1883, Seurat – Peasant Woman Seated in the Grass

I completed the comic song “I know where my genius lies” today. It was written for two colleagues – a baritone and a pianist – to perform in April. I wrote the words a couple of weeks ago, the melody on Sunday and the piano part yesterday and today. Even so, I was irritated all day because of the time taken for this work. Also I hate playing things on the piano which I needed to do, so as to make the piano writing as technically easy as possible. But you immediately see all the different possibilities. Ugh, I hate that, it’s like soap under the nails. The only thing I use the piano for nowadays, by the way, is to practise five-finger exercises. And I enjoy those. They are pleasant and don’t give me any bother.

The decisions about “different possibilities” that I hate, have to do with alternatives which are equally valid. In tonal music (which this was) it can be the exact positions of triads, or the register in which you set them. I also hate choosing dynamics. A lot of this sort of time-wasting crap I just decide randomly nowadays. What was interesting to do was the little dance I put in at the end – each phrase in a different key. That was fun. (It’s like my apartment with a different colour marmoleum* for each room – yellow, blue, green, red, etc.). Also there was one nice moment where I combined two separate ideas to make something new, in a way that you would recall both sources.

I thought of John Cage and his colleagues at Black Mountain College. I write something for colleagues which is more or less a Gilbert and Sullivan comic song. Cage would never have done that. I thought about the difference between him and me.

Whilst working at my table I looked out of the window at the balcony of a house opposite. I saw a coloured woman and thought very fast “O my God, it’s a new neighbour, the white people have moved out” and “look she’s making an unsightly mess there, hanging out her washing, like a peasant “. Then I thought “wait a minute, perhaps she’s a cleaner…..I hope so”.

These thoughts happened so fast that there was no time for the censor to swing into action. And the observer in me noted my thoughts with some surprise – I don’t THINK of myself as racist!

I suppose then that I live in denial like my friends. I’d like to be honest with MYSELF at least! And that selfish issue has nothing to do with the sad issue of a woman being disliked just because of her colour and because she steps out on to the balcony to hang out some washing “like a peasant”. What can I say? I caught myself out!

* “Marmoleum is a thoroughly versatile floor covering made from natural and harvestable raw materials such as linseed oil, wood flour, chalk and pine rosin.”

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