Michael Mauldin's Writings:


About Music and Composition:

(the topic for the 1982 Taos Aesthetics Institute)

The composer-in-residence that year, Mauldin responded by quoting and commenting on Leonard Meyer:

Is music a pleasurable, even therapeutic, aesthetic activity of a temporal nature, or a reflection of life, with its tensions--many unresolved--and its search for meaning and value?  Could it not be both at the same time?

According to Hebb, the difference between pleasant and unpleasant emotions lies in the fact that pleasant emotions...are always resolved.  They depend on 'first arousing apprehension, then dispelling it.'  But were this actually the case, we could only know whether an emotion were pleasant or unpleasant after it was over.  Yet, surely, we know more than this while we are experiencing affect.  The pleasantness of an emotion seems to lie not so much in the fact of resolution itself as in the belief in resolution--the knowledge, whether true or false, that there will be a resolution.   --EMOTION AND MEANING IN MUSIC, L. Meyer, p. 19

...in everyday experience the tensions created by the inhibition of tendencies often go unresolved.  They are merely dissipated in the press of irrelevant events.  In this sense daily experience is meaningless and accidental.  In art inhibition of tendency becomes meaningful because the relationship between the tendency and its necessary resolution is made explicit and apparent.  Tendencies do not simply cease to exist: they are resolved, they conclude.   --EMOTION AND MEANING IN MUSIC, L. Meyer, p. 23

Perhaps part of the creative process of being a composer is to "play" with that belief in resolution, satisfying it in part, or part of the time, but thwarting or delaying the resolution (or choosing to merely "dissipate" the musical tension) at other times.

Music does "reflect" experience (for example, in sonata-allegro form by the slight change in the thematic materials in the recapitulation--after the "experiences" that the themes have had in the development section).  But, perhaps music is also an attempt to "change" experience, since our esthetic perception of it can give us a "wordless" but powerful direction--only sensed, yet somehow known.


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More than a Special Interest, a Path to Musicianship
by Michael Mauldin
published in the
Official Journal of the Music Teachers National Association
Volume 37, Number 6, June/July 1988

I'm a composer, a teacher, a parent and...a child.  A child because, regardless of my age, I "play" alot. I play with sounds, ideas, moods, textures--all in a way that may be foreign to many adults and even foreign to some children.

Let me explain that statement by using an old analogy--the one about the sailing vessel being of no use without a rudder.  It's true, of course, and I've met students who will not accomplish much with their music because they don't have enough self-discipline to develop their talents.  But the converse of the old analogy is also true: a perfectly good sailing vessel, even with a good rudder, is of little use when becalmed, when there is no force to move it through the water.

As teachers know, there are a lot of creative students with child-like imaginations but no tools--no discipline--no rudders, if you will.  But as teachers, we must remember all those people, some of them our own age, with excellent discipline, possessing a number of truly fine tools, whose imaginations were "becalmed" somewhere in the tool-gathering process.

Teaching all music students, especially the average ones, to compose is a great way for us to provide a rudder and to give the ship a little boost.  Most of use see our main objective to be equipping our students with the tools they will need.  Yet we often find ourselves in the role of motivators, trying, like drama coaches, to inspire the new initiates with the joy of self-expression, using the words (music) of someone else.

Especially when that someone else is a great master, we want the students to appreciate the genius and discipline behind what the students learn and perform.  Good teachers try to do this by giving background on the composer, his style and even some of the compositional techniques he used to achieve tension-release, development of a thematic idea, or the unifying devices of form.

All of these methods of developing the "composer-eye-view" in the minds of young performers would become easier and more effective if we taught all students to compose, right from the beginning, as a standard part of music education, much as we now consider music theory to be a requisite part of any beginning private lesson.

Advantages of Starting Composition at Young Age

  • The student's so-called "tinkering" at the piano may well be one of the reasons that he and his parents decided to pursue lessons.
  • Everything about the lessons, including putting pencil to paper or being asked to make up a short tune, is equally new to the student, even if a bit arbitrary at the beginning.
  • The young student has probably not yet learned the myth that composers were "gods" that lived centuries ago and that present-day mortals (certainly the young ones) have no business trying to come up with anything of their own.

