Wedding Music for Piano – Oath of Unity

December 18th, 2010

I wrote this wedding music for piano with an accomplished pianist in mind. However, this detail should not stop anyone from attempting it. I set out to create a broadly usable piece to be used towards the end of wedding preludes and I hope that I have done this well enough to appeal to most performers. The only questionable challenge is that there are some wide intervals throughout the work. I am able to reach a major ninth with ease and therefore wrote many without a second thought. If this is not the case for you, please feel free to change a few notes using your best judgement.

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Sample Score

There are three hymns woven throughout this work. The sample above contains an arrangement of “O Perfect Love”. The other two are “Take my Life and Let It Be” and “Be Thou My Vision”:

     

These samples are taken from my album, Purpose. Click here for more information.

Additional information

I wrote this wedding music for piano to be premiered for my friends, Pam and Ryan, at their wedding for prelude. The danger with this role in a program is that the beginning material is either easily missed, or it rudely interrupts conversations. I have attempted to use this problem to the performer’s advantage by utilizing John Cage’s philosophy: Any sound you hear during the performance is part of the music. While I disagree with Cage on many points, I do believe that there is something to be had with the idea of artistic noise. I actually want the audience to passively participate in the performance by talking at a respectful volume until the piece starts to unfold it’s main themes more clearly. It is the performer’s job to play beneath their mummer and crescendo as they decrescendo by becoming interested. I have yet to see it actually work out that way, but it’s a nice idea…

Since I was writing for a wedding, I have obviously written a piece about marriage. I’m am very passionate about the issue of divorce, and am strongly against divorce outside of marital unfaithfulness and even then only in extreme cases. This work is a charge to any bride and groom to fulfill their oaths to one another out of unconditional love no matter what their situation is. The harsh section of this piece represents the more unpleasant parts of marriage; but this section is fleeting and resolves quickly by returning to the original themes depicting unconditional love and faithfulness. The main take away I want people to have is that the love within marriage unites two people so intimately that the darker parts of the relationship are nullified.


Violin and Clarinet Duet – Proclamation

November 13th, 2010

I’ve learned to never force music into the box I originally intended it to be put into, but this violin and clarinet duet took that concept to a new level for me. My original plan was to write a sacred work for violin and saxophone for my friend and I to play during communion services. Typically, communion has two musical segments; one for each communion element. So, I wanted the work to be two movements with each being less than two minutes long. The first movement came together very naturally and very quickly, but then life happened and I never got around to writing the second movement. When I finally got a chance to work on it again, I realized that there was no good musical reason to add a second movement. I also realized that the only reason I was using the saxophone was because I sound my best on it. Clarinet blends with violin much more naturally (although I attribute this partly to traditional bias) and the very simple part I had written for it makes more sense with a simpler sound. I rewrote the piece for violin and clarinet thinking I would just have my wife play it instead (although I ended up recording it since we weren’t married yet and she was 650 miles away at the time). So I started with a two movement work for violin and saxophone to be used for communion and ended up with a one movement work for violin and clarinet to be used for who knows what.

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The recording process was another matter. I had most of the Purpose project squared away with only this piece left to record. I got off my night shift at 6:00am on Sunday morning and set to work on laying down the clarinet track so that Eva could come and add her part that afternoon. I armed the four microphones I was using and combined several takes to form a satisfactory performance. Before I remembered that I hadn’t saved my progress, the power went out and I was forced to try again and ended up with a significantly better sound (and I still made it to church on time). That afternoon I got all the takes I needed from Eva and finally went to bed (I’d been up since Saturday afternoon). On Monday I woke up only to discover that all of the files for the violin’s tracks had been scattered beyond repair. I was only able to salvage the files from one microphone resulting in a very thin sound. But just for kicks, I tried muting 3 of the four clarinet recordings so that they would both sound thin and be able to blend. To my surprise I liked the result very much. It certainly wasn’t the pristine audio quality I wanted for the Purpose project, but there was an irresistible authenticity in the sound that spoke with an innocence and a sincerity that I could not have possibly come up with intentionally. Instead of redoing the recording, I decided to sit on the idea of using what I had. When I tried listening to the CD in its entirety to see whether or not the transitions worked, I finally decided that this authentic and unrefined sound perfectly captured the reason I made the CD.

From the very first note, everything about this CD is polished and seemingly flawless in the aspects of performance, composition and engineering. Except for a few minor details, I could not have made this project any better even if more resources had been available to me. The first six tracks work together to communicate to the listener that life has value, meaning, and purpose and it is a wonderful gift from God that is worth your time to seek and understand. But what does all this look like? Where does it lead? It leads us to the feet of Jesus with nothing to offer but our love and authentic awe and worship. How would I depict this musically? I pick up an instrument I can’t play well enough to impress anyone with and play Amazing Grace with a sister in Christ Jesus. No virtuosic technique. No polished well-mastered recording. Not even a terribly original composition. Just two people showing authentic and sincere adoration for their creator through sound. A simple “I love you” to the creator of the universe. The very essence of the purpose of life.


