” who place the love of Art before the love of God, and even before the love of money — otherwise they wouldn’t be starving.  This bothered me for a bit.  Where in the Bible is this dynamic addressed?  On the one hand, it seems rather noble to let yourself starve for the sake of something you love.  On the other hand, one doesn’t generally accomplish great things on an empty stomach; and no having starved to death accomplishes anything at all. 

Then it dawned on me that the Bible does indeed address this dynamic.  For the Artist intent on creating some great work of Art is in essence no different  from an architect building a house, or a homemaker creating a home, or any other person trying to achieve the completion of a project through which one hopes to find fulfillment in life. 

By wisdom a house is built,
    and through understanding it is established;
 through knowledge its rooms are filled
    with rare and beautiful treasures. 

– Proverbs 24:3-4

There is a right way and a wrong way to go about anything.  The right way is the wise way; and it is not wise to prioritize the creation over the basic needs of the person attempting to create it.  In Art, this would be true of a piece of any content, whether its purpose is to glorify God or not.  If the Artist intends to glorify God, then it is also unwise to prioritize the creation over the Creator.

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. – Psalm 127:1

Whatever it is that I am personally trying to accomplish, I would be wise to hearken to the words of Jesus:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. – Matthew 7:24-27

Why build my house on the shifting sand, only to watch it collapse come rainfall?  Far better to build my house on the Rock — and the Rock is Christ.  

 

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Artist Creative process Performing Arts Songwriting

The Artist as Public Servant

I’ve been thinking lately about the popular concept of “people-pleasing” and how it relates to my lifelong function as an entertainer and a songwriter.   It seems to me that. as a musician and composer, I am naturally concerned with reaching the largest possible audience.  I measure the success of my compositions and performances based on how widely they are acclaimed.  This is only natural, and in this respect I don’t differ widely from any other Artist.

However, there is something amiss in this standard.  Although there are many who differ with my view, I am one who holds that there is an absolutely objective standard whereby all Art may be judged.  The success of an artistic enterprise is not merely a matter of personal taste.  There is a God up in heaven whose artistry is superior to that of any human Artist.  Whether we are concerned with the Performing Arts as I am, or with Fine Art as others are, or any other form of creative endeavor; surely His assessment as to the quality of Art is perfect and divine.  People may argue till kingdom come as to whether it was Leonardo, van Gogh, or Picasso who produced the finest Art; but were God to intervene and state his most righteous piece on the matter, no one on earth would dare to contest it.

While I may have put much thought into the matter, all the thinking in the world cannot come close to approaching God’s thoughts on the subject.  While I may attempt day by day to hone my craft to impeccability, none of my efforts could ever be on a par with the God’s most effortless perfection.  Could I have orchestrated the music of bluebird, hummingbird, or even mocking bird?  Could I have sculpted the Pinnacles, or Mount Everest, or even Vesuvius upon eruption?  Or have painted the many masterful sunsets we all have beheld in awe?  Certainly not.  No mortal could come near to the manifestation of such marvels.

So, while this is the standard to which I aspire, how is it that I would still be concerned with pleasing the multitudes?  Especially when one considers how much disagreement there is among them?   I believe the words of St. Paul impart, in part, the answer:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.  1 Cornithians 9:19

Paul was of course referring, not to personal artistic triumph, but to the far more important matter of eternal salvation from judgment.  But there is an analogy here, also aptly illustrated in the words of Jesus:

Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.  – Mark 9:35

It frees me from stubborn adherence to an unapproachable standard to consider my artistry as something like a public service.  If someone for example says that a certain passage sounds “harsh,” I can serve them by making the passage softer, without in any way affecting the rest of the piece.  If another person says the passage is too weak, I can strengthen it.  While it is true that not everyone will be pleased, I can at least consider that each criticism reflects an aspect of a common standard, and in taking in them all, I stand a better chance of serving the multitudes, rather than of forcing my own impossible standard upon them. 