Objections from the Teacher

  • It's hard enough for me to get in theory and still have time for technique and repertory.  How am I going to also work with the students' original pieces?
  • How can I teach composition, when I don't compose?

Objections from the Student

  • I don't want to create something different; I just want to be like everyone else.
  • I can't stand writing my pieces down; it's so hard that by the time I have something written, I don't like it anymore.

How to Get Started

  • Require all your private students to copy one entire piece (teacher's choice) each year as a requirement of your studio.
  • Ask students to make up (not notate) variations on their favorite pieces.
  • Take some time (the impression this makes is well worth it) to write down (while they watch) some of their variations in music notation.
  • Find a brief section (only a few measures) of their variation with the same rhythmic/melodic patterns as the one you have just notated and ask them to finish notating the remaining few measures that are similar.
  • When the student is ready to try an original pieces of his own, always make sure (unless the student is unusually self-directed) that you carefully "restrict" the number of creative tasks he must do at one time: you provide the rhythm (perhaps with words) and he provides the tune, or vice-versa; a certain number of measures are due next week (usually a phrase or period); you provide the "question" (antecedent phrase), he the "answer" (consequent phrase), parallel or contrary; have him write a melody that fits a contour diagram that you draw, or that fits a "home-tone" (steps 1, 3, 5, 8) and "traveler-tone" (steps 2, 4, 6, 7) plan.

A Scene at a Music Lesson

Teacher: O.K. Johnny, it's time to do your scales.

Student:  Miss Jones, I made up a piece this week.  It's really neat.  Wanna hear it?

Teacher:  Well, uh, yes.  I guess we can take the time.

Student proceeds to play a repetitive figure, syncopated, with uneven phrase lengths, changing meters, even changing tempos.  After he has beaten the idea to death, but not yet quite satiated himself with it, he suddenly appears to become self-conscious, stops playing without an ending and sheepishly makes some kind of game-playing remark like:

Student:  I guess it's not really anything.  It's probably not very good.

Miss Jones suspects that Johnny didn't prepare his scales this week and may be trying to divert her attention.  Also she doesn't especially want to try to figure out all that crazy stuff Johnny did in his piece.  At this point, we've probably all been tempted to say something like:

Teacher:  That's very nice, Johnny.  I'm really glad you are making up your own music.  I wish I had time to help you write it down, but we have so many more things that we need to get done today that I think we'll have to do that later.

That would probably be the end of the story.  But what about the teacher who doesn't want to squelch Johnny's creativity:

Teacher:   That's very nice Johnny.  I'm really glad you are making up your own music.  Why don't I help you write it down.  First, you try to write as much of it this week as you can, and then I'll plan to set aside some time in next week's lesson to check what you've done.

Next week, Johnny returns with little or nothing written down.  The teacher is a bit surprised that he has written so little and at the poor quality of what he has notated.

Teacher:  Johnny, why didn't you write more of your piece?  Don't you like it anymore?

Johnny:  No, not really.  I got tired of trying to figure out the notes and the rhythm.  And my dad told me I was just messing around.

The two main stumbling blocks in this story were the teacher's unwillingness to adjust her lesson plans to spend some time with Johnny's piece, and the problem of notation.  The first is a matter of flexibility and being willing to "discover" as well as "teach".  The second appears to be more complicated.

Especially if the student is easily discouraged, notation isn't absolutely necessary at the beginning.  In this age of chip technology, students can use tape recorders and synthesizers to have a "voice" that can be replayed at will.  Instead of fighting this, many teachers use such equipment to help keep the "wind blowing in the sails."  But they communicate to their students, over a period of time, that the pieces they create will be much more fun for the listener and for themselves if they notate them, and that the time and thinking process that it takes to notate will contribute substantially to the quality of the pieces they write.

What Should Miss Jones Do?

We're already better off for having thought about this little story and what not to do.  Our response will be a more considered one.

