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Paul Cantrell’s music
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Improvisation: Jelm

Crystalizing, particle by particle.

Paul Cantrell, piano, improvisation

That’s the last of the January improvaganza. I’ve been composing day and night (and it’s a perfect night for it tonight: new snow and a near-full moon!), and that will yield some new recordings just as soon as I manage to get some of these new pieces learned. But next time, I have a quirky little treat in the works for you. No, no, it’s a secret. Only Joel knows.


Greg Schaffner

I thought that Jelm was one of the loveliest improvs I’ve ever heard you do. Or anyone else, for that matter. I listened to it immediately after suffering through the dreadful Jimi Hendrix experience you inflicted on your poor listeners, so I was pretty much set up to love whatever followed. Still, I think I’d have loved it, regardless.

Your comments on syntax – in relation to the Hendrix experiement – made me think about what worked so well in Jelm. You have obviously internalized a large set of rules (syntax) used/created by Bach. I hear you using them in Jelm to great effect. These rules relate to phrasing, the interdependence of voices, the rhythms, the stress and relaxation of dissonance and assonance, etc. The classical harmonic and voice-leading rules created by Bach are the ones that you do not use. And these are the very rules that we spend soooo much of our time learning in school: no parallel fifths, no doubling of tritones, etc. Follow those rules scrupulously and you often end up with boring music. But follow the rest of Bach’s syntax as you do so well in Jelm and you have something quite moving and lovely.

Makes me wonder about how we could/should teach counterpoint and composition, in general…

Greg Schaffner

Thanks, Greg. What you wrote about following the syntactic ideas without following all the harmonic rules is generally true about all the music I write.

I don’t know the answer to your teaching question. I’ll venture this much: I’m very suspicious of any understanding of aesthetics of any kind that can be expressed as a bunch of rules.

Sorry you didn’t like the backwards Bach! I think it’s a riot. :P


Wowsers! Check out the location of the Astronomy Picture of the Day for January 27: