Guitar Hero

By November 29, 2011 ARCHIVES, DIARY One Comment

Suki and I were chatting about the potential hellishness of playing the same theater show over and over again. Both of us have experience playing in pit bands of shows that run dozens of times, getting caught in the vortex of repeating the same music night after night.

Perhaps this is more relationship advice than compositional wisdom, but one of the tricks I’ve used over the years to keep a multi-show dance/theater performance interesting for myself and the audience is to compose mostly for instruments I don’t know how to “play.”

When I played in the Mime Troupe band (the same show over 80 times) I played Javanese gamelan, Nepalese oboe, Peruvian flute and lots of other instruments I had no idea what to do with – but hardly any clarinet. In the case of Line Between, Suki and I are “playing” lots of guitar. Ok, so neither of us know how to “play” guitar — but that doesn’t mean we’re imposing our lousy guitar chops upon a suffering audience (there more than enough opportunities to hear that sort of thing). Hopefully what is achieved here is that we are approaching the instrument with our own novel outlook.

At the outset of the project I never would have imagined playing guitar as part of the piece, but somehow it just worked itself in as the right sound. On the other hand, bass clarinet – which is an instrument I actually have some competence on – didn’t make the cut.

Each time I pick up the guitar, unexpected things happen and it’s a challenge to make “musical” sounds on it rather than just noise. In some respects it’s a mess, but there’s also something compelling (I hope) about the resulting spontaneity. The consistent novelty and challenge keeps my head in the game, rather than just going through the motions of playing the part every night.

As a personal experience, it makes every practice and performance an adventure and presents a strong defense against the same-same-sameness of playing the same pretty melody line on the clarinet every night…

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