Our featured artist today is Frank Wilhoit!
Let’s give him a warm welcome.
If you would like your talent featured in the Artists in Our Midst series, send me an email message. Don’t be shy! This is the final Artists post in the queue, so please get in touch if you would like to be featured.
“Classical” Music: How Does It Work?
…ask fairly few people, fewer as time goes by. But the answers are straightforward and open up a vast new world of enrichment. I will use my own works as examples — not only because I am an insufferable egotist, but also because that way you can set aside any specific expectations that you may have, based upon earlier chance encounters with The Standard Repertory. I will also present the discussion with the utmost concision, but will expand upon any particular points requested in comments.
How does it work? The first principle is contrast. Contrast manifests in many ways. The most obvious one is dynamic contrast: quiet versus loud. (Sometimes very quiet indeed, and sometimes very loud indeed.) Another important one is tempo: fast versus slow (very, indeed, etc.). Another is timbre or tone color: different types/families of instruments.
Why is contrast essential? Because I am asking for your time and just who in Hell do I think I am, anyways? Your time is the most valuable commodity you have and if I am going to ask you to spend it absorbing my musical thoughts then I must give you fair value for that bargain. Contrast builds musical form, because contrasts have to be integrated, and that takes time; and form explains how the time is being used. All of that is perceived subconsciously.
Contrast is not the only ingredient of form; the other big ones are repetition and tonality. (Tonality is also perceived subconsciously.) Repetition is the obvious link between “classical” and “popular” music: tunes are played more than once. The difference is what happens to them when they come back: [how [much]] have they been changed? And this is really a matter of why repetition; and that comes back to time, and therefore form, and therefore contrast.
Enough talk, let’s do some listening. 2020 was the kind of year that posed distinctive challenges to sanity (are there other kinds of year?). Here was my reaction:
This serenade was composed during the summer of 2020. It is for ten instruments: pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoon, and horns. There is a long tradition of serenades for wind ensemble: Mozart wrote a bunch of them. My serenade is in four “movements”, this being an obsolete definition of the word, meaning “pace” or “rate of speed” — in other words, tempo. My four tempi are fast, very fast, very slow, and medium. One ought not write consecutive movements in the same tempo: contrast!