Production and Philosophy: Practical example of "What composing, arranging, improvising and interpreting is”. (2018)

In recent weeks, I decided to make a playlist of boleros to give to my grandmother. What is more, I realized that I had made it as a pianist/ arranger, which has already generated in me, experiences and conclusions that I would like to share.

First of all, I will help the reader to understand the function of both interpretation and composition:

The composer "creates" new material (coherent itself) and from the point of view of the fine arts expresses emotion, ideas or values through sounds / silences. The composition happens in an inner place, with time (which implies capacity for selection and editing). If someone composes in real time, the word is improvisation; According to Stravinsky the composition was "selective improvisation".

On the other hand, the interpreter is in charge of bringing it to life. In this process the interpreter takes the information delivered and when turning it into "reality" must pass through the veil of his consciousness which he transforms music (for better or worse) inevitably permeating his vision on it. The interpreter decides whether to follow the aesthetics of the composer's era and his original ideas or break them giving him a new meaning: this is expressed specifically in the nuances of his interpretation, both in dynamics and in the sense of the phrase, composing, articulation and tempo. Finally, the music is not only technical effects but also what they mean, which is in its base values and a sociocultural ideology

As an extra tip, the arranger is in charge of transforming the composition, which was originally made for certain instruments and styles, to another format (other instruments, other styles, etc.)

In my experience I have had an ambivalent relationship with the interpretation, first, because I started as a pianist although I have always been a composer, and secondly, because being a composer the relationship with the interpretation is almost inevitable.

My mission was simple, to make a series of piano arrangements for boleros and record them without edition to make a playlist for my grandmother.

It seems simple and it is: the first challenge is mental: how to do it and to be satisfied as a professional with this?

I wanted to do the task as humbly as possible, it is a gift that comes from my heart, so, in this case, no one is demanding certain characteristics from me, nobody pushes me to deeply re-harmonize, or to phrase in this or that way. Then, I decided to do it with love, rather than with technical pressure.

After deciding that it would be the affection that would lead the arrangements, I took a harmonic guide with melody and began to play, some re-harmonizations were born. Besides, I also decided to keep the melody as simple as possible so my grandmother could listen to the melody and connect with it . My Harmony teacher used to tell me that musicians sometimes forget the melody, my practical experience as well as studies has confirmed that and with that in mind, I started recording.

While recording the already 6 videos (and I hope there will be more) I also realized that my ability as an arranger and composer is more accurate than my ability as a pianist. This is, of course, neither good nor bad, my fingers have to follow my head and it is as I chose it, otherwise, I would have studied composition. The difficult thing here was the second challenge: sometimes, things don't go well, period.

In general, serious and self-demanding people suffer with this; in my case, it took me 2 to 6 hours per song to record them. However, I chose that instead of poisoning myself with mistakes and technical difficulties, I had to focus on how much I love my grandmother and music and if I got tired I stopped, whenever I could, I thanked for the opportunity to make this gift. Finally, the third and most difficult lesson: Learning to live with the shadow.

Once a good shot was recorded, there was always something I did not like, some nuance, some phrase that was not the same that I had in my head, some superficial error. Above all, my hands sometimes were not up to my arrangements, that is to say: it did not sound exactly what it sounded in my head; I knew that within my imagination, it sounded better in my head. Make the decision about what I did is right and avoiding the edition that could have taken me hours is a great lesson that I have tried to convey to my composition students; I was on that situation (even years ago, especially recording Hilo Rojo album), but the feeling will never disappear: hugging the shadow and "accepting that it is enough" is not giving up, is opening the door to new experiences, new challenges and the creation of more material that if we did not exist, it would not be born.

I hope this information / experience will be useful to my apprentices and who knows if some other music lover.


Danilo Dawson