Revising music: a complex and hidden art

By Chelsea Cannon
Correspondent

Revising a piece of music is like “an architectural construction,” “translating a Russian novel,” and “looking at your seventh grade picture,” according to Stephen Gorbos, who presented as a part of the Brown Bag Series on Friday, Nov. 1.

Gorbos opened the lecture, “Inside a Composer’s Studio: The Process of Revising a Piece,” with a word of relief. He and his fellow composer, the College’s director of bands David Vickerman, geared the presentation toward “people who maybe have a limited experience with music.” As a result, the lecture included a slew of metaphors, anecdotes and practical platforms to illustrate the process of revising a piece of music.

The TCNJ Wind Ensemble helps to perform Gorbos’s musical piece ‘Bounce,’ revised to synchronize with the group’s wind instruments. (tcnj.edu)

The focus of revision centered on the piece “Bounce,” which Gorbos began to work on a year and a half ago.

“I called the piece ‘Bounce’ because I wanted it to have the possibilities for openness or interpretation,” he said. “You can take ‘Bounce’ and see what it means for yourself.”

While Gorbos spoke at the lectern, Vickerman stood alert and ready to conduct, as the lecture included both past recordings from the Albany Symphony and live excerpts performed by the College’s Wind Ensemble on stage.

Gorbos articulated the trials of revising “Bounce” from an orchestral piece to something suitable for a wind ensemble. He explained that an orchestra filled with string instruments produces a very “homogenous” or unified sound. In contrast, a wind ensemble is considered “heterogeneous” because “there are so many different tambours to work with.”

A number of problems emerged while translating the piece to a different set of instruments. In what Gorbos referred to as his “special violin section,” the flute could have certainly matched the ethereal pitch, but it was unlikely to have the same weight of expression. He reached a solution by alluding to a jazz-like style with a soprano saxophone instead.

The lecture concluded with a full performance of the nine-minute piece. “Bounce” had a light sound with a syncopated beat that evoked both playfulness and anticipation. As Gorbos put it, he created “an athletic piece” that was open to interpretation.

“One of the things we don’t usually recognize when we’re looking back at these master works of classical music … is that they were all very fluid,” Gorbos said. “They lived in flux as a composer revised or tweaked certain things.”

The College’s Wind Ensemble will play another rendition of “Bounce” next Friday, Oct. 8, at 8 p.m. in Kendall Hall.