…about the music

Neither fish nor… foul.

Out of town business trips can be a little tiring, and I seem to be flown somewhere to do something every month these days. Since each voyage involves music and friends on the touchdown end of the plane trip, and since I limit my travel the rest of the month, I have a great time. But I always look for things that make the tedium of the to- and fro- segments amusing and productive.

For the latter, my laptop and Treo are invaluable. Email and web access anywhere, any time, are fun fun fun! There’s always something to read or answer… always always always! And, I like having the chance to keep working (or work at all, if I’ve been putting it off) on essays coming due, or the arc and scope of a new piece that’s in the gestation stage. I sometimes write my compositions by literally writing about them. What I want the music to do. Where a certain section will lead. How a particular passage could be developed.

Adjectives and adverbs and occasional wildly scribbled drawings, too, are all used to move a piece forward to the next step, and when I get back to my studio, I’ve got a nifty map of what I’m doing. That is, until I do it and the music itself chooses to do something entirely different. This actually happens a lot. I often compare composing a piece with walking a border collie on a leash: you think you’re going one way, but the dog thinks otherwise. A kind owner will sometimes allow the dog to choose its own direction and not rein it in too tightly. I try to be kind to my music. Most of the time I think it has me on a leash.

One of the constants on my desk is a stack of CDs received from colleagues, all waiting to be heard with my full attention (I marvel at people who can have music on in the background and still function at other things). It’s often hard to carve out time during a week to sit a listen to a disc, no matter how wonderful, when there’s so much to be done. And many times at home when I’m in the deepest throes of composing, I just can’t listen to other pieces at all because the constant music in my head leaves little room for anything else. I wish the solution for catching up on my list was to take discs or MP3s with me for long trips. But alas, listening to music on a plane is pointless; the jet engine drone devours all the low and mid-range frequencies that the music does. Given the choice, I’ll go with the engine drone, since the lack of one would put an effective stop to any need to listen to those CDs at all.

Last week, instead of taking the 9-seat puddle jumper to Seattle and droning Boeing 737 points beyond, I spent an hour and a half on the ferry from Friday Harbor to Anacortes, a small town on yet another island named Fidalgo that’s connected to the mainland by a bridge. I had left on the 6am boat and my ride east was accompanied by a sunrise that gradually revealed all the islands we passed. From Anacortes, it’s about 2 hours east and south to Seattle. The first third of the drive rolls past farmland framed by snow capped mountain ranges to the south and the east. Glorious.

My trip down was filled with wildlife, right up to take-off. In an open field on the right, thousands upon thousands of snow geese had gathered. The bright white was nearly blinding against the green pasture. A few minutes later on my left, I passed another field with even larger, even whiter migrating birds: trumpeter swans. Hundreds of them. To cap it off, as we neared a Douglas fir by the roadside, my van driver pointed to a full sized adult bald eagle perched only about twenty feet up. What a sight. All of this. A nice morning commute, indeed.

Yet, inspiring as all these birds were, nothing could compare to what I saw from Alaska airlines, above, as my Delta flight taxied to the runway. The Oscars should hand out Best Art Direction awards for aeronautics. I’ve always seen the potential for planes as mural canvasses. Now my dream has come true, at least on a few metal tubes. After wild salmon, can grizzly bears and moose be far behind? The thought of all these animals flinging themselves through the air with the rest of us from one coast to the other makes me smile. In my search for productivity, I am almost always amused.

Download this article as an e-book