Diversions, brass music and other oddities

An idea is like a piece of wood. There's no use trying to get a dining table out of a dowel, and not much more point in making a windowsill out of a piece of balsa.  Pick it up, stroke it, hold it up to the light.  What's it for? A grand staircase perhaps? More likely you'll whittle it into a toy, use it to put a new handle on the garden roller or mend a gap in the wainscot.  It's all carpentry and you learn something even when you make a wedge to hold open the back door.

Musical ideas grow the way they want to and won't take orders.  Some don't seem much use at all, but all the same you put them down carefully in the black Moleskine book and leave them on a shelf to ripen (or if they're near the wrong sort of book, to go rotten. There's use in that too).  Some ideas refuse to grow up into anything recognisable, but sometimes when the big work isn't cooperating it does a body good to sit down and fool about with them.  The result is often one of these little diversions.  I've no idea how many I've written or even where a lot of them are.  They frequently have bizarre titles such as They Will Carry You Away in a Chair or Prelugue and Feud.  They crop up on PRS statements and it is always amusing if not particularly useful to learn that Peeping Through the Knotholes in Grandpa's Wooden Leg has earned me fourpence from Cambodian radio or been used as a call sign by a vegan radio station in Arkansas.  

A lot of them are for brass.  I haven't written much serious brass ensemble music - Tinguely's Fountain  is just about the only example -  and I doubt I shall; something about the tone of voice discourages it.  Despite their reputation, brass groups tend to be over-serious and a bit joyless: give me a choir any day. It doesn't matter; the silly brass things, though at best tangential in themelves, are a necessary part of the process of writing and it's a nice bit of camouflage to be thought of as a humorous composer instead of the real one who tends towards angst and torment.

There's a serious side to it as well.  I have a slightly autistic fondness for canons, pastiches, number games and what have you.  Such things have no place in my serious work but need an outlet: occasionally a nice one, such as the dear old Christmas Fugue which made some very important people very cross at the time but keeps on going and still pays the wine bill every Christmas.  Often, however, making use of the outlet is just plain irritating to me or any potential listeners.  When that happens, I look on it as therapy.  Or exercise:  sitting down at the table and writing a piece straight out into full score is a good workout and keeps my brain supple, what there is left of it.  That arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever that everyone makes such a fuss about took about an hour of frantic scribbling, Goat! was written in a weekend and in the dark days of my transatlantic commute the diversions kept me off the booze, at least sometimes they did.

Quite a lot of them are published and recorded and I've put links to the relevant sites. 

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