My dissertation, Through Wind and Whispers, is scheduled for a performance at Michigan State University on March 17th. My former students sent a picture from the day of the first rehearsal for the piece. I can't express how excited I am to hear the performance!
A little background about the birth of this piece...
I often think of dissonance and chromaticism as a metaphor for the brokenness in this life. Chromaticism in music can be used to move into a center pitch or it can be used to move away from a center pitch. I liken this to suffering and spirituality. Suffering can serve good purposes as it drives us and keeps us on the path to God. It can teach us to place our ultimate hope on the only One who is stable and everlasting. Chromaticism and dissonance threaten to take us away from the center pitch, just as evil and suffering threaten to take us away from our ultimate good. However, dissonance can also serve the purpose of strengthening our sense of a center pitch, just as God can use suffering to give us more of His presence.
Consonance and dissonance are not equal opposites, but opposition still exists in terms of stability. I believe we can think of them as opposites since they have different characteristics, however I do not consider them equal and independent forces just as I do not believe good and evil are equal forces. It is a paradox. The interesting characteristic about dissonance is its ability to strengthen the sense of a home pitch if it is used in a certain way. This is most clearly displayed in our common-practice period, or in the classical style, when consonance and dissonance are interwoven. In this style, there is a constant sense of tension and release as the harmony leaves tonic and then returns.
In the 20th century, music with no tonal center is born. With this music, chromaticism threatens to take away tonality as it moves away from a central pitch in a way that declares tonic as non-existent. There is no longer a hierarchy of chords, therefore dissonance no longer has a tension and release function.
In my dissertation I try to embody these two aspects of harmony in two separate themes: one that has a strong melodic profile with a harmony that represents light (consonance) and one that lacks a distinct melodic profile with a harmony that represents darkness (dissonance). Throughout the work I mold these two together to reveal a transformed theme. Which theme does the transforming? The one with the stronger foundation. The one with a clear center pitch breaks in like light into darkness and fills the darker theme with this light. Just as opening a door to a dark room chases the darkness out as light floods into the room. These themes are not equally opposing themes, therefore there is not a true battle occurring between them other than the battle of birthing pains of transformation and redemption.
Overall, the piece is a metaphor for sanctification, the story of going in and out of darkness to light. As the piece progresses the theme of light, which I call the “melody of grace”, shines on areas where the dark theme is at odds with it. Through this process, the dark theme is transformed into something new, beautiful and free.