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.