I have been contemplating the "why" of composition lately. After years and years of addressing the "why not?" of composing music, I find myself at an interesting point of pause. And today, after a rather busy few months spent in navigating the hows, whys, and wherefores of music written by other people (with a lot of emphasis on the hows lately), I realize that almost every piece I have written has been a "working out" of something.
I suppose that I have always thought of pieces of music as a way to work through thoughts and work out ideas. Sometimes those thoughts are veiled representations of people, places, stories, and characters. Sometimes those thoughts involve interaction between abstract ideas using instrumental voices. Sometimes those thoughts involve the behavior of characters in history or fiction that do their interacting without words, and sometimes those characters work out their "stuff" with the help of a text.
I used to think that everybody who wrote music did this, but now I am beginning to think that doing this might be a family trait.
My brother, Marshall Fine, wrote program notes for his music. In those program notes he gives explicit details of how he wove the contradictions and concerns in his personal and professional life into the music he wrote. His Rock Etudes for Solo Viola, for example, concern specific events in his life that he connected with particular rock songs from the 1960s and 1970s. (You can read the notes in the IMSLP listing.) I believe that he used a logical organization of things musical to try to work out personal frustrations and experiences in his life that he could name but could not understand.
Every person on the autism spectrum has a unique set of challenges that make interpreting the workings of the world difficult, but because of Marshall's particular make-up, his particular "off-the-charts" set of musical gifts, his outspoken nature, and the relatively small size of his communities (the community of violists, the community of classical musicians in Memphis and Branson), he loomed large.
He certainly always loomed large in my world (and still does). Understanding something of this brother-sister bond through our shared attitude toward creative work gives me strength. My perception of the world is (as far as I can tell) that of a "neuro-typical" person, but the musical "working out" of interactions and ideas is nevertheless the reason that I like to write music.
The Italian violist Daniele Colombo's recording of Marshall's Rock Etudes will be coming out in the Solitudes label in the not-too-distant future. Daniele plays them spectacularly.