By contributor Gordon Hak
Music is a mysterious art, capable of evoking emotions, memories, pleasure, and sadness. For listeners, music usually speaks for itself, directly entering our hearts and minds. But where does this music come from?
On October 16, Gregory Bush, a musician, composer, and faculty member in the Department of Music, will take us into the realm of creation in a presentation entitled A Journey in Jazz: From Inspiration to Performance. The talk is part of the Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series, and will be held at the Malaspina Theatre beginning at 10 a.m..The goal of the presentation is to “capture the process that begins with a musical idea within the composer’s head and ends with a finished product that reaches the listener’s ears.” says Bush.
In 2014 Bush composed two 45-minute suites of music for a large jazz ensemble. One, The Vancouver Island Suite, was inspired, says Bush, “by the beauty and history of our area,” while the other, The Jazz Master Suite, was inspired “by the many jazz musicians and composers who have inspired me as a composer, musician, and person.”
Inspiration is fine, but then the work begins, taking the germ of an idea and translating it into a piece of aural art. An early step is to find a musical concept or motif that can be shaped into a meaningful phrase, then a melody, and finally, after much work, a completed piece. Along the way there are always decisions to be made regarding issues such as the appropriate size of the ensemble, the make-up of the instrumentation, and the relation of one section of the piece to another. There is also the task of writing musical ideas on the page so that that the composer’s ideas are clearly evident to the performers. In his talk, Bush will walk us through this process, using musical examples, illustrations, and even some singing.
In jazz, improvisation plays a prominent role: Solo musicians have the freedom to ad lib while the rest of the ensemble provides a structure of rhythm and harmony in which they can operate. The composer has to decide how much music should actually be written down for the musicians to follow and how much room should be left for soloists to riff on the themes. Charlie Parker, the bebop jazz giant of the 1940s and 1950s, once stated, “They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.” But there is a musical structure and musical patterns that frame the music, and finding the balance between freedom and structure is not straightforward.
Bush brings much experience to his composition. He holds a Masters of Music in Jazz Performance from McGill University, and before coming to VIU he was Director of Jazz Studies at Abilene University in Texas and a member of music faculties at McMaster University and Red Deer College. He also, of course, enjoys a busy career as arranger, composer, and trumpet player, having played in clubs, halls and jazz festivals in Canada and abroad. His first CD, Cause and Effect, was released in 2001.
The Colloquium presentation on October 16 will culminate with the performance of one of Bush’s pieces. The illustrated talk is open to faculty, employees, and the general public. Students are especially welcome and there will be refreshments.
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