Without giving the student the impression that he can interrupt your lesson plan whenever he wants, if it's in the name of creativity, your response when he shares something of his own should be positive, but analytical.  Show him that you were really listening.  Point out something distinctive that you noticed: use of changing meters, or just some melodic figure you liked.

Explain that, in order to get his piece written down so that others can play it, you and he will have to both do a bit of extra work, but that it probably will be fun, too.

Your Job will be to tape record him playing his piece and to do a bit of "transcribing" this week.   (This gives you plenty of time to make decisions about meter, rhythm, etc.)

His job will be twofold: (a) to practice his piece and make sure that he can play it roughly the same way each time (turns on his "internal editor") and (b) to actually write the note heads (whole notes) of a section of the piece.  He is not to try to figure out the rhythm, but he is to align the note heads carefully so that notes in the right and left hands on the piano appear at the proper places relative to each other.

At the next lesson, even if you have already figured out the meter and rhythm yourself, have him help you find which of the note heads he has written seem to have more stress or accent.  Have him look for any kind of regular pattern in the stresses to help in determining the meter.  You may have to come up with the final answer, but he will have been actively involved in the search.

Remember that there are sometimes several "right" ways to notate a piece (such as 3/4 with triplets as opposed to 9/8).  Even though the student may pick a way that is not quite as "right" as it could be, if it is an accurate notation, you might allow him to use it.  If you show him a better way, be sure that he understands that it is better because it will help his piece to come out the way he intended when read by someone else (average quarter-note speed, and so forth).

See if he will allow, as an experiment, another of your students to learn the piece from his notation to see how well the notation gets the music across.  If the experiment works, the second student might even be persuaded to perform the first student's work on a recital, which can be a real "kick" for both students.  It can also be a rich learning experience (not always pleasant) for both students.

If the composer wishes to play the piece on a recital, encourage that the piece be accurately notated before he does.  You're not trying to discourage improvisation, just to prevent misrepresentation.  Also copies might be made available to any students who might want to learn his piece.

Seek out student composition contests, such as the one MTNA offers, emphasizing that the main goal is to get the comments of the judges, not just to win a contest.  If the judges make suggestions for improvement of the piece, which is, after all, one of their responsibilities, encourage the student to try his hand at the suggested changes.  Quite often the student is discouraged because he doesn't want to have to recopy his piece.  If you can help him find ways to "divide and conquer" that task, you will have helped greatly.

If the student's family owns a computer and can afford software, encourage them to purchase a music-writing program for the student.  Many students who would become discouraged after twenty minutes of handwritten notation will spend hours at a computer programming the notation of their piece.

I've presented a few ideas that may help young students develop the "composer-eye-view"--a perspective that will not only make them better musicians, but probably happier individuals, as well.  If you feel there really is not time in your lesson plans to try composition, perhaps you can approach your students and their parents about making composition a special project for summer lessons.  You might be surprised at how much fun you'll have, and how much you might learn.

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By Michael Mauldin
published in the
Official Journal of the Music Teachers National Association
Volume 42, Number 1, August/September, 1992

[in addition to the article, there were photos and bios of each of the MTNA "Composers of the Year" in the 1980's, and a chart listing the year they won, the names and instrumentation of their winning composition, publishing/recording info, and their present position]

Where is music composition going?  Some people might say "astray"--or worse, "who cares?"  As a music teacher, composer and active MTNA member for twenty years, I think I can honestly quote the pop song's lyric, "I can see the world from both sides now."

I remember in the early days of the MTNA Composer Commissioning program being able to relate somewhat to the grumblings of music teachers who felt that they had just been assaulted by the performance of a newly commissioned work that seemed bent on shocking or confusing the audience.  But as a composer, I also know the pain of being asked to confine myself to a very narrow range of stylistic devices or colors--the very tools of my trade.  That's a little like asking children not to draw designs of their own, but only to mimic those of recognized works of art.

