It’s taken me 78 ½ years to figure this out, but I’ve finally discovered and now totally believe in my priority when it comes to music. It’s clarified my time management and also helped me to recognize what’s of lesser importance, what’s essential, relative importance.
That’s it, completely! The “main thing” is getting my sheet music out there! That’s the “main thing” as in the slogan: “Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing!”
It’s worth remembering that in the English language, “Priority” cannot be plural. There can be only one priority. It’s become common in informal language to speak of “priorities” but that’s not the original meaning. Realizing Priority is singular really sharpens the mind (as in when lost in a jungle Getting the Hell Out of There is the priority…nothing else matters).
Everything else in the graphic at the top of this post is in support of getting sheet music available, all supporting tasks/products having their own order of importance.
It used to be that I would get lost in all those possible products thinking maybe the videos where what I should be doing, or maybe the audio, or maybe orchestral pieces. Nope, committing to this priority is making a difference in my compositional life.
It should be noted that this is my compositional priority. Others will have their own. This priority is important to me, possibly for reasons I don’t even understand. So it will be for the priority others will have. I’m only sharing how having a priority for my music and committing to it has improved my music making.
And yes, that key word “committing” probably deserves another post someday. It’s not always easy to “commit.” As first articulated in the book, Do It! Let’s Get Off Our Buts (1991) by Peter McWilliams, you can do anything you want, just not everything you want.
There’s a book a friend of mine, Robert Help, read when he was about my age, called The Summing Up, by Somerset Maugham. I’ve not yet read it (it’s on my list with several thousand others), but just the title strikes a responsive chord with me. It’s what I seem to be doing right now: summing up all I’ve written and recorded (audio and/or video), and where the scores and recordings might be found, listed all in into one spot: https://hiltonkeanjones.com/compositions/.
It’s a monumental effort. In addition to what’s already on that page, I have 46 more original compositions to get on there and 34 arrangements of public domain tunes. That’s not counting all the links that need to be added to existing listings on the page and any new pieces I might manage to write and record.
As a former composition student, now himself a teacher and a friend, once answered when I asked myself why I continued to write: “Because that’s what you do.” It’s probably the best answer I’ve ever heard. (I assume that answer also applies to organizing what one has written.) Although, I am well aware and fully admit “vanity of vanities! All things are vanity” is even more true.
The most recent addition to the composition page is an updated version of The World of Starlit Butterflies.
The piano part is completely rewritten so it’s shorter and hopefully more interesting but still fun to play and listen to. The 2 keyboard version and the solo piano version have exactly the same piano part. In other words, the strings are optional. Using the second keyboard gives pianists the chance to experience ensemble playing, a skill they’ll need in order to earn a living later in life. The fundamental piece is the solo piano version, the video that leads this article.
I seem to have found “my place,” writing pieces and arrangements for piano that fit the “easy intermediate” difficulty level. I’m quite happy to have found “my place.” It’s my happy place! Those pieces are selling!
In my job as music director at Lakewood UCC (my favorite church job of all time, without exaggeration!) the piano pieces I’ll be doing Sunday, Mother’s Day, were all favorites of my mom’s. Here’s the list, with YouTube links. Only the first link is me; the rest are my favorite YouTube versions of the pieces.
I’ve written a lot of music in almost 77 years. And arranged a lot. Played and improvised a ton more. When it comes to marketing, though, I’ve been a dismal failure. My usual approach is to write a piece and then put it in a drawer and forget it.
Beginning with the pandemic–I guess because we were stuck at home and insomnia demanded something to do in the wee hours–I began to record some of my stuff and to dig through my files to find stuff I’d written in the past.
The pandemic was a resurrection of sorts for me, creatively.
After getting into recording my stuff, now finally, I’m getting CDs made and digital albums online. Along with selling the CDs on Amazon and CD Baby, my stuff will also be on BandCamp, Spotify and iTunes.
All this is self-publishing, of course, but these days, indie publishing no longer suffers from the curse of being called “vanity” publishing. Technology has made that old point of view irrelevant. Indie publishing is self expression and countless, truly countless examples exist on the internet, every second, of the world’s interest in the self-expression of others. For sure, not everyone’s expression finds an immense audience, but that doesn’t matter. Expression is its own reward.
The Native American melodies (of primarily the Omaha tribe)) harmonized by Arthur Farwell were drawn from the late 19th Century 20 year research of Alice C. Fletcher, holder of the Thaw Fellowship, Peabody Museum, Harvard University.
Creative folk (musicians, authors, graphic artists, dancers, etc.) create amid a world of 7,874,965,825 ideas of what we should and shouldn’t do! It’s hard enough discerning what we believe ourselves, but the cultural noise gets deafening and discouraging sometimes. One bit of that cultural noise is the prohibition against “cultural approbation.” To make matters worse—regard that issue—white supremacists have taken up against the issue. One is damned if one does support cultural sensitivity or damned if one doesn’t!
Unless we wish to discard Debussy’s pieces based on the traits of Spanish music, Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, Ravel’s music based on Asian scales, Beethoven’s “Turkish March” in his 9th Symphony, and on and on and on…then, everyone needs to find their own comfort zone as to where the boundaries are regarding the setting of “folk” material. (I realize even the term, “folk,” has a colonialist tinge to it.)
