|Posted on July 6, 2010 at 9:28 PM|
Wahadi, a young shepherd boy in the hills of Afghanistan, tends his sheep as the apple of his eye and dreams of one day becoming a prince in a far away land. One day, when one of his sheep goes astray, he leaves the entire flock to go after the one that is lost. On the first stretch of Wahadi's journey, he meets a wise old man who calls him by name and tells him all about how he will one day become a prince. He will have great wisdom and rule justly over his people. Yet there will also be great times of turmoil and hardship. Bewildered by this encounter, yet still focused on finding his lost sheep, Wahadi continues on his way. The day is drawing to a close and the sun is beginning to set. It is then that he comes across some young men as they are dancing and playing music and invite him to join them. He himself is skilled on the Shashtar, a stringed instrument native to his land, and therefore decides to join them and stay the night; but he insisted that he must be on his way early the next morning. He begins his journey the next day, bright and early, hopeful to find his lost sheep. Finally, he stumbles across a cave full of wolves where he discovers the sheep he had lost. With a slingshot he brought along and a few pebbles he collected nearby, he fights off and kills the ferocious wolves and rejoices, full of joy, that he has finally found his strayed sheep. He can now finally return home with a peaceful mind, knowing that his beloved sheep is safe and sound. Yet on his way home, he recalls and treasures in his heart all that the wise old man had foretold of his becoming a prince. He holds onto these memories for many years to come, dreaming and yet getting ready in faith, should that day come true.
I've always liked music that tells stories. Going to a concert of any given composer and reading the program notes or listening to one of my favorite band's new CD's and reading the insert, I've always been captivated by the world created, not just by the music in its pure form, but the story that it tells. Music can tell a story in itself and it's always fun to let the imagination try to conceive what the composer may want to depict. But, I just can't help but be curious for more. What does the concert program have written in it about the composer and his piece? What was he thinking when he wrote it? What story does he want to tell? Or what does the CD insert have that I can just eat up and yet not get enough of that its writer has to say? – What is it that they just couldn't leave out of the liner notes to accompany their music because the CD simply wouldn't have been complete without it?... It's really not uncommon. And yet, I've always looked on such things as the best way to get a message across in my own music. I don't just want to write music for the sake of music. I want to give the listener a story to imagine in their minds. It's not enough to just play a piece and hope they know what I was imagining behind it – though, some music is great in that way and fits that purpose. But, I prefer to be a story teller. My music just isn't complete without a story behind it. And whether based on a true story or completely fictitious, it doesn't matter to me. So, this is the case in my newest piece, “From The East”, the premier performance of which I gave just last month, on June 25th, 2010.
As you read above, the story is a rather simple and short one. However, it's fictitious characters and situations loosely portray and combine the biblical story of David – a shepherd boy that became King – and Jesus' parable of the shepherd who leaves his flock of 99 to find the one sheep that went astray. Most folks, if not all, are familiar with these two stories, which made it all the more reason for me to integrate them into my own story for this piece. They are not new, yet they are timeless. They can always be told and will never get old. And yet, they also speak to each of us in a very special way. No matter what situation we're in at the moment we come across them, they seem to be something we can relate to. Like Wahadi, who is based upon David from the bible, we all have dreams of achieving great things one day. But in order to reach those things, we must be entrusted with responsibilities and be faithful to fulfill them little by little. Then God can entrust us with greater things. We must also have God on our side in general and His guidance, confirmation and anointing that the way is in fact from Him. When Wahadi came across the wise old man who called him by name and foretold of his becoming prince, we see the parallel when reading in the Bible in 1 Samuel 16 of how the prophet, Samuel, calls forth David and anoints him with God's Spirit to become King. We also see how David takes on the responsibilities of being in Saul's service and of course the famous story of fighting off Goliath and finally one day becoming King over Israel. We also have times in our lives when we're like the sheep that ran away from the flock. Whether it be a difficult situation in our lives at the moment, we often find ourselves running away from something. But God comes for us, no matter where we've wandered off to. The parable in the Bible was, of course, told by Jesus. In the context He was telling it, He actually was using it to refer to the children of Israel who had gone astray and how He Himself was the shepherd coming back for his sheep. Yet despite the intended receiver of that message then, we see the close parallel in our own lives. And I think it's simply wonderful to be able to integrate such stories into my own music. Life is so much more interesting when it's full of stories, whether they're stories from long ago, or the stories being written through our very lives. God is in them, if you want Him to be. What will you make of yours?
Now, I'd like to write a little bit about the process of coming up with the piece in the first place. I should mention that the music for the piece came before I wrote the story. As a matter of fact, it was just a little over an hour before the piece's premier performance that I took the time to finally sit down and come up with it. I had the music all ready, but no story until pretty much the last minute – technically: the last hour (for those of you keeping score). But I like it in general to come up with the story after I come up with the music. Not sure why that may be, though.
The piece in itself is for acoustic guitar and voice, both of which tell this story through means that may at first seem bizarre to the western ear. The guitar is tuned in such a way that, when played, you would think you were hearing some kind of a traditional middle eastern instrument. The awkwardly low, and therefore looser than usual, strings produce, by default, pitches that force its performer and its listener to grow accustom to the existence of pitches in between and in addition to those which the usual 12-key groupings on the piano are so nicely set up to produce for us. The high E string – that's the last and skinniest string on the guitar – is so loosely tuned that it twangs about. I find that this produces a nice effect for the piece. The melodies played on that string must be played with care though. For the pitch produced at any given fret is determined by how hard you press the string. So, a lightly touched 12th fret on that string would produce a pitch about a quarter tone lower than the pitch created with a bit more pressure of the finger upon that exact same fret and string. I discovered that even the natural harmonics produced by the tuning used for the piece provides the possibility to play an octatonic scale, from which the first 6 steps are borrowed from the melodic minor scale – Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab, A, Bb. Most scales typically utilize 7 steps before repeating themselves. But an octatonic scale uses 8 before the pattern repeats itself, and it's not usually used in the pattern though that I mentioned above. But scales can always be tweaked however the composer may like.
Now, it was actually back in September of 2009 that I first came across a few key ideas for the piece. As luck would have it, I was simply stringing up my guitar when I came across the tuning that I use for this piece. It was purely by accident. When you string up a guitar, you're not supposed to completely tune one string before going onto the next. You slowly wind up each peg little by little until each is at a point that it can then finally be individually fine tuned. So as I was doing this, I was strumming away and listening for a proper time to start tuning. It was then that I heard this awkward, yet intriguing tuning. I started to experiment and fiddle around a bit with it and adjust it just a bit. It wasn't long until I broke out my trusty mp3 player that has a built in microphone for digital audio recording and pressed the record button. Within that space of about 6 minutes, I managed to come up with a bit of the material that is in the piece now. But it wasn't until last month with the concert coming up that I decided I would take that old recording and develop the ideas into a serious piece so that I could premiere yet another new composition for my audience.
Well now you have another insight into not only the creative process, but the deeper purpose that it has. Music in it's purest form is a means of communication for me and for all that use it. And when all is said and done, what's most important is that the music is enjoyable and that the listener has gotten the message. Yet, there are so many further inner workings behind it all. So, even though it may not all make sense to someone who hasn't the slightest clue about the functions of music, I still enjoy at least sharing both sides of the spectrum: that being both the inner bolts, joints, sprockets and gizmos as well as the message intended with it all. And so, I hope you've enjoyed this installment for what it's worth. As for me, it's time to bid you all adieu. My pillow is calling me.
Goodbye for now. Until next time,