Jul 11

The Compositional Process by Nathaniel Schmidt

by Downtown Calgary · 0 comments

Nathaniel Schmidt will be performing for our Solo Series of the 2016 season of the Downtown Street Piano Series on Tuesday, July 12th at noon at the Woodlands Piano located at 332 6 Ave SW.

When I was asked to be part of the Street Piano Series again this year I decided to challenge myself with a project: compose an hour’s worth of new music specifically suited to playing the piano outdoors for people passing by.

So what does this all mean, exactly? How does composing music compare to writing music for, say, a rock band? Or how would you compose music for this particular situation vs. a concert hall? And why would I decide to burden myself with not only learning one hour of music to perform but also creating it?

Welcome to the compositional process.

I shouldn’t have said that. It makes the whole thing sound bloated and self-important when really, it’s not. I suppose it’s fair to say I write “classical” music, which historically puts me in the category of the tortured genius toiling away in his ivory tower on top of a hill (except I’m way less famous and talented than one of those Beethoven types).

The funny thing is, writing classical music isn’t really like that at all, at least not for me.

Here’s why I decided to do this.

Composition—and maybe all creative activities—is all about contradictions. It’s about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone but also perfecting the idiom you’re used to. It’s about having enough time to think and plan but also pushing yourself with a concrete deadline. You try to highlight the beautiful and the ugly, or highlight nothing at all. You try to create something familiar but also something no one’s ever heard before.

So that’s why I created this project for myself. It presented a unique opportunity to write music with some definite boundaries to work within. That’s the other thing, creativity only takes you so far. Every piece you create needs to have structure. And you have to work hard as hell.

The idea of the artist having unbridled creativity is a fallacy. When you write music you need to be the architect and the engineer.

Back to this project though. The boundaries that helped me inform the music I’m making had to do with how people will be experiencing it. They’ll be outside during their lunch hour walking by for likely only a short time. With this in mind, I wanted to create a set of pieces roughly four minutes in length each that would catch people’s ears. I wanted the music to be attractive but also unique enough to not just be a caricature of something someone’s already done.

Most importantly though, I wanted to have a deadline. Without a deadline the revisions never stop. This way I can tinker until 11:59 AM on July 12th because at 12:00 PM, well, it’s show time.

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Nathaniel Schmidt to promote the Downtown Street Piano Series.

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