|Earl MacDonald --- looking bright-eyed and bushy tailed|
Here's some candor for you: I most often I start with ideas I have stolen from other people's music. When listening to a recording, some small "nugget" might catch my attention; it could be a sonority, a rhythmic idea... whatever. I will then take that nugget, play with it, and see where it takes me. As I manipulate it, it becomes my own.
As I develop little ideas into a larger work, I think more about non-musical, big picture concepts --- developing a story, depicting emotions, shapes, contrasts, pacing etc.
I do find MIDI playback to be helpful. Otherwise, I am relatively "low tech". My electronic keyboard has a record feature, which is helpful when trying to find linear material to layer over top of another part.
From what I have seen, very few people create scores and parts that look as good as mine. I use Finale. It has improved over the years, but I still must spend ridiculous amounts of time moving things around to get my desired look and feel. This is a real drag. I wish I could click some options at the onset, and then voila!.... when the score is done, the parts are DONE.
"Dolphy Dance" was just completed in both big band and orchestra formats. It started as an attempt to be ultra-hip within the salsa tradition. In the spirit of development, I wrote a variation which functions like a ritornello, at the beginning. The verdict is still out whether it is effective or overwritten.
The piece I am currently writing explores the balance between capturing a "free jazz" aesthetic while still retaining compositional control. I'm experimenting with constant, parallel structures, chords of ambivalence etc.
I often adapt my big band charts to fit my 10-piece band as well. My composing is all project-driven, so the instrumentation for which I write depends upon the specific circumstances. I just finished an orchestra piece, have another big band chart on-the-go, and plan to write a few sextet charts to premier at a summer festival. There's always a reason to write.
|Earl MacDonald at the piano.|
I do still perform on the piano. My gigging and practicing has decreased in recent years. Three nights per week of gigging was typical for quite a while. For about a decade I practiced at least eight hours a day. Now, I may perform twice per month. I prepare for those performances by learning and reviewing repertoire, and occasionally doing some technical maintenance. I certainly prepare before recording sessions, practicing not only the tunes but doing plenty of technique for at least a month prior.
Every once in a while I "get the bug" to get back in the studio and "hit the piano" hard. During the summer months I often set up a practice project for myself, which might be repertoire, transcription or concept based. There are some Billy Strayhorn tunes that I plan to add to my repertoire this summer.
At some point I would like to record solo piano and trio CDs. But the unresolved questions are: What repertoire will I tackle, and how will I approach the music so that it comes across as being unique, and not just another "stock" solo or trio disc of standards? I don't want to come across as a clumsy, subpar replica of Cedar Walton.
In some ways, I regard the university jazz ensemble I direct as "my big band". With my students, I can try, hear and prepare my new musical creations, whenever I want.
If I was a touring member of Joe Lovano's quartet, the composer-in-residence for the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, had a mantle full of Grammy awards, routinely won critics polls, and was annually featured on the front cover of Downbeat magazine.... YET, had a failed marriage and didn't play an active role in raising my kids, would I still be a success? (This is sounding strangely similar to the beginning of 1 Corinthians 13.)
Similarly, if I headed the top university jazz program in the country, but was universally regarded as an asshole, would I have accomplished anything of worth?
The above listed accomplishments may (or may not) transpire, but how I spend my life outside of music --- as a husband, dad, neighbor, friend, colleague, etc. --- is to me, even more important than what I do professionally.
Rather than finding success in the stuff I've done and accumulated, I want to focus more on relationships. Ever since the Newtown massacre, and specifically Ana Marquez-Greene's funeral, I have adopted and embraced the phrase "love God; love God's people" as my personal motto. I've got a long ways to go, but my eyes were opened on that day.
At times in my life, I have had unhealthy obsessions with my career goals. With varying degrees of success, I'm trying to achieve a better work/life balance these days. But when I am working, I try to do so in a focused manner. with specific pursuits in mind.
My goals have definitely shifted over the years, and continue to change. I'm fairly good about setting goals, and accomplishing them ahead of schedule. When I was twelve, I dreamed of one day playing the organ at Winnipeg Jets hockey games. I did this full-time by age fifteen. At twenty, I decided I'd like to be a music professor or a touring jazz musician. I've done both.
Conducting and writing for the leading European jazz orchestras is something I'd like to pursue. I imagine it would be fun to work with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band (hr-BigBand) and WDR big band, as well as the Brussels, Stockholm and Swiss jazz orchestras, to name a few.
I'm considering writing a series of educational big band charts for high school bands. If I commit to this, it might be in conjunction with a goal of conducting all 50 All-State high school jazz bands within the next decade. We'll see.
When I read the bios of other musicians, I take note of the the grants, fellowships and awards they have won. I compile lists, and then dig around on the internet to see if I'm eligible to apply. If so, I add the deadlines to my calendar and strategize accordingly.
- Much of my time outside of work and music is devoted to my family. This weekend's agenda includes teaching my daughter to ride her bike without training wheels, and going to soccer practice. I skateboard and BMX with my son, read books to/with them, take them to lessons, etc. Every day we all hike in the woods behind our house.
- I run. I did two half-marathons last year, and plan to do a full marathon this year.
- I blog.
- My wife and I started a christian service organization called "Acts of Mansfield", where we engage in regular acts of community service. We're also meeting regularly with a group of christian friends, dreaming, and prayerfully considering planting a new church in our town.
- [from the listener's perspective:] counteract tedium, inspire, cause riots, evoke reflection, soothe the disturbed, conjure memories, soften hardened hearts...
- [from the composer's perspective, we can:] express joy/elation, sorrow, anger, frustration, pay tribute to someone/something, bring attention to a cause or situation, shape/reinforce/manipulate emotions etc.
- I can. Only a very select, few people have the ability to write music (even among musicians). I want to develop this gift to the best of my abilities.
- I find it challenging and mentally stimulating.
- there are few greater feelings than hearing your own envisioned work, successfully brought to life.
- it might accomplish one of the attributes listed in the previous question.