Newest release “Reflections” 2014

As soon as the album completes ‘transit’ with Songcastmusic it will be available through Amazon, iTunes, and Spotify.

A brief description of the featured tracks which may be heard currently at http://www.songcastmusic.com/profiles/SuffolkSkies

Reflections_KurtHartle_Coverart_2014

Solemn Places was written with the beautiful architecture and depth of image present in the cover-art photo provided by my sister-in-law. I felt the shot captured something deeply peaceful and grounding. Hence, I was moved to write something to convey that sense of comfort, place, and security.

Savannah’s Song evolved very quickly into something of a sparkle and jump in its character. It is one of those works which I can only explain by saying that, “it turned out to be more than I had originally set out to achieve.”

Farewell to the Sleeping Giant revisits a short work I’d written during my dressage apprenticeship back in 1990. I have arranged it some 24 years later as a keyboard trio (two pianos, and celeste). I included a bit of rhythmic extenuation to lead the ear to a cheerful final refrain for this newer version. The Sleeping Giant is, itself, an anthropomorphic geological feature in the high desert town of Twin Oaks, California. The rocky human facial profile stood in full view of my little adobe house during my years in training. It reminds me of natural beauty and youthful vigour under the aegis of a fine German dressage mentor.

Fernando Sor, Breathing New Life into Old Works

As you can tell, from previous article titles, I often have to cope with putting musical works on hold. One strategy I’ve come up with is to take on a playful adaptation of a prior work (my own or that of a favourite composer). In this way I can modify sounds, textures, and moods whilst using an existing piece. It’s a way to keep the brain agile, especially concerning arranging and orchestration. A bit like adding oil to an engine, it keeps ideas lubricated. I know I’ll be able to rev the creative engine later, concerning my own works, when time pressures ease.

I have chosen to put the development of my own pieces down ‘briefly.’ In the mean time, to keep my mind engaged, I am working out a pianoguitar duet based on a short piece for solo guitar by Fernando Sor. I have little time these days for practice, let alone performance. But, I have many fond memories of past performances. Among the common cannon are the 60 Short Works for classical guitar. Good music has a timeless quality. The character and depth of expression make these studies an ideal focus for a bit of compositional effort. Here are my reflections on the process:

I look to preserve the characteristic phrases that make the piece a strong performance work for classical guitar. But, I also trade-off the solo line to the piano to extend the register above or below the relative guitar range. In places I have applied minimal piano – meaning no chordal or particular harmonic depth – to act as a surrogate guitar. The piano is a remarkably versatile instrument. And, in the case of this project, I am asking it to ‘become a guitar.’ (Yes, I was tempted to create a duet for two guitars…but thought that the piano could provide greater range in the lower and upper register [octaves]).

Both the guitar and the piano are string instruments, struck or plucked, with the ability to be percussive or lyrical within their physical parameters. I envisage performance in a hall which provides some resonant reverb as I compose. That way the interplay crafted between the instruments is neither too sonorous for one, nor too percussive for the other. My efforts should provide a blend of both percussive and lyrical qualities at the appropriate time. Even so, I want to favour the guitar in the overall expression. Young pianists enjoy a much larger performance development repertoire than young guitarists.

I take some creative license in shaping the piece. However, I don’t want to re-write a perfectly good composition. I’ve had to consider the transition(s) between major key passages and its minor form. As a solo work the shift is instantaneous. But to softly integrate the piano lead-in to the guitar I have ‘stretched’ the entry into the key change to minor and its return modulation to the major key. I have restructured the form. As a guitar solo, the piece stands with several repeated sections. I have removed two such repeats, and only covered the minor modulation once (because I elongated the entry into minor and crafted a very expressive minor-mode form with a short cadenza). As a guitar solo, the work relies upon the guitarist to re-interpret each section. But, I have discovered that the piano and guitar pull each other forward so effectively that I didn’t need the original repeats other than to restate the lovely theme to a finale.

Keeping the young player in mind, I plan to keep it simple – within the easy to moderate level of difficulty for both pianist and guitarist. The plan is to do a few such treatments to favourite works by Sor and publish the scores for young performers. I believe such a project might benefit young players who are looking to expand their range or repertoire and possible development within an ensemble. I know which piece is to be the next…if only I can locate it amongst the other volumes on the shelf!

As a coping strategy for dealing with external interruptions to my original compositions this kind of project is helpful. I am more at peace with permitting current delays to the development of current works. And, in coming up with this as an idea I now have a project to publish that I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of before! The exercise is breathing new life into old and familiar works. Great fun, indeed.

How to Preserve Artistic Identity When Life Gets in the Way; Finding Peace Amid Day to Day Interruptions

Cover Art for first Album

Here in Southwold, we have a strong artistic community. And, we enjoy strong art patronage. Whether one’s art is geared for personal satisfaction or commercial production it can be a monumental challenge to balance real life interruptions. There are many things that can interfere with our sculpting/writing/painting/composing.  In my own case it took a while longer to develop and collate the works chosen for my debut album than I’d planned. The challenges on my time to accomplish the first release were great. My own perspective as a composer, coupled with a degree of personal awareness of the general creative process, may provide assistance whatever your art medium happens to be.

The challenge lies in finding a way to recapture the mindset you had when you began your work of art before it was interrupted. If you’re retired, possessing bags of time to make progress, or a confirmed professional in your sphere of the art world, you might already have all of the time  resource you need.  Even then, life still chucks distractions at you which may interrupt your creative flow. As I write this, there are interruptions, family needs, pressing matters. *gentle sigh* Life, like music, vibrates. As I squeeze a tiny bit of artistic sensibility out of the crevices of a busy day I actually feel more at peace than hassled and hustled. Life is for living…you can always dedicate a little time later to resuscitate your art or music. Finding a measure of peace in coping with outside pressures is a choice you must make. Here are a few strategies which may help.

