Singing Your Song

I’ve been working recently on a little diversion from my usual composing: a set of arrangements for a songwriter of my acquaintance for recording and eventual release. I’ve been turning his lo-fi demos into petite string quartets. Although I’ve written dozens of songs (and a little music for string quartet), it’s novel for me to be entrusted with someone else’s material and explicitly given free rein to push or pull it in whatever direction the tune suggests.

Since I started in several months ago, in fact, I’ve found that my desire to push or pull has grown substantially. I suppose this sense of widening latitude is simply an instance of the oft-observed phenomenon that creative activity is dependent on some kind of limitation, however loosely or rigidly defined. In this case, my limitation has mostly to do with meter and harmony; however, my collaborator made it clear that even those parameters are negotiable, and it eventually struck me that—so long as I accommodate his singing voice—the “purely musical” characteristics of the tunes needn’t constrict me any more than their less tangible aspects. I started to view the arrangements as glosses on the original demos that might unveil meanings that had been present—but latent—in them all along.

I’m sure I’m not the only composer who flinches slightly whenever “collaboration” is invoked as a buzzword (even as we recognize its value and, indeed, necessity). But taking part in one, especially one characterized by risk taking and mutual respect, is its own reward. The results—which of course I’m very eager to hear—will be a cool bonus too.

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