Response to Joel: Tension and Resolution

October 4th, 2010

The following is a response that my friend, Joel, made to the new album, Purpose:

Caleb,

Acting contrary to your advice I listened to this CD twice in the same day (I think you said that one should not listen to a piece of music twice in the same waking period). I must say that some parts are beginning to grow on me, though I still think there is too much tension, without enough resolution. I am starting to see the intention in that tension though. Sin makes this world an unhappy place, and I think that your music communicates that very well. I also like that you ended with a recounting of God’s amazing grace. It really brings the whole thing together more than you realize when you first listen to it. I think I need to sleep on it.

Joel

Thanks for the thought provoking comment Joel.  It’s good to actually see some activity around here!  I’ve actually been having a lot of conversations on the issue of tension in my work, and I’d like to address it in length.  Thanks to Brad and pastor Tim in particular for challenging me to think about this.  It’s changing the way I compose, and I really mean that.

It’s fine to listen to a CD twice in one waking period so long as the amount of attentiveness you retain is comparable to your first listen.  Personally, I often begin to become apathetic if I listen to something twice in a row, but I’m sure it varies from person to person.  However, it’s a good general rule.  After all, I stole it from C.S. Lewis!

I’m really happy that you and others are hearing the last track in that way.  I was really worried that people wouldn’t get it, but once again you can’t predict and audience’s reaction.  Thank you for sharing that, it means a lot.

I’ve been reading a book the other Caleb gave me called “Theology, Music, and Time”, by Jeremy S. Begbie and I read a very interesting concept the other night at work.  Music is far more about the tension than the resolution, and when you’re writing about our life here on earth there is no resolution until death/resurrection/kingdom come.  There are small amounts of gratification throughout life, but for the most part we are in a state of perpetual transition until Christ completes his work (Always in Transition).  To make a CD about the Purpose of life implies no authentic resolution what-so-ever (pun fully intended to you theory nerds).  But because of the hope we have in Christ, there is a foreshadowing of the ultimate resolution that we can’t even imagine.  Therefore, he goes on to say that music in the church needs to be less gratifying and be written to convince believers to hope for real resolution rather than offer them some sort of transient emotional release; the same good feeling non-believers get from their “secular” concerts (Well, that’s not quite what he said but that’s what I got out of it).

Here are my own thoughts on the issue. Music consists of tension, but not all music consists of resolution.  You could almost think it similar to darkness being the absence of light, or evil being the absence of God. Resolution is the absence of tension.  Just as you do not need light to have darkness present and you do not need God to have evil present, so you do not need resolution to have tension in music.  Therefore, I would conclude that music is tension and not necessarily resolution.

Between reality never resolving and music being primarily tension, I believe that it is to the listener’s benefit emotionally and spiritually to listen to music that makes their heart ache so that they put their hope in Christ.  There is of course a profound place for music to make your heart sing, but it should be out of the hope and gratitude that starts from the heartache resulting from our condition.  Why else would the majority of scripture be about how desperate we are for salvation?  We don’t read the Bible because it makes us happy.  We read it because it gives us the deep joy that results from hope and gratitude in the authentic resolution of life.  There is no full resolution in life, but only a shadow of the glory that is to come.

Therefore, tension points to truth.  The small amounts of resolution you hear in my work is my own hope and joy leaking into the sound; I sincerely hope that these windows are real.


Soprano Saxophone and Piano Duet – Hide and Seek

September 6th, 2010

I had a very difficult time finishing soprano saxophone and piano duet. It began as a simple exercise in exploring orchestrational possibilities in jazz chords while applying percussion techniques on the keyboard. Adding a line for the saxophone simply seemed like the thing to do at the time, and it made it possible for me to have a live instrument for the presentation of my final project in the class I wrote it for. So I wrote the first two minutes of this piece with no intent outside of making pretty sounds. But I liked the sounds so much that I felt the need to turn them into a coherent musical exposition. After being stuck on the piece for about six months, I finally decided that the only way I was going to finish it was to make up an ending that worked and polish it until it was good.

This sample is taken from my album, Purpose. Click here for more information.

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Sample Score

I don’t have a sense of closure when a piece doesn’t seem to have any meaning outside of itself. So even when I had all but finished the piece I still couldn’t leave it alone because I didn’t understand what it meant. And yet I had already named the piece “Hide and Seek” simply because of the way it sounded. It seemed to be trying to go somewhere profound, but became sad when it couldn’t get there. Then it returned to searching for that profound place, this time without being concerned about the result.

The sound reminded me of my childhood games of hide and seek when I would be entertained by looking for my friends that had hidden from me. It was enjoyable not because I found them, but because I found them through a process of searching for them. But sometimes they would hide so well that I would grow weary of looking for them. But it would then be all the more exciting when I found them. But the purpose of the game wasn’t to find but to seek. So becoming irritated because I couldn’t find my friend was silly since all that should have resulted was enjoying the game longer.

