In 2020-2021 I composed Name Music pieces for many of the loved ones we’ve lost — aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, parents of friends, nephews and nieces of friends. This has helped me to grieve for them, this focusing in on the qualities they brought to life, and translating those qualities to musical expression.
Yes I’m still using the letters-to-pitches mapping system I devised back in 2000 to inspire the beginning of the melody, but I’ve also been modifying the “rules” as often as I feel drawn to doing, in order to make a melody flow better and be easier to play. Mostly this means using the pitch in a different octave so that it is closer to the other pitches, so I can some of the string crossings (big leaps in melody) and have more step-wise, easy melody.
In “Abra” for example, the R is the pitch of E, in the second octave above middle C, (the open E string), but the other pitches are on the low G string, below middle C! So I moved the E down an octave so it is on the D string. Here’s what that change looks like -- pay attention to the first full measure.
And it is much easier to play, without the big leap.
I decided to do the same thing but in the opposite direction with “Paul”, this time for the “a”, which would map as the A pitch below middle C (on the G string), but I put it up the octave — the other pitches would be played on the A and D strings, so it makes for less radical string crossings.
Sometimes though, the big leap is a key feature of one of the qualities of the person that I want to express — so for example in the piece “Guido”, in the first measure I kept the low G pitch of the first letter, and kept the Bb pitch of the second letter “u” in the higher octave (played on the A string), so the string crossing gives a sort of lumbering effect, which reminded me of how my uncle Guido walked. The way I “broke the rules” for the “Guido” piece instead was to wait on playing the “o” pitch (a B natural) until later in the piece (measure 5), and then yes I play the B in the lower octave, on the G string.
Okay so I guess I’m all over the map on how I let the pitch system inspire me. But isn’t that what creativity and restrictions are all about? Letting the guardrails guide and inspire until they are too restrictive, at which point, let yourself burst out of the confines!
Very satisfying to me, composing is.