Child’s Eyes

This piece was conceived as a tone poem of sorts, that is, to tell a story using music.  The story is of a life, or rather a portion of a life.  Initially the music (in a minor key) illustrates that life as being one filled with unstoppable attitude and insatiable drive, lived hard, full of repetitive excess, in which new habits simply add on to old ones, a life that quickly and almost overwhelmingly becomes larger than life, larger than itself or anything it could contain or control.  It suddenly collides with old memories and new realizations, confronting its own ungovernable excess and collapsing under its own unsustainable weight. It is replaced with a form of oblivion filled with demons that once were friends, but with glimpses of light and hope amidst the frightening shadows.  Gradually this limbo retreats, the demons recede, the light becomes stronger, and the underpinnings of reason and the support of caring others provide a framework in which the hope can express itself.  The tempo of life becomes somewhat slower and more contemplative, the theme threaded through the life is gentler and richer, the attitude and drive are more focused and purposeful, manifesting themselves through diverse and playful incarnations, alternately epic and spiritual, sophisticated and childlike.  The piece — like the life — ultimately resolves itself to a brighter and more inspirational (read: major) key.

This composition arose from a brief glimpse of someone’s eyes on a television reality show.  The expression was a combination of surprise and naïveté, as if the person were seeing something for the first time, or for the first time in a long time.  The expression a child might have in response to something new and different and heretofore unexperienced.  The words “child’s eyes” immediately popped into my head, and a pair of long-dormant Muses — musical and poetic — were reawakened. The musical one demanded notes for the words, and the ones that finally emerged — the three-note leitmotif that opens the piece and forms its basis — dictated that the piece would be in the key of F minor. Being a trumpet player, F minor is not a key that I would ordinarily tackle, much less one in which I would think and compose, but that was the key I was given by my mysterious Muse.  The poetic Muse provided a sketchy lyric, sufficient to give a basic structure to the piece.  My poetic/lyrical chops were and are not yet up to the task of actually providing words to accompany the music in full, but the final composition is tailored to allow for them should I ever return to the challenge.

“Child’s Eyes” not only described my perception of the image that initiated this compositional process, but also served as a metaphor for the return to innocence, the awakening of feelings long discarded, the discovery of a new freshness of outlook, and the rebirth of a new life. “Child’s Eyes” would be the title of the piece.

I originally thought that it would be through-composed, but the DAW (digital audio workstation, that is, music software) I’d selected for this project (energyXT) wouldn’t easily support things like tempo changes or shifts of time signature in a single piece.  Working with the software and working with the basic theme, it soon became clear that my best chance of success lay in working with a conventional song form (verses and a bridge, optional chorus) and different expressions of the thematic material.  The base melody derived from the initial leitmotif was in 3/4 time, perfect for the gentler resolution of the overall composition but totally unsuited to the mood I wanted to convey at the outset.  I’d been listening to some dubstep recordings around this time, and it seemed that the basics of the form — 4/4 time, 140 BPM, snare/clap on the 3 of the bar, throbbing sub-bass — would lend themselves nicely to my purposes.  So it came to pass that I created two versions of the theme, and postponed the problems inherent in grafting them together until I saw exactly what material I would have to work with.

Once I’d abandoned through-composition in favor of a synthesis of song form material, I realized that I needed a bridge.  For days I’d hum ideas or let them rattle around in my head but I committed nothing to paper or magnetic storage.  The tool I was using to work out the melody, bass and harmony was a freebie composition and scoring program called MuseScore.  One evening I just sat down with the program and literally threw down the bridge.  The next evening I added the bass line for the bridge, and within a couple more days I added the chords.  It’s changed very little, if at all, since I originally wrote it, and is frankly my favorite part of the tune. Arranging the bridge was even more fun once I got into it.

Both expressions of the theme have the same structure:  intro, verse 1, verse 2, bridge, verse 3, coda, outro.  The verses within a given version are melodically similar if not necessarily identical, and both versions originate from the same DNA (as do the manifestations of the life they represent).  There are superficial similarities in the arrangements of both (use of brass or ethereal pads at particular points in the piece), but aside from being constructed using the same melodic and harmonic origins they are quite different in tone and approach.