To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. – 1 Corinthians 9:22

To the modern mind, this might seem like the ultimate in personal compromise.  However, there is a liberation here on a spiritual level that is able to inform my Art.  Rather than contend with a God whose standard is unattainable, I will consider that in serving others, I am serving God. handel-hudson-faberAn example of a composer who served both God and others is George Frideric Handel.

It is said that the response to the Opening of Handel’s Messiah was so overwhelming that political enemies actually hugged each other in the foyer after the performance, and even made gestures toward resolving their differences.   That would certainly be an example of a composer being of service to humanity.  To be of optimum service to humanity is to be of show the greatest love; and to show the greatest love is the highest service of God. 

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Christianity Composer Composing Creative process Musical

Urban Pathos

On general spiritual principle, I promised myself I wouldn’t work on Sundays.  If I succeed in resisting the almost irresistible temptation once more, this Sunday will be the third day in a row when I haven’t worked on my music.

The previous week had been terrible.  I worked on the project all day that Sunday, thinking I was “behind” — as if, at this point, I had any deadline to meet other than death itself.  Then I easily lost two full days during the week over a personal situation that had me too distracted to focus on my work.  I connected the two: my working on the day when I wasn’t supposed to work; and my not being able to work on the days when I was supposed to work.

But that’s silly, really.  It’s superstitious.    When a person decides to take a full day off each week, isn’t it supposed to give him an opportunity to conserve his energy, so as to start out afresh each week, and possibly even get more accomplished in the long run?  I need to remember that spirituality is not about superstition. It’s not even about “religion,” for that matter. It’s about each person cultivating healthy and beneficial, purposeful patterns of life practice. Each one developing what works best for the particular individual — but bearing some general guidelines in common — such as not working seven days a week, 24/7/365 like a workaholic.

Frank Zappa was a workaholic.  They say he never took a break.  Whether one likes his music or not (I personally do not), it has to be admitted that he was extremely prolific.  But where did it get him?   To an early grave is where.  The prolific Frank Zappa died an untimely death of prostate cancer at the age of only 52.

zappa
Zappa

Still, I was just paranoid enough that if I didn’t meet my project goal that week by finishing the Urban Pathos sequence, the temptation to work on Sunday would be irresistible. It would keep nagging at me until I wrapped it up. So, as a result, I stayed up till 2:45 in the morning cranking it out like a madman, never taking breaks. By the time I finally turned in, I figured it for done, but everything sounded like crap. Then of course I woke up in a total fog before church. Didn’t get a chance to listen to it till after church, but when I did, it sounded surprisingly all right to me. Not as strong as my Royal Rhapsody, but strong enough to move on.

 Urban Pathos

Copyright © 2016 by Andrew Michael Pope. 
All Rights Reserved.

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Composing Creative process

The Call

I have again experienced something akin to the phenomenon of reassurance that I struggled to describe in my previous post, All to the Glory to God.  I had been disillusioned about one of the musical numbers in The Word from Beyond, the piece provisionally entitled “Adytum.”   I put it down last night, deciding to “sleep on it,” and when I awoke realized it would function best as only a small part of larger number, The Call. Though I’m still not perfectly satisfied with the way the two numbers tie together, I’ve received a new assurance that I’m on the right track.  It is largely because of this assurance that I feel I can move on, and get a draft of The Word from Beyond finished by the 90th day, as has been my oft-stated objective.

The sense of reassurance, in this case, was based on something very simple.  I decided more-or-less spontaneously to use a major chord at the end of The Call, even though the song had been tending toward a minor mood throughout the entire second half of its five minutes and twenty-five seconds.  The way that I voiced this final chord was a bit ambiguous, in that it could be interpreted either as a tonic or a dominant  To use it as a dominant would suggest hat a new tonic would be soon to follow.  (That much is academic — it’s in the job description of “dominant” to lead up to a “tonic.”)

What was uncanny was that the tonic to follow just happens to be voiced precisely like the tonic that begins the title song in this show; that is, the song called “The Word from Beyond,” named after the title of the show itself.  However, this voicing was not in the key as it is currently scored in Version 7-N of “The Word from Beyond” on my Finale file, a key designed for my own, basso profundo voice.   Instead, it was in a far better key: the key in which it ought to be scored, if it is to be sung by the protagonist, Winston Greene, in his intended, leggiero tenor range.