It is a mistake to blame composers--as many people do--for what is sometimes perceived today as a lack of interest in, even a disdain for, new works.  We must remember that much of society--and not just in this country--was enticed into the cult of technology.  I'm a firm believer in the virtues of technology (including "high tech-high touch" and the like), but the cult of technology--the widespread abandonment of poets and seers in favor of fact and scientific experimentation--influenced us and did us harm.  We are just now collectively realizing that technology alone will not save us from ourselves.

For a while, composers--like some scientists--spent too much of their creative energies ridiculing the devices and techniques of their predecessors, while audiences continued to be moved by the insights of long-dead composers, whose techniques may indeed have become predictable, but whose poetic vision was clear and powerful.  Yet for current audiences to exhibit a knee-jerk reaction against all new works would be as senseless as failing to look toward new technology simply because we now feel that technology itself is not the ready-made savior we may have once thought it was.  We all live in this century together--poets and scientists alike--and are affected by its dynamics.

When I was asked, as the first of the ten MTNA Composers-of-the-Year in the 1980's, to write about these composers, I felt it was an opportunity to ask some pointed questions of nine other people whose compositions had been chosen as outstanding works written during a very eventful decade. I asked if the award had made a difference in the composers' careers; what had happened to the composers since receiving the award; and what they thought about composition today.

After a bit of hunting, I was able to ask those questions of all the composers except Nicholas Van Slyck, the MTNA Distinguished Composer of 1982, who is deceased.  Responses to questions about what has happened to the composers since receiving the award and the vital statistics about their winning pieces, including how to obtain copies or recordings, are included on p. 30.

Most composers did not feel that the award directly resulted in additional performance or commissions, but several said that it helped to boost their academic standing and was a source of encouragement at the outset of their careers.  Samuel Adler said that the award did help in getting immediate publication of his winning work, and James Mobberly indicated that many good results--including publication, recording, and performances--were direct results of the award.  Michael Schelle wrote that the "award has helped with the work's life because of the recognition of the association.  It is a distinctive honor to include on my resume."

Diversity Of Styles

When asked if they saw any trends in music composition today and whether they liked or disliked them, all composers except one mentioned the wide diversity of styles and the apparent lack of any dominant style or dogma.  Most found this invigorating.  Rand Steiger commented, "Composers are free to work in whatever style pleases them, without having to conform to any common practice.  There is a kaleidoscope of inspiration and influences."

Because of the rise in world-wide communication and the one-world view (as seen from space) that technology has given us--along with the widespread realization that technology is a means and not an end--there seems to be a flowering of humanistic interest.  We are exploring new types of artistic expression, new ways to relate to each other, and new ways to feel "grounded"  Adler felt that the present diversity of compositional styles will continue, since the arts somewhat reflect reality and people are looking for their "roots."

Mobberley aptly described the richness of this diversity.

The orchestral and chamber music fields are now joined by a resurgent electronic and computer music field, a blending of world musics, a blending of 'classical'  and 'popular' styles, performance art and other theatrical combinations, and the burgeoning world of music for video and film.

The most exciting aspect of this "anything goes" atmosphere is the possibility that composer, performer, and audience may find a new relationship that will be closer, more human and more fun, without sacrificing the needs or interests of any member of the triangle.

Jeffrey Wood noted that he did not see nearly so much of the virtuoso elitism, "the production of works of frightening technical difficulty, both compositionally and in terms of performance," that used to exclude the listener and all but the most committed performer.  Several composers spoke positively about the current loosening of "artificial academic complexities" and about the greater freedom that younger composers now enjoy--much more than the composers interviewed felt they had experienced.

The public is not likely aware of the kind of peer pressure and academic coercion directed at those of us who were educated during the sixties and seventies.  The sweep toward mind-boggling, technologically beautiful but largely inhuman complexity was highly esteemed.  Almost any other musical language--especially that which borrowed from the traditions of tonality or the resolutions of tensions--was ridiculed as pedestrian and passé.  Even now the standard of "modernity" is usually upheld in the choices made by almost all judges of composition contests.  As national chairman of the MTNA student composition contest, I was once told by a judge that he liked a more conservative piece very much but was afraid to choose it.

