The Muse in Music - Bassooner or Later the Composition Bug Bites, Part 1
By, Dan Perttu
This is Dan Perttu again, and for the next post in The Music in Music, I am stepping in to interview a wonderful, kind man, bassoonist and composer Christopher Weait. Chris was my bassoon professor when I was a doctoral student at Ohio State, but I learned much more from him about being a musician than only about bassoon technique. When I started this blog, he expressed interest in being interviewed, and I was more than happy to oblige. So, I am shoving aside my faux journalist frenemy, Guy, who interviewed me in the previous blog post below. For this post, I will talk with Chris myself.
Guy: OK, Dan, I'll put up with your . . . [pauses slightly too long in mock deep thought] dabbling . . . in journalism, but I want to have a discussion with you later about what you learned from Chris. It will help me in my research for the New Bostonian.
Dan: [wryly] Always a pleasure, Guy. Anyway, Chris has had a wonderful, long career as a musician, as a well-regarded bassoonist first in the #TorontoSymphony, and also as a composer throughout his career. He has turned to devote his energies now to composition.
Hi, Chris! Please introduce yourself to my readers.
Chris: Hello! I am a septuagenarian in retirement but wish to remain creative after an active performing and teaching career. I am aware that my time to compose will be limited. Frankly, it is a relief to have a creative focus that allows me to disregard pointless activities.
Dan: What a pleasure it is to talk with you about your composition! We never had a chance to do this more than a decade ago when I was at Ohio State. So, why do you compose?
Chris: I compose now for a creative outlet after other avenues closed; for an important opportunity to continue learning; to fill a possible need in the repertoire; to maintain mental activity connected to musical thought processes, to communicate with musicians; to fulfill creative opportunities that might present themselves, and to keep boredom at bay. I do not compose for fame, fortune and notoriety as they are imaginary!
Dan: I think we can all relate to the needs to be creative, continue learning, and to fulfill opportunities, among other things. How would you describe your aesthetic orientation as a composer?
Chris: I have not given this any thought perhaps because I did not formally study composition in an academic setting outside of my undergraduate study in the late 1950’s. As for influences, I study the scores of Bartok, Grainger, Janacek, Martinu and others and have read the writings of Messiaen, Hindemith and Allan Forte. I often read about the creative process in various fields. My compositional styles vary widely. I compose most efficiently for specific events, instrumentations and deadlines.
Some listeners think my music is whimsical. I hope not to waste the listener’s time.
Dan: That’s so important! I don’t know how many new pieces I have sat through in which I felt trapped. Anyway – please go on.
Chris: I wish to produce music with contrast, continuity and varied textures. I do not want to be shockingly outrageous or outrageously shocking. Instead, I compose using many music-creating techniques like common harmonic progressions, serialism and traditional contrapuntal techniques. I am curious about the possibility that some composers have used numerical or other systems, such as Fibonacci numbers, to assist in creating their music. It does not concern me that I may not yet have “found my compositional voice.”
I am surprised to realize that I am a “conservative” composer. That being so, it is in direct conflict with my social and political thinking.
Dan: It’s hard to say what is “conservative” or “avant-garde” nowadays, isn’t it? It seems that all of the boundaries were so violently pushed in the 1950s-1970s that pushing them further seems difficult to imagine. What are your thoughts on this?
Chris: Is this a topic for a future blog?
Dan: Yes – great idea! I’ll keep that in mind.
Chris: But to answer your question, I played many, many new compositions in my career. I also commissioned and performed new works. Commendably, in my time, the CBC would periodically record the Toronto Symphony in new Canadian works and the orchestra usually performed a Canadian work on subscription concerts. I believe applied music teachers should advocate for new repertoire. I noticed that works were most successful with audiences when they allowed listeners to fasten on to basic musical elements like form, melody, rhythm, harmony or orchestration, etc.
Dan: So what makes your music unique? What makes it original?
Chris: I wonder if these questions could be better answered by a musical analyst?
Dan: I’m not so sure. Have you met any music theorists? They are more concerned with their own ideas than with questions that the rest of us care about. Just kidding. Please, carry on.
Chris: I intend my music to be concise and have rhythmic and textural clarity. I might be a miniaturist but it might be that I have not found out how to compose longer pieces. Often, hearing new music, I perceive that pieces are too long. I attempt to render one or more of the musical elements to be clear to the listener, for example if it is harmonically complex, then it should be structurally clear. Some of my pieces are complex with a lot of material, thus creating a conflict with my desire for clarity.
As to originality, I have been cogitating about the word “original,” as applied to music, since my college days, and don’t feel I yet have a firm definition.
Dan: When my imaginary frenemy, Guy, interviewed me in the previous blog post, I also grappled with the elusiveness of the idea of “originality.” So what audience do you hope to reach?
Chris: As I have aged, I find myself in agreement with the adage “there is nothing new under the sun.” But I add “there are only variations of previous creations.”
I’m an equal opportunity seeker of audiences and like as many different audiences as possible. At first my audiences were students at my teaching locations, then later, fellow musicians and teaching colleagues, and lately my neighbors in our retirement community. Like all composers I would like my music to be performed more often and for wider audiences. Since I have never been a good salesperson, marketing and promotion of my music does not come easily.
Dan: Yeah, I have had to study how to market and promote my music. It certainly hasn’t come naturally to me either!!
At this point, dear Readers, we will step back from the interview because I know your time is precious. I will release the rest of the interview soon -- watch your social media account or check back in a few days! Please join the blog and friend me on social media (links below) for updates!
Please also check out Chris Weait's music and related products at www.weaitmusic.com.