A Different Sense of Rhythm

Rhythms are one of the hallmarks of my music and yet one of the items that most people listening to my music struggle with. Needless to say, this is constant source of frustration for me, for while I hear the interlocking rhythms with ease and tend to thrill to the more elaborate form, most people who listen to it tend to comment at the endless cacophony of it.

Well, reading further into Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks it seems "Eric Hannon and Sandra Trehub have reported, infants at six months can readily detect all rhythmic variations, but by twelve months their range has narrowed, albeit sharpened. Adults find it harder still to perceived 'foreign' rhythmic distinctions." So, the rhythms I was exposed to as a child may have been more intricate and of a foreign nature to what most of my listeners are used to.

Like Bernstein and his use of latin rhythms in West Side Story, I enjoy Latin rhythms. However, I also resonate with Chic Corea and Dave Brubeck, whose jazz tends to use irregular meter. The result tends to be something with vague Latin rhythms, but extensive use of irregular meter with heavy jazz inflections. The violin concerto I'm currently working on right now is a good example. On page 8 of the score of the third movement you see a section at rehearsal mark 'D' that begins in 7/8. There are three bars of 7/8 and then a bar of 4/4, and then back to 7/8. This creates a section of 29 beats (a prime number). It could be written one bar of 4/4, one bar of 3/4 one bar of 4/4 and one bar of 7/8, which is somewhat closer to the stresses in the melodic line. However, all the accompaniment parts are based closer to the 7/8 bars and so, for conducting and keeping the ensemble together, it is better to write it as I have it. But, this isn't the feel of the rhythm. The musicians are going to struggle with how to place the beats and maintain unity. Yet, the music has a laid back feel.

The rhythms are overlapping. The three lower strings are accenting the 3rd beat of first and third bars and the 1st beat of the second bar (although the accent of the double basses is more in it's absence than the notes it plays). This is one rhythm. The Violin I part has a very different rhythm and is repetitive throughout the section. The solo violin accents with the lower strings for the first three bars and then follows the accents of the Violin I in the 4/4 bar (joined by the cellos and double basses). As we get to the end of the page the solo violin begins to break from the other rhythms and creates a third.

This is page 8 of the score and so we have had time to be exposed to both the rhythms of the lower strings and then to the rhythm of Violin I. The development into the third rhythm is well into the piece (2'07"). However, because the first two rhythms are fairly relentless, although not continuous up to this point, there is a feeling of being beaten into submission (or at least that's what some of my listeners feel). They find the piece doesn't tend to hold their interest, perhaps because the the syncopated rhythms are pretty much a constant, even though changing from one to another in the first two minutes and then coinciding when I introduce a third rhythm to the mix.

The question I have to ask myself now is, "Am I introducing the rhythm at a slow enough rate to eventually allow the audience to grasp what's going on, or do I need to adjust what I'm doing in order to better allow the current audience to appreciate the music?" If I lighten the rhythms to better match the current audience expectations, am I not sacrificing what it is that makes my music mine? And yet, if I don't, is it possible that my music will never be appreciated for the complexity of rhythms?

I am not the kind of compose that feels the audience needs to just listen to the music enough and eventually they will come to appreciate what I've done. Yet, there is the desire to stay true to my own 'inner voice.' Fortunately, not everyone finds the rhythms too intense (or too monotonous). If I can just find a professional who wants to champion my stuff, get it out into the mainstream to be heard, maybe I won't have to struggle with this question anymore.


I should point out the rhythmic intensity of my music is in no way as complex as that of acid jazz, which has a fairly loyal following. Part of the incitement of acid jazz is the virtuosity of the players, yet I would submit the music also sounds intense. It seems the goal would be to create something that is at one level simplistic and yet virtuosic, easy to listen to (which admittedly mine is not) and yet difficult to master (I think I'm getting close on that account).

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