Some Concerns

Though we welcome the positive aspects of today's compositional scene, we are also concerned about its problems.  Mobberley pointed out that there are fewer "quality controls" on this expanded musical world.  Greater freedom must go hand in hand with a greater individual striving for excellence.  Schelle was concerned that young composers may get a false sense of security from the "published" look of computer music manuscript programs and may also be a bit too enamored with so-called "art" pop music.

Michael Echert drove the point home eloquently.

Many more composers are now writing for the public (or trying to), and in my view this has resulted in the composition of much more or less superficial music, often based on banal harmonic material.  The criteria for 'success' in composition seem to be increasingly those of the cultural marketplace rather than what I call 'connoisseurship,' or cultivated listening.

Several composers expressed concern over the future of the "field" of composition as a profession.  In some ways, they said, it has become more like a hobby than a viable profession, even though, as Eckert stated, "more people than used to can now make a living as 'professional' (i.e. non-teaching) composers by putting together grants, residencies, and the like."  There seems to be a consensus about the futility of the present academic job market for young composers, especially given the number of graduates we keep turning out.

More Interest in Composition

One would think that these problems would discourage young people from trying their hand at composition.  Exactly the opposite seems to be happening.  More independent music teachers of pre-college students are using composition exercises as a tool for improving students' musicianship by seeing music "from the inside out."  Teachers have discovered, often by accident, that this perspective engages the "whole" student in the study and performance of music.

For two years now we have held a "Composers Day," sponsored by our local association, where fifteen pre-college students attend morning "bag-of-tricks" workshops, followed by lunch with adult composers, afternoon open rehearsals of both student and adult works, and a public recital of these works at which the adult "mentor" for each student introduces to the audience not only his own work but also that of the student with which he worked that day.  The response has been very positive.  But the most surprising response was the enthusiasm of the adult volunteer composers--even those who at first feared that they might have trouble relating to, or communicating with, children.

My own experience, and that of my students, tells me that those of us who compose do so for the sheer excitement of the joyful moments of magic that occur during the creative process, even though we also need the acceptance, recognition, and monetary reward.  Balancing these needs with the hunger for regular doses of magic is a trick difficult to learn and even harder to teach.  But to quit trying is to allow a mass-produced, non-idiosyncratic aesthetic to rule our lives and the lives of our children.

To say that we must not "smooth off all the rough edges" does not endorse any particular style, since even the most experimental devices become predictable after much use.  My own motto is not a new one, but an old balance:  "Same but different."  Whether as a guide to developing form-building in a particular piece, or as a blueprint for an overall style, it is a simple phrase that seems to help me respect human convention while trying to find a distinctive, but honest, voice of my own.

As to the future of the process of composition, let me quote from an interview with Paul Hindemith in ETUDE (reprinted in THE BOOK OF MODERN COMPOSERS, edited by David Ewen and published by Alfred A. Knopf):

Social changes, politics, and war may affect the composer's life, as they did the lives of every master from Palestrina to the present day.  But just as the spring continues to flow and the trees and flowers throughout the world continue to bloom, so more and more will music continue to be created, despite philosophies, ideologies, isms, airplanes, submarines, and a world of strife.

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These observations were jotted down in an e-mail (edited here a bit) for Jennifer Garrett, to offer help with her dissertation project on my chamber music involving piano.

Michael Mauldin, 2010

I've always been fascinated with the power (the gravitational pull) of the half-step. Since much tonal music is grounded in diatonic scales and arpeggios--which I found a bit boring--it was my goal to learn to use half-steps and wide-leaps well, integrating them--rather like spices--with "normal" conjunct and mildly-disjunct melodies in such a way as to liven them up a bit, but without leaving tonality. It's chromaticism, but with a harmonically functional purpose, other than just being amorphous or ambiguous (yet still incorporating those esthetics a bit).

