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March 22, 2006
Vol. VI, No. 6

"Freedom in the Balance"
I found a worthwhile article in BusinessWeek, of all places, about creativity, specifically about its relationship with constraints.

The writer of the article suggests that successful artistic work results when creativity "triumphs" over the rules inherent in form. I wouldn't completely agree as this indicates that creativity "breaks free" from form when in reality form is an essential component of the final work. In other words, a balance is struck between creativity and "the rules."

The article didn't mention Bach but should have; he was the Master of Balance. I don't think a better example exists of an artist working within a system but knowing when to allow the creative need of the artwork to override the rules of the system. But to be sure, the rules aren't abandoned completely. Bach's override is only a temporary deviation from the system, as needed, and the system kicks back in at the first opportunity.

Chapter 11 of the Tao Te Ching states:
Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

OK, I understand that holes are useful but that doesn't mean that form is useless. I mean, you've got to carry your hole around in something, right? It's the balance of the two that creates value.

Anyway, the middle of the article seems more like a promotional message for Google but a paragraph toward the end jumped out at me. I saw a recent composing experience of mine reflected in the words "'s important to discover failure fast and abandon it quickly. A limited investment makes it easier to move on to something else that has a better chance of success." The specifics are revealed in the program notes from my latest composition (see below).


Program Notes
Opus 3, Number 1

I occasionally have a little time after my prelude to fill in with some improvisation, usually not more than 1 or 1 1/2 minutes. On a particular Sunday, I started my improv with a six-note motive (Bb A D C Bb A), soft, long notes, sort of fugue-like. I liked what followed. I thought I'd try to write it down during the service before I forgot what I had played but I could only remember the motive and the timing of the second entrance. Determined to push ahead, I just kept writing. I wasn't sure what I was writing but I tried to throw in the motive once in a while and give it a little rhythmic variation.

I also remembered that the improv had finally made it to F Major which I had liked so I headed in that direction. Suddenly I ran out of steam so I just ended it there. I counted the measures and figured that at Quarter Note = 60 I would have enough music for a collection piece (2:20). I couldn't wait until after the service so I could play through it to hear what it sounded like.

Well! It didn't sound anything like what I'd improvised nor what I'd heard in my head while composing. So I pulled out some more blank music paper and started rewriting and revising it. I quickly realized that I would basically be rewriting the entire piece and that seemed too daunting and I didn't have time for it anyway.

So I played through the piece a few more times. I realized that it would have to be played at the original tempo I'd conceived which was Quarter Note = 96. At that speed, however, it was only 1 1/2 minutes. I finally decided it was either one of the best things I'd ever written or a complete piece of garbage. But like it or not, I was stuck with it as is.

I had hoped it could be used not only for a collection piece at soft registration but also with a loud registration for a short postlude. It was suited for neither. What is it? I don't know but whatever it is, it is what it is, that's for sure.

Dan Long
January 9, 2006


Back to the future: Ultimately I decided that the piece should have some siblings and so I made it No. 1 of a new Opus. There are 4 or 5 currently in various states of completion and I hope it won't be alone for long. After all, one IS the loneliest number.

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Updated Pages
Featured Links:
Added is There is currently a panic in the European Union organ community. As of July 1, 2006, it will be illegal to make traditional pipe organs. Stop the madness! Sign the petition!

Composition Free Exchange:
Added is Op. 3, No. 1 for Organ by Dan Long.


Have a great week!

Dan Long

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