I had the good fortune to study with some of the pre-eminent modernists of the day, with the composers Ben Weber, John Cage and Tui St George Tucker, and with the pianist Grete Sultan. In their different ways, all of them created a powerful alchemical change in the thought and mythos of the musical language and thinking of their time.
Weber worked his alchemy within the structures of western musical form, making a unique and personal use of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone system as a mystical and transformative tool for his music, while Cage strove to create a music that he hadn’t heard by removing as many elements as possible from his conscious control. From Catatwba, her home deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Tui St George Tucker created a rich and strange body of work, combining Peyote experience with the piano techniques of Thelonious Monk; Baroque recorder virtuosity with quarter tone experiments; polyrhythms and medieval tropes with quotes from Hoagy Carmichael. And Grete Sultan played Bach as if it were Schoenberg, Cage as if it were Schubert, transforming the music with her vision, but with no diminishment or distortion of its essence and beauty.
The end of the Mayan calendar in 2013 signaled the dawning of a new age—now’s the time to explore new paradigms. A new exploration of harmonic thinking; counterpoint as deepening mystery; form hidden and filtered through improvisational means and mystical abandon.
All this is present in the alchemy of Weber’s music; in Cage’s exploration of chance; in Tucker’s inspired blending of opposites; in Sultan’s wild and inspired performances. Now’s the time to take all those strands and weave them into something very much in their spirit– but also into something different: the merging of opposites, the marriage of Sun and Moon.
Create a new music in which intervals and harmonic combinations act in unusual and confounding ways. A major third becomes heartbreaking and troubling; a complex dissonance creates a feeling of peace and resolution. Straightforward tonal sections combine and contrast with more complex contrapuntal and dissonant areas in an interplay of tension and unexpected resolution. A kaleidoscopic bouquet of humor, sadness, surprise –and magic.
Improvisation: the way that form takes shape. Improvisation is key. Formal structures proceed from it, rather than the other way around.
And this could even apply to teaching: workshops in which a guided improvisational map leads to a collective work whose structure is clear and cogent, but above-all, magical and thus, ultimately, liberating– because it originates from a place beyond conscious thought.
Quintet of Moons clusters around Saturn’s giant rings– an amazing and compelling image and a metaphor. The moons represent an infinite variety of diverse sounds: separate, alone; individual, yet connected; held together in a mystical orbit around something greater and unknowable. Sound as a way of beginning to know–a new alchemy of transformation.