Wednesday 9 December 2020

Harold Budd

I once took a piano class at WOSC. The instructor, Don Rowlett, taught us how to read music, and while I made plenty use of the practice rooms, I never learned to sight-read. My process involved finding a piece of sheet music for something I wanted to learn and memorizing it the way one would the lines of a play, reading aloud. It was much slower going, of course.
There would be two primary occasions among a few more on which each of the students were to play something for the class. If we wanted we could use the midterm to display a work in progress and then the final as a refinement of the same. Some picked their own pieces, others let Don choose for them.
Don had a remarkable, patient demeanor that revealed a gentle soul through the calm piano of his voice. From this sprang serendipity dew. When it came to choosing what to play, the atmosphere of the room he created made my choice as easy as the piece would be, at least to learn.
I had loved the uncomplicated compositions of a less famous brother, as well as his brother's other occasional collaborators. There was no internet in those days, so I had none of this obscure sheet music if it existed, but the slow sparseness of virtually any of their works made learning them by ear doable.
It shouldn't be a surprise that composers only just on the cusp of popularity in any genre you apply them to would not be known to a tiny town college professor who also hails from the same tiniest of towns found in the middle of a territory without a music store or shopping mall within hours. Not that it would be unheard of, it's just the opportunity to be exposed to the music of one or another creator would require the exposure. Don did not know of the composer I had chosen, nor did I expect him to. But I knew, just knew, or so I hoped, that he would come to appreciate him.
For the midterm I played something by the guy with a more famous brother. Don thought he recognized a more renowned classical composition, which now that I think about it, it was probably inspired by, the breakneck tempo of the intro to which he was able to demonstrate with his left hand. He wasn't showing off. Just debriefing. And he couldn't have faked being happily taken aback by my choice. This only encouraged me to abandon the piece in favor of an even easier one for the final, by a composer known for still fewer notes.
By the time that time had arisen, there were fewer in the room. In retrospect at least this seems fitting. "A Scarcity of Notes for a Dearth of Students" ought to be the title of an Ambient 101.
I can't state to the degree necessary how much the relaxed pace of the music lent itself to my being able to make the best of the feeling that flows from head & heart into the fingers at one with the keys. I also can't do anything about how pretentious that sounds. So be it.
At the conclusion of the course, Don conducted individual student assessments during which we received our results. That he gave me the grade we otherwise coy all secretly wish for was alright. I mean, it was what I'd expected. That he helped me toward a second consecutive 4.0 means nothing. That was down to a dearth of courses taken. The theme of the easiest path is for another time, if a regular reminder, a phrase in a pattern that extends to who knows where.
"You just seem to have this natural ability to make beautiful music." Spoken with the depth of sincerity and tone that resonates in here. He would know. This is a tribute to Don Rowlett, who I can only hope is happy and well, making this appreciation not too much of an afterthought only uttered upon the ultimate passing of a point placed in time, but a lyric for the living.

It was Harold Budd who had the natural ability to make beautiful music. It just happened to have been me one of those times sitting at the instrument of his impulse. The feedback loop of creative inspiration isn't the kind laid out in measures, and its value knows no notation.