“That was really beautiful.” Not a comment I hear too often, but that was the consensus from the various audience members who bothered to seek me out during a recent post-concert reception. I was even asked to autograph someone’s program book—a rarity, to say the least, in this jaded town. So what gives? Why did people respond so well to my new solo piano piece Superdecke Hyperdecke? It certainly couldn’t be the title. My suspicion tells me that the apparent success may be due to the fact that the music is steeped in tonality. Personally, I’ve never really thought about whether or not I was composing tonally or atonally. I mean, I’ve always been aware of things like dissonance and balance, but key signatures and accidentals that carry through an entire measure seem to me a little anachronistic, especially considering the fact that I rarely even use “measures” these days.
Throughout my schooling, I was never persuaded to compose in any particular style or camp. Like everyone else, I sat through undergraduate harmony and counterpoint classes knowing in the back of my mind that this stuff would be as useless in real life as those advanced placement trigonometry and calculus courses in high school. But recently, I’ve grown tired of the particular compositional path I’ve been sauntering down. Let’s call it ironic-superficial-complexity with a conceptual bent and a little dark humor thrown in. I still like the work I created in that vein and I’m not completely leaving it behind, but lately I’ve been overcome by the music I listened to when I was a kid: cheesy disco and new ro. I can’t seem to shake those undulating bass lines that ping pong between octaves, so for the first time, I decided to go there.
Of course we composers are expected to muss things up a bit, or at least bury our influences deep into the fabric of the music. Perhaps my litter box needs changing, I don’t know, but for some reason I decided to leave some rather recognizable body parts unburied. For me, some of the more poignant moments in the piece are when these decaying musical fragments from my tween years bubble to the surface, inducing instantaneous melancholy—at least for someone familiar with one hit wonders like Trans X and Stacey Q, or bands like Duran Duran. But for the pianist, one of these pop riffs sounded like Ravel, and that’s the beauty of tonality, really. With its limited scope, so many ideas and memories can be triggered with three simple notes. Is it me, or has there been a groundswelling trend towards tonal music over the past decade? Or am I just looking at things from a slightly different angle now?