by | Sep 28, 2016 | Artwork #1: Score

Score: Sing a note—any note you like—until you run out of breath, then keep going.

The two main things that gave me the idea for this piece were the works of John Cage and the music section of Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit. If I’m being honest, I didn’t necessarily enjoy their works at first. I’ve been a musician most of my life and have played fewer than a dozen “modern” pieces, preferring instead to stick to mostly the baroque era. The fact that there were pieces that consisted of four minutes of silence or recording the ambient noise in a room and that they were classified as music kind of rubbed me the wrong way.

The one piece in that section of Grapefruit that I actually did connect with a bit was Overtone Piece, because it was one of the more directly “musical” pieces and, perhaps more importantly, was something that I’d actually done. When you get up to the higher registers on the flute, it’s frequently easier to use harmonics (the word we use for overtones) instead of the actual fingering for the notes because of how convoluted they get in the upper registers. Because of this, there are many pieces that I’ve played using exclusively or almost exclusively harmonic fingerings. As part of practice, I’ve also done a fair few exercises consisting of “bugle calls,” or pieces where you use one fingering and create the different notes as overtones, using your embouchure to change pitch instead of your fingers.

Once I had that touchstone, I decided that I would start there for the assignment. I played around with several ideas involving the flute specifically. Most of these were the sorts of things that we would do to pass the time in band class or orchestra rehearsal, such as playing with the flute held backwards (so it sticks out to the left instead of right), not blowing into it at all and instead slapping the keys down so that the notes would come out with almost a percussive quality, and popping some of the springs so certain keys would be stuck in a down position. There were a few obvious problems with these. The most obvious is that, especially for the last example, these were things that could actually break a flute if not done very carefully. The other major issue that I ran into is that I don’t actually have a flute with me, and so couldn’t fulfill the performance requirement of the assignment.

After realizing that I couldn’t actually use a flute in my piece, I tried to come up with something based on it that could be used with the voice or any instrument. This was how I eventually arrived at my final score. One thing that I remember very clearly about band and orchestra is that many pieces ended with the flutes holding a ridiculously high note for several measures. This note was almost always just long enough that nobody had the lung capacity to finish it, but it also rarely had a good place where we could drop out and breathe in the middle. When these notes came up, I remember that I would pour every last bit of breath into them, and then even when my lungs felt like they had collapsed, I would sometimes find that I could keep going for just a bit longer to finish up the piece.

Documentation: (a video of a solo performance of the score)