While applying this concept to life itself, and thinking about the music in the context of the Purpose project, I finally realized that this piece is about searching for the purpose of life. Many people (myself included) become frustrated when attempting to work out the reason God put them on the earth. While there is the obvious Sunday school answer of “serving, worshipping, knowing, and glorifying God”, very few people are satisfied with that answer and justifiably so. Knowing and glorifying God is an infinitely broad description of our purpose since God is an infinite being. Saying that really means to do what we were doing all along but for a different reason and maybe throwing in a few religious practices to remind you of that reason. But as dissatisfying as the answer may be, it’s still the correct one. However, I’ve taken it a step further with this piece.

The beauty coupled with tension throughout the first fast section recounts the beauty of life in the midst of seeking the reason for our existence and being disillusioned by the answer we find. This results in a discontentment because without knowing the details of why we were put on this earth we have no idea of what to expect from life. So as we move into the slow section we wonder in vain why we exist and therefore what we should be doing with our lives. But in the midst of this anxiety, we find that beauty remains inherent all around us, even throughout our pain. This brings us to the second fast section in which the sounds that were harsh in the beginning have been reinterpreted and are beautiful. Nothing has changed but our reason for perceiving. We’ve realized that we exist for the sake of seeking the answer to the question of our existence. God put us here to ask questions and seek answers. Since God is throughout all aspects of creation, this ends up meaning that God put us here in order to seek Him. We still haven’t moved beyond the broad Sunday school answer, but this realization has satisfied me and justified my life and work.

Purpose hides and so we seek it. But along the way we find beauty and realize that the purpose of life is the process of searching for it.


Wedding Processional Music – The First Song

August 30th, 2010

It is very rare for me to write a piece quickly and have it be worth anyone’s time. But sometimes the meaning behind the sound in my head is so obvious that it takes very little time to make it into a coherent musical unit. One Sunday afternoon I sat down to put a few initial ideas down and ended up not stopping for eight hours. This work resulted in the first draft of the wedding processional music Liz and I ended up using for our wedding, “The First Song”. After meeting with Dr. Lorenz (my teacher at that time) twice about the work, tweaking the formal structure, and perfecting notation for the improvisational aspects, I finished the shortest piece I had ever written.

This sample is taken from my album, Purpose. Click here for more information.

Dowload score (PDF) ($2.49)
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The length of The First Song was determined by the use I had in mind for it, which was wedding processional music. But its transient nature also contributed meaning by leaving the mystery of romantic love a mystery.  My main goal was to tell my wedding guests exactly how I felt as the woman I wanted to marry walked down the aisle to become my wife. However, the piece works very well without the visual aspect being present.  It is a simple depiction of what happens in a man’s heart the first time he sees the woman that God is about to give to him.  It didn’t need to be long, because this emotion in its specificity happens once in a lifetime and is very short.

This emotion is apparently also very predictable (although this does not detract from the emotion but rather intensifies it with anticipation). Because this life changing emotional experience had been foreshadowed on so many different occasions it was surprisingly easy to predict accurately.  The very first note in particular was a very obvious one:  A single sharp and high pitched percussive strike on a grand piano with the sustain pedal engaged in order to bring the entire sound spectrum of the piano into a subtle state of anticipation to depict the literal physiological reaction of a man’s heart when he sees the object of his deepest and most passionate affection from a distance.  I’d felt this many times before when seeing Liz from a distance and to describe the emotion musically was very simple.  From there it was simply a matter of imagining her walking towards me with the intent o giving herself to me and (I to her) for the rest of our lives.

The flurry of nervous tremolos and glissandi following the first note describes the excitement I had while anticipating my bride’s walk towards me. The way I use the sound spectrum here is designed to be a direct reaction to the first note’s sympathetic resonance just as the anticipation of Liz walking towards me was the result of seeing her.  I think it is also important to point out that I use the black key pentatonic scale to color the sound with a slight stereotypical oriental impression.  This was motivated by Liz’s patriarchal Chinese heritage, but I masked the color because it’s very hard to see that she’s part Chinese.

The next minute or so of the piece describes the anticipation, nervousness, and wonderful joy I felt as she walked towards me.  I could do nothing but bless God and rejoice in my bride’s beauty, the richness and depth of her spirit, and her love for me.  The various components of the sound are designed to fit together in such a way as to put into the mind of the listener a snapshot of the passionate and complex mixture of emotion  This texture builds and comes to a point at which it can no longer be contained and collapses out of necessity.  The bride has arrived face to face with the man rejoicing before God over her, and his joy must be contained in a permanently lingering conclusion that will be preserved for as long as they both live.

Long story short, I love my wife.

“The man said,
‘This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called “woman,”
for she was taken out of man.'”

Genesis 2:23, NIV

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