When I’m hard up for inspiration or peace, I occasionally I need to read Ivan’s words. Ivan Tcherepnin was a music professor who provided me this handout maybe 25 years ago. It’s here for the artists who might be further unlocked by his words.


I am not Allah
and cannot make you become composers
—I can’t even try, since that is up to you

I assigned John Cage first, because he, more than any other composer,
writes in a lucid way how ANYone can be a composer
like MCDC saying, “Anything is beautiful if you think it is”
or Wittgenstein, “Beauty is in the use of our clickers”
It takes lots of work, discipline and persistence and self-honesty
to even GET to the place where a composition idea of value can be discovered

If friends asked you about your courses during vacation
and you were talking about the composition class
you would say that you studied melodies, phrasing and modes
The interrelation of text, melody and rhythm
the combination of several voices in polyphony
the use of the canon as a tool to organize multiple voices
the emergence of harmonic progressions from polyphony
and development of themes based on harmonic progression
the use of periods and sentences as tools to organize musical ideas (motives)
you were given oodles of music, music to study for technical and/or inspirational purposes
and so on.

You heard about the existence of a cave
or mine shaft to which composers, after much digging,
have access (not guaranteed to find anything in there, either)

You have listened to your own work and seen yourselves in the mirror of your music
and found the mirror to be uneven, sometimes opaque—
requiring more practice, more tooling, more facility
But beware. The tools, the facility, the techniques are not the goal
at best they can be facilitators; at worst deceivers, creators of an illusion
that you are able to compose without the most essential factor present
which has no name, no shape, no presence aside from your own consciousness and spirit

Whether it is Cage saying, “Hey, no sweat, anyone can do it, it’s free, it’s fun” or Schoenberg saying, “You have miles to go before you can even imagine what composition is all about, and even then, you will be light years away from knowing enough of the literature to create anything faintly original”

the art is in your hands, and through your awareness and craft alone will you create something
which can begin to breathe life, communicate awareness and transport the listeners

In some cases, you would do better to let go of wanting to master traditional practices and try to invent your own wheels; in other cases, that would be too much to ask to unlearn for the sake of music

In any case, you should always get back to basic human needs, primal feelings, unlearned patterns of perception and cognition, principles of life on the surface of the earth in this epoch, at the twilight of the 21st Century

too much looking back or fascination with the past is dangerous

better to leapfrog over the civilized past, leap back and forth between different parts of the earth, separated by time and place

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

this is a prelude to the Modal Modules, which focus, as did canon, on a technical, theoretical means to organize multiple voices in musical compositions
There is no substitute for your own experimentation, mentation and persistent, disciplined digging into the musical earth

—Ivan Tcherepnin

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