My own feeling is that if a setting of other material is…
fully acknowledges the source,
isn’t intended to represent itself as anything other than what it is, and
makes its own contribution to the material artistically,
…then it doesn’t deserve to be condemned for cultural approbation.
I believe Farwell’s setting (and hopefully my own) fall into the “approved” category.
Here’s some info about the UCC’s Native American Ministry. I especially like the first one!
“The 29th General Synod of the United Church of Christ approved a Resolution of Witness calling for the UCC to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, which authorized the genocide of native people and the theft of native lands. In that Resolution we recognize the complicity of the Churches, including the UCC, in the perpetration of these injustices.”
“The Council for American Indian Ministry (CAIM) is the voice for American Indian people in the UCC. CAIM provides Christian ministry and witness to American Indians and to the wider church. Justice issues that affect American Indian life are communicated to the whole UCC by CAIM. “
This blog primarily serves as an electronic “business card” for myself as a composer/performer. At first, I talked about what I knew…teaching composition. But, then the damn pandemic hit (I called it the “damndemic”). As dreadful as this has been–and continues to be–my worklife as a musician was changed from life performance to studio only in order to provide the music my job required. I loved working in the wee hours in my studio and releasing the results as needed for my job (music director at Lakewood UCC). I posted those music videos here.
Then, thanks to the vaccine, I was able to return to live performance of a limited sort (socially distanced, fully masked, fully vaccinated participants). Then, suddenly, my need to provide studio music no longer existed. So now what? What intrinsic PURPOSE does my music have now that there’s no extrinsic need requiring it?
The picture at the top is of Igor Stravinsky. I was very, very lucky to attend, for my last two years of undergraduate study, the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music in Stockton, California. My composition teacher was Standworth Beckler. If I was lucky to be at UoP I was even luckier to be Mr. Beckler’s student. Once a semester he offered to both grad and undergrad students a class based entirely on his own research. One such course was a his analyses of every piece Igor Stravinsky wrote! Every piece!
I took away a lot from his courses, and one thing I took away from his Stravinsky course was that Stravinsky seemed to be teaching himself how to compose throughout his life. That was the only explanation I could find that accounted for the wide, wide, wide range of styles he wrote in throughout his life. Stravinsky, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, and the Beatles all had that continual stylistic exploration in common! Perhaps it’s no coincidence I am as fond as I am of these composers.
It’s dawned on me, as I look back at my own life, including the present, that–although I’m not claiming to be a Stravinsky–when there is no external circumstance demanding a “product,” the underlying purpose of my music–why I compose–is to learn how to compose. The “product” is my learning. What people hear is just the “byproduct.” The real product is what happens within me and the growth of my skills.
It is freeing whenever I remember this. It doesn’t matter what others think. If they happen to like something, that’s nice, but their liking it doesn’t provide the purpose for me doing it in the first place. It’s what I learn how to do that’s important.
It’s not even vague things like “crafting a work of art” or something. With each piece my subconscious has things it (me) wants to learn how to do. In making the piece I discover (that’s a key word I think…I don’t “figure out,” I “discover,” it’s very much a non-verbal how-to) how to do that. The piece is just a result.
Curious how this lines up with what I spent my life doing as a profession: teaching others to compose. For me, it’s about learning, discovering. Down deep, that’s the intrinsic motivation for me. Extrinsic opportunity to show-and-tell is nice, but when I want to do something that “matters,” for me it’s learning how to compose.
If you want to just listen to some background music, I continue to accumulated tracks that I’d done for my church job athttps://soundcloud.com/hilton-kean-jones/sets/music-at-lakewood. Easter Sunday I’m going to do my first in-person since more than a year ago. There’ll be good ventilation, I’ll be double masked plus a face shield and very distanced physically. Not sure if they will continue with in person services, however. They are only accommodating distancing by having two services and achieving adequate fresh air by opening an entire wall of sliding doors. It will soon be too hot to do that, keeping up two services isn’t sustainable, and it’s still way too soon to give up on distancing since such a small percentage of the population is vaccinated. So, they may go back to cyber until it’s either safe to have in-person services continuously or it’s cool enough outside to make the sanctuary open-air. That’s not up to me. I know I’m not willing to eat indoor restaurants yet…don’t know how I feel about playing indoor services. It’s causing me a lot of anxiety but I’m trying to stay calm. LOL
Not much actual writing by me on this post because the only thing I feel competent to discuss is music itself. But, the topic is very important to me and, I believe, to everyone whether they think so or not. So what follows are links to some articles and art by others you might want to read or experience.
As I work on this post, I realize how totally insignificant my suggestions are compared to the overwhelming wealth of knowledge their is on the Internet. Just google [songs of the underground railroad] and you’ll be amazed…amazed!
The fascists like to denigrate what they derisively refer to as “identity politics.” Of course, no one likes to have their art dismissed as “women’s film,” “gay poetry,” “Black music,” “Latin composers”…the list goes on. But, what can be more important to defend and espouse in one’s art than personal characteristics that are discriminated against in society. I recommend, if you feel uncomfortable with the people of any of those socially excluded categories, you seek out and steep yourself in their art and let what they express build your empathy for their identity. This is politics in art of the most personal sort. I’ll have a complete post on this sometime.
BUT FOR NOW… that’s enough words. Here’s a couple pro-union songs by Pete Seeger to send you on your way: