Composer, Arranger

Visuals (Score Obsession) Part I

For many composers, there is a visual appeal when it comes to musical scores. I remember my composition teacher in undergrad showing me some score, perhaps Benjamin Britten, Lutoslawski, or Prokofiev saying, "His score looks so good, you can just eat it right off the page." There is truth in that. George Crumb didn't just write music, but he made visual art out of his music. There are some parts in "Ancient Voices of Children" that are absolutely stunning and inspiring for me to look at.

It's a powerful phenomenon seeing a fresh new score that is visually appealing, while salivating at the mouth, anticipating to hear the written music. I've seen a ton of Food Network television which I'm sure relates to my interest in seeing the conception of ideas; but as a bonus, I also get the quick satisfaction of observing the final results. One might often hear one of the judges say that the presentation is great or absolutely horrible before even tasting the food. Food that looks terrible automatically sets up biases in our minds. We think: that doesn't look good so it must be disgusting. In the grand scheme, it's all about the taste, or simply all about what you hear, but first impressions can be quite powerful.

When I first started writing musical manuscript, it was during 3rd grade on looseleaf paper. I understood the basics of notation just by natural awareness and I wrote down music that seemed visually appealing. I did not know what all of my parts might sound like, but they all looked great and probably sounded functional on some level. I think this sort of thinking has had a profound impact on how I compose music and why I've added using a sketch book to my creative process. The better I can picture the music in my mind, generally the smoother the creative process. While it's not directly proportional to the musical quality, it may influence a bit more harmonious results then disfigured creations. 

As a child, I learned quite a bit from those Casio song books that come with the various keyboards. I would look through the pages to find the most interesting looking page, and then choose that one to play. Subconsciously, I'm looking at the musical texture, contrast, contour, shapes, sizes, and unique configurations. Sometimes it is the simple score that does something unique, like melding two simple colors in a unique display. At other times, it's something rampant and intimidating, but urging you to discover what it really sounds like. 

In middle school, my favorite thing was to find a new score and just follow along, letting the visual feng shui I suppose meld with the aural delights that is tantalizing my ears. But, that's another topic for another day. Here's a hint: doing it with parts is even more fun.  

Thomas Joseph