Part of being a musician is to push the boundaries of what’s usually done. A lot of times contemporary music aims to do just that and to explore new ideas and sounds.
Someone told me the other day that they can’t stomach contemporary music. They said that it just sounds “weird and bad”, and that there really isn’t any genuine meaning behind it. I mean I feel that way too sometimes — I’m not always sure what to make of the sounds I hear. But I think contemporary music has the ability to explore music in a very non-traditional way. Traditional classical music has rules and boundaries, some of which contemporary music can just break.
My saxophone teacher recently put me and three other students in a quartet. We were given a piece, Galante’s Sealed with a Kiss, to learn in three weeks. On first look, it’s kind of absurd. There are no notes whatsoever and it made me question why I was doing this in the first place. I think I felt similar to how my friend perceived contemporary music.The piece consists of a series of alternative sounds you make through the saxophone. The instrument serves as an amplifier to the sounds or as a mechanism to make the sounds. Examples would be saying “tss tss” through the mouth piece, or fluttering your tongue to make a “khhh” sound. With four different musicians making the sounds at one time, cool rhythms are made.
Even my friends in the quartet hated the pieces initially. We wanted to make nice and beautiful sounds, not screeches and puffs into the saxophone. It was like learning an entirely new instrument, and one I didn’t really even enjoy.
I think part of that sentiment came from the fact that it was a mess the first few times we rehearsed it. It was only through more rehearsals and coachings from our teacher that we were beginning to find the groove of the piece. My teacher had told us that Galante was his roommate back in undergrad., and that he had written the piece as a sort of satire to the serious conservatory atmosphere. With this background in my mind, I think the piece really grew on all of us.
Keeping an open mind, I think, is one of the most important things when studying music. As humans, we naturally gravitate towards what sounds good and pleasant to our ears, but what is art if we don’t explore the disgusting and uncomfortable? Studying this piece has been a real learning experience for me, and I’m grateful I had the chance to be a part of it.
We performed the piece on 2/19 at the Words In Music concert at the Peabody Conservatory. When we get a recording, I’ll try to upload some snippets here.