At a young age, I became fascinated with modal scales and the "pulling" tendencies they have, trying to move the tonal center to the "winner"--Ionian (or the "runner up"--Aolean). If you use C Lydian too long, it modulates to to G Ionian because of the F sharp. If you use C Mixolydian too long, it modulates to F Ionian because of the B flat—pulling one step either side of C in the circle of fifths.

A fair number of my melodies (one of the more complex ones is the B theme of the last movement of "3 NM Landscapes") are based on a C major scale with both an F sharp and a B flat, but with those notes harmonized by a D major chord and later a B flat chord--naturaling the F rather than arbitrarily using the triad created on each member of the scale C, D, E, F sharp, G, A, B flat.

The listener can enjoy the pull or tendency of each of the modes--going in opposite directions. But, like a pendulum coming to rest in the middle, by alternating the tendencies between Lydian and Mixolydian on the same tonic, we're left feeling that the tonic (C in this example) is still the tonal center. We didn't use either tendency long enough to modulate to Ionian in either G or F. We kept the same tonal center while also keeping a modal feel.

As a kid, I listened to anything modal--from Debussy to John Lennon--and tried to understand modes. Since I hadn't even had piano lessons yet, I more or less figured out my own system, which I happily adapted to the accepted one when I learned it.

Perhaps as important for me as modes has been the tetrachord, half-whole-half. Here's a quote from the biographical essay, "Beyond the Four Hills." It relates to a scale and its resulting harmonic scheme that I first used in my thesis piece, "Celebration of the Sun," but I've used it in many pieces since, including “Bird at the Great Kiva,” "Glyph" and "Voices From Chaco":

One of the most important musical elements first developed in 'Celebration of the Sun'--and used in just about every work since then--is a synthetic tetrachord (or man-made four-note scale) consisting of the intervals of a half-step, whole-step and a half-step. I had become fascinated with the effect of the scale in its use in Ravel's 'Spanish Rhapsody'. I didn't know at the time of its use in such disparate musics as Bach, Copland, Indian ragas and Native American music.

When used as I had, connecting one of these scales on the tonic note with one on the dominant note by means of a raised fourth-degree (f-sharp in the key of C), the synthetic scale seemed to suggest almost all of the colors of the seven old "church modes" at once, giving a sound that seemed both old and new, tonal yet dissonant, full of the rich colors, the incongruity, the timelessness of the land, its past, its people.

The resulting "scale" (which has "too many notes"--the enharmonic spelling is easier to use--C, D flat, E flat, E natural, then F sharp--which is a kind of "Lydian connector" to the upper tetrachord--G, A flat, B flat, B natural) is similar to the octatonic scale (alternating half & whole steps the whole way--C, D flat, E flat, E natural, F sharp, G natural, A natural, B flat). But the upper half-whole-half tetrachord of the octatonic begins on the tritone rather than the dominant and has the "correct" number of pitches.

I use "my" scale mostly for melodic purposes and the octatonic primarily to derive the harmonic scheme of many of the pieces. That scheme is often based on major (and/or minor) triads whose roots are a minor third apart. In other words, each triad (major or minor) is built on a member of an diminished seventh (again spelled enharmonically for ease): C, E flat, F sharp, A. The roots of the chords create interlocking tritone relationships--the C with the F sharp and the E flat with the A.

Just as with diminished seventh chords themselves (though I rarely use those), triads built on members of diminished sevenths facilitate changes of key center in what sound like "functional" ways, relatively smoothly and "tonally." These triads create interesting effects when combined as polychords (as in the opening chords of "3 NM Landscapes," and in the last measures of the last movement).

Another intervallic device that has remained important in many pieces is a descending pattern which I rarely maintain very far, but which is seen in C, B natural, G, F sharp, D, C sharp, A, G sharp, etc. It's just a half followed by a major third, then replicating the pattern. The example above starts out implying a tonic C chord, going to its dominant chord (the B, G), going to what at first feels Lydian, then like the dominant of the dominant (D chord), then outlining its dominant, A chord, etc. So, though descending, the harmonic motion is ascending through the circle of fifths--and going "backward" through the dominant-tonic relationships. It creates a kind of implosion, both descending and ascending, and a kind of inversion of harmonic function.

