• Dan Perttu

The Muse in Music - Bassooner or Later the Composition Bug Bites - Part 2

Updated: Jul 9, 2018

By, Dan Perttu

[This is a continuation of last week's blog in which I interviewed bassoonist and composer Chris Weait. I hope you enjoy reading it!]

Dan: So, how does your experience as a bassoonist inform your composition?

Chris: An admired pianist with whom I played called the bassoon a “one-line instrument.” I agreed.

Dan: Unless you use multiphonics . . .

Chris: Yes, Dan, multiphonics! Another bassoon handicap is, unlike the keyboard and stringed instruments, the fingerings of woodwind instruments do not bear much relationship to the intervals produced by the player.

To bolster my weak keyboard background, I now play through Bartok’s Mikrokosmos. Happily, they are an excellent way to learn composition. However, I believe my professional career as an orchestral musician, conductor and instrumental teacher has given me good preparation for composing. As a result of my career, I have an acute sense of orchestral color, the specific limitations, ranges and traditional roles of instruments, and I deeply understand rhythmic coordination within an ensemble. I produce clear notation of scores and parts in order to prevent time wastage in rehearsal. Due to the availability of my performing colleagues, I composed and arranged music that was enjoyable to perform and practical for programming. I composed and arranged many pieces as joyful encores for concerts.

Dan: This has been really fascinating. I have loved to get to understand you as a composer! Is there anything else you would like to share?

Chris: I have never had the kind of “ear” that some would characterize as being necessary for a composer. I do not have perfect pitch and cannot satisfactorily hear dictation exercises played on a piano. I now reason that was so because I kept hearing overtones and also found distinguishing the separate voices difficult on a piano. However, I do not believe my “ear” has hindered me; in fact, it may be liberating in its lack of sophistication!

I have gotten over feeling guilty about relying on my computer’s music notation system to re-assure me about pitches and progressions. I’m no pianist, but I do dabble in recording my inept keyboard improvisations and sometimes use the results in my pieces.

Dan: On the technology – I also first felt guilty for using the playback feature back in the 90s when I started using notation software. But now I don’t feel guilty because it speeds up parts of the process. However, you can’t rely on it for orchestration, but I’m sure you know that! All of this said, the technology certainly is amazing. I will keep that in mind when I talk to other composers! Anyway, thanks for your time. It has been wonderful to get to know this side of you so much more intimately!

Chris: Thank you so much for the invitation. As I told you when we started talking about the interview, I was hoping to learn from it and I have!

Dan: That’s great!

Please check out Chris's music at www.weaitmusic.com!

[After Chris departs, Guy enters again. For those of you who are new to the blog, Guy is the chic and snarky imaginary journalist from the fictitious New Bostonian who interviewed me in the first blog episode.]

Guy: That was an interesting interview, Dan. What have you learned from it?

Dan: Some things really stood out to me. It’s very difficult to define “originality” as it applies to music. Of course, on the practical side, Chris has had such a wonderful wealth of experience as a professional musician, both as an orchestral player and as a professor, that it deeply informs his composition. Chris also has really exploited the practical needs for new music and continues to look for ways to do so. When I asked about aesthetics, Chris’s answer was both learned but also contained practical overtones. Some composers can give very ethereal answers, but Chris’s response felt very grounded and understandable.

I also appreciated his remarks about music that is too long. It is critical for composers to be concise.

Guy: [mildly accusatorily] So you’re not a fan of Mahler or Bruckner?

Dan: I love Mahler. There is never a dull moment in Mahler. Bruckner reminds me more of a committee meeting among professors. Or an Entmoot from Lord of the Rings.

Guy: That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?

Dan: Well, maybe. Anyway - until next time!

Guy: Cheerio!

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