17 September 2013

My String Quartet

I've been meaning to write a string quartet for almost fifteen years. My multitude of notebooks contain dozens of beginnings, always unsatisfactory and abandoned. Even more fester in musical purgatory in long forgotten folders on dusty old hard drives.


There is an ethos surrounding the string quartet. Nearly every composer of Western Classical music has written them, and often they were the medium for innovation and experimentation. Even Ravel and Debussy, not fans of tradition, wrote one each, almost as if to prove that they could do it. I count those and the string quartets of Bartok, Ginastera, and Berg as some of my most revered artistic creations, and I can literally listen to Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Schubert string quartets all day long.
Kneisel Quartet c1890 (photo public domain)

That's what makes it so hard. My string quartet is supposed to represent my maturity and vigor, intellect and passion, while simultaneously respecting and condescending to the masters who preceded me. Every time I thought I was ready, I felt that I wasn't. As soon as I committed a great idea to paper, it wasn't good anymore.

The Making Learning Connected Community inspired me to start and complete my string quartet. The summer of 2013, of making and connecting, was a bizarre experience that had me reflecting on my lifetime of learning in strange and sometimes uncomfortable ways.

And it was GREAT.

 I didn't have to do any of it. The toy hack, the map, the credo, I could have walked away from them at any time. Just like all those string quartets in my notebooks. But I didn't, and I'm not going to leave this string quartet unfinished.

To up the ante, I chose as the basis for the piece a simple sequence I created on my electric bass on a rooftop in Kathmandu when I was eighteen years old. Choosing material from so deep in my past and close to my heart should certainly keep me motivated not to forget about it.

Funny thing is, I almost did. If it weren't for Terry Elliot's post, Inside of a MOOC: A First "Feldgang", Post MOOC and Beyond Cycle 6, and his casual yet invaluable follow up question on Google+, I just might have.

Maybe the lack of connection to others what was missing from all my previous attempts. Not having an audience or anyone to hold me accountable simply made it too easy to quit. I suppose that's a critical lesson to be learned: To a certain degree, Accountability is the stealth principle of connected learning.

So is this quartet going to establish me, Bart Miller, as a Great Composer of Music?

Who cares?!!?

I'm just going to finish it.

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