I Like Short Songs

Illustration by Gonzalo Fuentes

2 August 2016, Tuesday 

I’ve begun the process of rereading all the passages I’ve underlined in books I’ve previously read. Today’s noteworthy passage is from Ben Shahn’s The Shape of Content:

“A small sketch of Picasso’s, a drawing of Rouault, or Manet or Modigliani is not to be dismissed as negligible, for any such piece contains inevitably the long evolutionary process of taste, deftness, and personal view. It is, in brief, still dictated by the same broad experience and personal understanding which molds the larger work.” [p. 40]

I rarely feel a need for external validation (I am brimming with self-confidence endowed by my loving parents) but I do value thoughtful like-mindedness, especially when it concerns an uncommon perspective. Shahn’s words are corroborating evidence of my belief in the importance of composing very short pieces of music.

I have composed, recorded, and released at least a dozen pieces that clock in at less than one minute. Halloween Baptizm is now proving to serve as an archetype for this style of composing, as it is made up of 13 different pieces, but the total length will probably be under 24 minutes! Three pieces in Halloween are less than a minute in length, and six more are less than two minutes. Still, these pieces say all they have to say – and they say quite a bit.B

For many years I have maintained that longer works aren’t better, they’re just longer. Many a 20-40-minute classical symphony is composed of obligatory filler. As Igor Stravinsky is reputed to have said, “Too many pieces of music finish too long after the end.” This is not to say that there aren’t long works in which each note serves a purpose, only that one shouldn’t judge the value of a piece of music by how many notes it has or how long it is…

I was going to write, “how long it takes to listen to it” but in fact that might be a more accurate measure of its worth. An intriguing 32-second piece of music might excite a listener to play it over and over and over again, turning those 32 seconds into an hour or more. Conversely, many a listener would be hard-pressed to listen to a pretty-good 90-minute symphony more than once in one sitting.