In Random Neural Firings

So – I heard from Ed today. Ed is my reader. As in, the only confirmed regular reader of this blog that I can personally attest to. And Ed wrote to say it’s time for me to write another blog entry. (Ed is old, and he’s learned that with age comes the right to be pushy.)

This is not Ed’s first time to prod like this. He’s done this before.  And at that time, I tried to explain to Ed  that for me to maintain my reputation as the World’s Laziest Blogger, it’s necessary for me to go days and days, weeks, and sometimes even months between blog posts.

Apparently, Ed didn’t get the message. So, this one’s for Ed.

I am collaborating with Sibelius this week. Sibelius the composer, not the software. (Though I will l be using the software on the pieces I’m writing.) I’ve been asked to do an arrangement of Sibelius’ most famous tune, “Finlandia.” Honestly, “Finlandia” is the only tune by Sibelius I can think of. I’m sure he composed loads of music, but “Finlandia” is the one everybody knows.

Now, there are only about a thousand arrangements, settings, and treatments of “Finlandia” already out there floating about the music universe. To come up with anything remotely fresh is darn near impossible. Plus, I need to keep the setting appropriate for the new words, written by Bryan jeffrey leach. His lyrics are sober and thoughtful, so I think it’s safe to say this will not be a burning jazz arrangement of “Finlandia.”

Also, “Finlandia” has a very familiar harmonic structure. If one monkeys around with the well-known chords too much, one risks the ire of folks who like “Finlandia” they way they always heard it. I don’t wanna risk anyone’s ire. But it’s my job to put a fresh coat of paint on the tune. And I will, no doubt, displease someone. That’s inevitable whenever you tinker with well-known music.

Besides Sibelius, I’ve also been asked to work on a choral setting of Eric Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1,” an impressionistic piano piece written in the late 1800s. Considering it’s age (It’s older than Ed, for crying out loud.), it still is very contemporary. I don’t envy my lyricist on this job, John Parker. He’s the one who’s gotta be brilliant. Not me, so much. Satie’s piece is what it is.

Interestingly, “Gymnopedie No. 1” is Satie’s most (if not only) famous piece.

So, Sibelius and Satie. That’s who I’m working with these days. A couple of One-Hit Wonders. Though they would both tell you they were slumming if they knew they were working with me.

Since this blog post is dedicated to Ed, and since Ed is an alumni of the Composer Symposium, I feel the need to make a teachable point. And I think it might be this: After a lifetime of writing, long after you’re dead and gone, count yourself lucky if you wrote even one piece that folks still sing and play 100 years later.

Writing great music – if it was easy, everybody would do it.

That’s it, Ed. I hope I’m good for the next few weeks now.


Showing 4 comments
  • Julie

    I’m regular reader #2!! I came across your blog last year and have been following it ever since, and yes, Ed is right, it was time for another post. Keep them coming! (FYI- I don’t write music. I’m a classically trained pianist, who injured her arm in college. God has graciously placed me in the Heartland of America teaching children’s music in a Lutheran church.)

    • rsterling

      A second reader! That’s a 100% increase! With improvement like that, I should be running a major corporation, or something. Thanks for reading, Julie. I’ll try to be a little more consistent. But generally speaking, my most consistent trait is my inconsistency.

  • Monte Garrett

    Robert, I’m not sure I would call Sibelius a “one-hit wonder.” A “two-hit wonder” maybe; but that’s probably not fair either. Besides Finlandia, which is a much more substantial piece than people know (most only know the tune which has been used for a couple of different hymn texts), he is also well-known for his Violin Concerto. But, enough of that….

    Please let me know when you’re finished with the piece. I enjoy his texts.

    • rsterling

      Ha! Point well made. And now Baylor may want to recall my degree for not paying attention in Music History class. 🙂

      Still waiting on an official response from the publisher. If they don’t take it – I’ll look elsewhere. I’ll keep you posted.

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