The first time I used it was in m. 73 of mvt I of "Voices From Chaco." It's the B theme, in the oboe: B flat descending to A and F, then E natural and C. In this first use of it, I saw it as simply a momentary flirtation with Lydian before returning to the tonic B flat chord--then alternating (as described above) with the Mixolydian mode (here an A flat in the B flat scale).
I’ve used another way of building a scale with the half-whole-half tetrachord, other than "my" scale (C, D flat, E flat, E natural, F sharp, G, A flat, B flat, B natural) or the octatonic (C, D flat, E flat, E natural, F sharp, G natural, A natural, B flat).

It can be seen in "Shaman's Power Song." I call it "connected," for lack of a better term. That's where the top note of the first tetrachord (E) is also the starting note for second tetrachord (E, F, G, A flat), and the A flat is the starting note for the third and final tetrachord (A flat, A natural, B, C). In Power Song, which has A major as the tonal center, the "scale" would be A, B flat, C natural, C sharp, D, E, F, F sharp, G sharp (or easier to see tonally, the top tetrachord would be F, G flat, A flat (A)).

The "connected" way, that’s used in "Shaman's Power Song," is a logical way of arriving at the "borrowed tone" that "cinematic" composers like to use. "Borrowed tone" is often used to describe the popular device of lowering the 6th degree in a major scale (like using A flat in a C scale, or F natural in an A scale, as in Power Song). The most common use is to walk up the tonic major triad, then go to the lowered 6th ("borrowed" from the parallel minor), then back down (A, C sharp, E, F natural, then back down). I did something similar in the first measure of the left-hand piano part in Power Song, but, in an effort to avoid sounding too predictable, I walked on up to the upper tonic note A before turning around.

The opening theme in the soprano, starting at m. 19, starts with the lowered 6th, resolves a half step down (which is why I like the borrowed tone--it has gravitational pull) to the fifth, then walks up the tonic tetrachord (A, B flat, C, C sharp) on "my right should-er"). The next phrase of the theme, at m. 24, goes from the tonic note to the dominant note and then walks down the upper tetrachord, but when it arrives at its bottom note (C), the underlying harmony changes to F major. That root movement (from A to F) is a major third, so that comes from the "connected" scale, from which I derive chord progressions built on each member of an augmented triad, rather than octatonic, from which I derive chord progressions built on each member of a diminished seventh. Those two schemes—major/minor triads built on the augmented triad and major/minor triads built on the diminished seventh—account for many of the chord-progressions and key-area shifts in my music.

Let me mention one more use of the tetrachord. This shows up in the pno part at the opening of the third movement of Voices From Chaco. Instead of trying to create a stable scale, with a constant tonic, I sometimes like to alternate between one of these tetrachords on the tonic note (F, G flat, A flat, B double flat) with one that starts on a note that's not in the first tetrachord (or any of its "scales"), as in the second beat of that measure, where the right hand uses (descending) the half-whole-half tetrachord, but built on G natural (C flat, descending to B flat, A flat, G). It gives a kind of "same but different" phase-shift effect.

That's my motto, by the way. I tell my comp students that I "bow down" every day to an imaginary plaque on the wall with three magic words on it: "SAME BUT DIFFERENT." If what we write is too predictable, we lose the audience. If what we write is too unpredictable, we lose the audience. Part of a composer's prime directive (but his playful joy too) is to constantly search for the right balance between same and different.

An example in harmony again would be the chords in the little piano piece, "African Desert" from “Three Views From Space.” The chords are very different—harmonically unrelated—but the listener accepts them because chord progressions have a common tone: g minor, b minor, d minor, f minor, c minor, a minor, f minor, D (the only major triad, the dominant). I often use the common tone as the melody note, to emphasize the "same"ness, in an effort to offset the "different"ness of the harmonic progressions.

This kind of progression appears a bit in the B theme of the last movement of Voices. The C minor/E flat major tonality in m. 59 goes to a minor in 60 (sharing G natural) and returns to C minor in 36.

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