We all want to maintain our sense of self but must sometimes tuck our artistic identity (hastily) into a back pocket!  The good news is, you can still preserve your artistic identity throughout the day. Many artists have to hold a so-called day job. That job, which keeps you fed I remind you, may require patience…a great deal of it, in fact. Keep your self-definition as an artist close by. But, try also not to allow the knowledge that you’re capable of so much more taint your efforts at a more mundane sort of work. Your identity and pride in your art can elevate you throughout the day. People around you (co-workers) cannot be expected to reach out to you. Be the first to extend some understanding toward them. Remember to yourself, when you’re feeling pressed upon and indignant, that to be able to relate to those around you will inform your art style and composition to reach a broader audience. It is possible that your colleagues know nothing of your artistic pursuits/talents. Fine, if you prefer to keep a professional distance from them. You may even find the thought of having that little secret about yourself adds some mystique to your work personae. A small change of paradigm can bolster your inner strength. Make efforts to convert a negative into a neutrality…or if you’re pretty good at engaging optimism convert to the positive. The little bit of work you put into this will pay big dividends.

Even if a little tongue-in-cheek, ‘keep your friends close…keep your enemies even closer.’ The truth is there are no enemies at all. And, we all need a personal method for defusing daily tension and stress. Much of that stress is self-inflicted. The moment you realise this, the pressure subsides! We all contribute to each other’s quality of life, even in carrying out small and humble tasks. 

I often start a new piece, drop it mid-flight for some sort of real life ‘urgency,’ and then come back later to renew my engagement of the idea(s). Naturally, if I have a commissioned work I commit to its completion within the given time frame. In that case I have a job to do and I ‘remove myself from other runnings.’ That’s an eloquent way of saying I’ve made myself a temporary recluse to complete a commissioned work. When it comes to my own inventions (pieces written for my own pleasure/leisure) I am able to put them aside and return with no loss of depth to the work. If the circumstance requires me to drop what I was doing, I make mental or hastily written notes. A memory prompt like that takes me straight back to my moment of departure. In writing down a few words I have marked the thought I had at that moment. Sometimes I come back to my quick jot and find it utterly inappropriate…but it always helped to reorient my original idea. Albert Einstein preserved his conceptual brain space by writing notes and said famously (and I paraphrase), ‘why commit to memory [something] which one can look up.’ Lord knows I’m no Einstein. However, using memory prompts serve like a book-mark so that I can pick up on the page where I left off. You’d be surprised how few people use this simple tool.

I have discovered that being made to break from composing can impose an extremely helpful distance from my own works. If I were to remain too fully ‘in love’ with my own ideas I would lose the ability to edit or even abandon a poorly constructed phrase or melody. Take a moment to imagine this paradigm shift for yourself: Tell yourself that you are grateful for the thing/person interrupting your art; Say that you welcome the gap-time from your art (as it lets you view or hear your art from further away); Let yourself be pulled away from that particular project…if it has enough pull it will draw you back like a magnet. The compass will point in the right direction, and sometimes taking a circuitous route proves the more successful path. The map will still be there to read. What you are becoming is a better navigator, able to cope with the occasional/frequent detour! Even if you are playing devil’s advocate, applying this tip will help you to accept the whole process. It will also help to make you easier to live with…provided you care to address the concept of quality of life for those around you…as you may being to demonstrate some measure of good humour. In any case, you are becoming less a victim of life’s little inconveniences and interpositions.

My next secret to share is to place trust in unconscious storage. That means that your artistic ideas sometimes take flight in amazing ways if you allow yourself to sleep/dream on it. Modern man has to cope with many different levels of cognitive performance and absorption. The onslaught of information in this day and age means that our minds aren’t given any ‘processing time.’ In order to come to terms with the barrage of tasks, needs, duties, and all manner of outside interference which forces breaks in my creative endeavours I choose to view such distractions as a helpful part of the journey. I’ve had dreams which provided solutions to problem areas of form or mood in my music. Such moments are rare, it is true. However, I can better make conscious use of problem-solving efforts if I am not wound-up about the last hiatus within my work. [see also; adaptive-reasoning] When I place trust in the physiological process that takes place overnight, i.e. sleep and the ordering/organisation of experience, I know that my ideas and creativity are something still ‘at work’ in my mind.

Granting myself permission to let the music I’d put on hold play out overnight is like a pressure release valve. If my given productive time has run its course, and I still haven’t come up with a solution to a problem area in a new piece of music, the resolution often comes when I’ve allowed myself to let go of it. Or, if I’ve simply run out of time and am too tired to continue I feel better about letting go. Giving oneself permission to rest on an idea eliminates negative conditioning. You will begin to grant yourself rights and freedoms which can unlock the creative process. In this way the artist may better balance the active-and-passive elements to unlock the evolving work of art. This is not to confused with procrastination, nor a lack of work ethic. That condition is beyond the scope of this article! What I’m suggesting here is a way or method of applying a holistic methodology. The human mind at ‘rest’ can be a powerful instrument and unravel problems that had been blocked by various elements during conscious/waking hours.

Actually, for being sidelined for a while, I’ve had a few of my pieces over the years turn into something much bigger than they would have been. There was a measurable increase in quality for the pause. It has taken some time for experience to recommend me this. Thus, I  have shared these suggestions with you so you might recognise it sooner. Conscious or unconscious, isn’t it good to be able to let go rather than struggle to hold a thing too tightly. Life and art doesn’t have to be a constrictive and white-knuckled ride. If you have a new tool, use it for the right reason. Learn not only how to cope with life’s interruptions to your art process, learn to be at peace with them. In these ways you can convert those interruptions into welcome and useful tools!