Small Songs

Alex has posted some recordings of the most recent gig that we played. They are a little rough, but mostly will give a very good sense of the kinds of strange approaches that we are trying to navigate in that band. Namely:

1. A collapse of the roles of improvisation, melody, harmony, and rhythm

2. An equal emphasis on maintaining the spirit of the compositions and on making them our own

3. An effort to balance the source material with original material

So far these things have been worked out in rehearsal. Alex will bring in a small sketch that he has transcribed from a recording of one of his piano students, and we will play through it. Then there is usually this weird phase where we kind of ‘feel’ what ‘needs to be done’ with the material. It is an experience I have only had a handful of times, as typically the musicians I have worked with bring in music that is at least mostly conceptualized. It is a really challenging and fun change.

While we have come to some solutions on a tune by tune basis, I think that the idea of the band as a whole is still very much undecided. For example: all of our songs so far have been combinations of original material, student compositions, and impromptu ideas about how to arrange those ideas; we have not yet written any completely original material. Should we? Is it better to keep working from the students’ music? If so, how can we incorporate structures that ensure our “natural approach” to these tunes does not become monotonous?

These questions, for me, imply three levels of improvisation: first in the tunes themselves, each time they are performed; second as a slow process that collectively interprets source material and what should be done with it; and third, an even slower process that will result from continuing the first two over an extended period of time. In the end, we may come to some sort of an idea regarding what the band is “about”. On the other hand, it might be interesting if we don’t.

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Blogs, Shows

Of course, I periodically fall in and out of blogging. This is not on account of the fact that blogging is apparently dead (you wouldn’t know it given Aaron’s recent tear), but directly corresponds with periods of flux. In other words, it is difficult to write about what you’re doing when what you’re doing is up in the air.

One thing that I have slowly pieced together for myself during this most recent period of change is not how I am transitioning from one discipline to the next, but how both of them are crucial to make the other work. I enjoy my academic work more after working on music, and vice-versa. This is all to say that as I figure out what I’m doing, I always also feel like returning here to write about it.

At any rate, I’m playing this show tonight, if you’re in Columbus. Alex Burgoyne‘s Small Songs band plays improvised music based on compositions by his young piano students. We’re talking like eight year-olds. More on this and other topics soon.