This pleasant new segue gave me the final bit of motivation I needed to remove the song “Clarion” from the show.  The style in “Clarion” is too far afield of the general style in The Word from Beyond, since I wrote it much later, after a substantial break during which I composed no music at all for several months.   Though the final measures of “Clarion” led into the title song quite nicely, they only led into the key in which it had previously been scored, which (as I said) was not the correct key for Winston Greene’s voice, but only for my own.  Now, on the other hand, I’m leading up to the right key for the song “The Word from Beyond,” with the critical difference being that the lead-in emerges from the song I initially had placed before “Clarion” since “Clarion” has now been removed.  That song, happily enough, is The Call. 

Another neat thing is that the text of “The Call” leads up to the text of the title song, “The Word from Beyond,” quite smoothly.  So both text-wise and musically, there’s a pleasant flow taking place — as there has been from the beginning of the project, till now.  This validates for me my next move should be to score “The Word from Beyond” in its more appropriate key, a full perfect fifth higher, while continuing to seek a tenor who can sing the part of Winston Greene in a way that I, as a bass, cannot.

And a certain rain was falling
Where it wasn’t supposed to fall.
Though he thought he knew his calling,
He at last had heard the Call.

The Call

“The Call” from Eden in Babylon.
Copyright © 2016 by Andrew Michael Pope.  All Rights Reserved.

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Composer Composing Creative process

All to the Glory of God

The function of “incubation” – being the second of the four stages of the creative process as posited by Graham Wallas – is amazing in the way that it validates for the Artist that he’s on the right track with his work.

For example, I knew that, in order for “Sirens of Hope” to come across like the opening number of a musical or light opera, five events needed to take place:

(1) There had to be a certain extension of the theme. It had been exposed, but not sufficiently developed.

(2) There had to be a certain type of modulation involved in this extension; otherwise it would seem both boring and unnatural.

(3) There needed to be a certain change in instrumentation toward the end, not only to give the number more variety, but also to give it a “grand sense of finish” — as befits an opening number.

(4) It needed to “rock out” at the end. It had rocked a bit earlier — now it needed to rock harder and longer, in order to honor that “grand sense of finish.”

(5) It needed to end in a certain key, where it could segue most gracefully into the next number: “Bone of My Bones.”

What I did not know was:

(1) The instruments that were logical for the change in instrumentation would happen to turn out to be the instruments that would “rock” the hardest, as needed, for the end of the number.  So I was able to accomplish two purposes without compromise, even though I hadn’t planned it this way. 

(2) The modulation that was most logical and natural — that is to say, the least forced or contrived — turned out to modulate into the exact key which I needed in order to segue into “Bone of My Bones” most gracefully.

The first five events were a function of my conscious intention and choice. The second two events were, according to the Wallas model, a product of unconscious creative incubation.  As such, they were “given” to me as unexpected gifts that, for me, validated that I was on the right track artistically. Moreover, because I am a Christian; and I believe that all good gifts are given by God, it validated for me that God is supportive of my project. After all, it is written:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
— James 1:17 NIV

The Wallas model interprets such gifts as a function of the second stage in a four-stage process. I fully accept that model. I also accept that, for a Christian whose aim is to glorify God in his work, this stage of incubation is the work of God. My own process may seem completely chaotic, haphazard, and random. But it is God who can “make the crooked paths straight.” (Isaiah 42:16) 

bach
Johann Sebastian Bach

What is even more astounding is that, even though I haven’t written any of the lyrics to this piece of music, I can “hear” the lyrics “Glory to God” fitting into a logical place in the melody line, having the same meter as “Sirens of Hope” in a different verse. This is further evidence to me, in a very frank and flagrant fashion, that God intends to be glorified in this piece.  I wonder if an experience similar to this is what was felt by the great composer, Johann Sebastian Bach.  I wonder if it is for reasons such as these that Bach was moved to inscribe, at the bottom of every piece of music he wrote, the words: “All to the Glory of God.”