[SOUND CUE: LYLES CELLO SONATA]
Since I am — at best — a rank amateur as a composer, I have some insecurities about my work.
Don't get me wrong: I can write a melody that will stick in your head for twenty years, and I'm a pretty deft lyricist, but on the whole I am blundering my way through harmony/voice leading/orchestration/and everything else et al.
Sometimes I let myself worry about what the "real" music community will think about what I'm writing, and it always derails my process. This does not happen often, not because I'm secure in my work but because I'm secure in the knowledge that the real music community will never see my work in the first place.
[WAVY FLASHBACK EFFECT]
However, it happened when I was working on the Cello Sonata for my friend Stephen Czarkowski, who had asked me to write something for him to premiere at a recital in Washington, D.C. Just the idea of my piece being put out there for a real audience was enough to shadow every note I wrote.
When I was on Retreat in the fall of 2010 and was getting down to work on the first movement, I was futzing around to find a lyrical second theme to contrast with the stern first theme. Finally I came up with a lovely, gentle melody that just kissed the cello, and my first thought was, "Wait — is this too pretty? Will that Washington, D.C. audience sneer at such basic tunefulness?"
Really. I actually struggled with that. I tried to write other melodies that were less pretty, but finally I decided that I would keep the pretty melody and just suffer the scorn of the callous sophisticates in our nation's capital.
[CROSS FADE TO THE PRESENT]
I've been doing a bit of driving recently, and for music I decided to open up iTunes and just hit shuffle for my whole library. I've been listening to reams of classical stuff, new age, some show tunes, and every now and then one of my pieces.
During a movement from Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet, with its sweeping melodies, I had a revelation: Why wouldn't I choose to write memorable melodies like that? That is the path to being remembered.
After all, class, your first AUDIENCE is yourself. If it doesn't please you, how can it possibly please those other people? And as for those other people, write for your AUDIENCE, not for THE CROWD.
[FADE TO BLACK. SCROLL: Stephen never performed the cello sonata. Dale ended up recycling the piece into the ballet Getting Through Getting Over. It remains unperformed.]