Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A love of dots

I receive a flat parcel in the post, from Germany.  It is a score of a Trio for clarinet, violin and piano by Galina Ustvolskaya.  I leave it on a chair and then get distracted by the day, taking children to crèche, doing housework, paying bills, cooking dinner.  The next day I find a window of time to myself, open the parcel, look at the lovely white newness of the score, find the recording on my ipod, put on my headphones and settle into a chair to read.  This is one of my great loves.  One of my other great loves, a two year old, is asleep on the couch next to me.  She stays asleep long enough for me to read the piece through but not long enough to write about it.  That will keep.

I wanted to write something about the joy of score reading.  It is a difficult thing to describe to the uninitiated.  I read the black spots on lines that another composer at another time has arranged in a particular way to represent the sounds that they hear and want others to hear.  Could I describe it as like reading an x-ray of a poem, if such a thing existed?  The black marks on the page are such an abstraction, a visual shorthand so far removed from the music that they represent but somehow reading a score takes me somewhere quite strange and profound.  I can read the dots and lines that someone else has made and I can almost imagine their thoughts as they write; how they imagine each of these sounds, the shape, the colour, the taste.  I can imagine my own hand holding that pencil as it hovers over the page, as I try to grasp that fleeting shadow of imagined sound and pin it to the page before it disappears.  I listen to the music as I follow the score and the experience of listening becomes something quite different – an experience of being inside the piece of music.  Not just of being inside a sound but of having an insight into the idea, the intangible inexpressible thing around which the piece of music has grown and given voice to.  Words are beautiful and I love the written word.  But these strange circles and lines and curves and dots, and the sounds that they attempt to capture, have a more powerful hold over my imagination.  And remind me of why I write music, and that I will keep writing music, even if no one else hears it.

(a little bit from my new piece)


  1. thank you, christine, i love how you wrote about your love of music on the page. I'm not a composer, though when I was about 9yo and learning to play the flute, i started writing my own little melodies for it, but dropped off doing so shortly after. and then i quit flute a couple of years later. but i've always sung in choirs, etc, and also danced as a kid, and i have a love of those dots, too, in how they look like a dance across those bars to me.

    but i am a poet, and your likening this to viewing an xray of a poem is wonderfully representative! after all, written music is another written language. and all sounds uttered from written language is music to our ears...

  2. Thanks Cath, I'm glad it made sense to someone who's not a composer!

  3. I'm continually fascinated by how you describe your experience of music, because it is such an alien experience to me. Thank you for sharing and explaining in terms that a complete outsider can (almost) grasp. This is where the whole blog thing is so wonderful because this is not something we ever get the chance to discuss in normal conversation! I really treasure these posts of yours.

  4. Next post - A love of blogs. And I do love my blog almost as much as dots. Maybe when our children are older we can all talk about dots together but in the mean time blog is good. Thanks Kate. cx

  5. So nice to read and get into your head about your head getting into the mind of another composer via the simultaneous listening and reading (dots) experience.

    Its a unique position you are in to be able to do that. I went to a Melbourne Opera gig last night at the RACV club and listened in awe at the duets in particular, and the perfect synergie of the two vocal instruments as they weaved and wafted their way around the music so beautifully embroidered..........I marvel at the way you composer types put it all together. "Blog-On" Sister Paul x (it says I am anonymous but its me, doc.

  6. You are completely amazing. I have witnessed friends (music teachers) simultaneously read through a score at speed, softly humming as they went and it was a marvel to watch...
    I used to read music very slowly, but never mastered it, and now it is forgotten...

  7. oh, thank you for your comment. Sorry to make you cry!
    It is not actually that I can cuddle my daughter, but I kind of fight her into a lump in my bed.
    Hold her down, and bore her to sleep. LOL

    BTw I bought that album of music on Itunes, the Misterioso one, and I have been playing it today. I am a fan of Spiegel am SPiegel and was happy to find that version on there . So thanks.

    1. Hi again, this was the only way I could work out how to get in touch... Could you email me cmccombe@iprimus.com.au ? I wanted to ask about your photos. Christine

  8. Thanks Fifi. I love your blog with all its watery images and lovely thoughts. I would love to be able to render such beautiful things - the light and the quality of water.

  9. Really lovely to read your musings on reading the special language of music! I wonder if dancers feel similar things when reading choreography...probably...

  10. Thank you for this beautiful post! What a great description of the creative process in motion. And more to reflect on.
    Mags (WA)