Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sit down, get started and keep it simple.

I studied music composition with Lockrem Johnson back in the early 1970's and I fondly remember a story he told about his student days. Back in the early 1940’s Lockrem was an up and coming composer studying with George McKay at the University of Washington.

Hungarian composer Bela Bartok was in town and George McKay introduced him to Lockrem and the composition class. As the story goes, George asked Bela, “and what advice might you have for this aspiring young composer?”

Bartok replied... “Sit down, get started, and keep it simple.”

In 2000 I found a book titled, The Eighth Lively Art: Conversations with Painters, Poets, Musicians, and the Wicked Witch of the West, by Wesley Weher. Wesley was also a student of Lockrem in the late 1940's and told a similar story about Bartok’s advice to a group of student composers at the University of Washington as, “Keep your music simple! Don’t try to say everything at once.”

I'm thinking a little artistic license was evident in both versions of the story, but none the less great advice for starting any creative process. Also, I think it's ironic that Bartok, who wrote some the 20th Century's most complex and intricate music would say that.

If I've learned anything in life it’s #1 to trust the process (especially when I'm doubting it) and #2 simple ideas get complex soon enough. Anyway, you never know when an idea will occur, or exactly what it will be. But if your mind is open you’ll accept what the universe has to offer and run with it.

Dell Wade, a gifted composer and friend of mine would head up to Lockrem’s house in Lake Forest Park most Saturdays back in those early days and spend the better part of the afternoon studying composition, listening to music, and helping out with everything from housework to paperwork for his publishing company, Puget Music Publications.

Lockrem had a great sense of humor. He loved telling stories, guess it games, and practical jokes. I remember one day we were playing 'guess what Beethoven Sonata this is?' and he'd only play the first note. Good times, great memories.

Lockrem Johnson    Bela Bartok    George McKay    Wesley Weher   

Originally posted on the Activerain network.

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