Pieces not Parts

Oct 5, 2018

Credit SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

It’s hard to write a good piece of music, a piece whose elements fit together in ways that make sense, a piece that has a beginning, a middle, and an end and that leaves the listener feeling that the time spent listening has been worthwhile. And I don’t know about you, but when I read a review saying that a piece is constructed entirely of “shimmering hazes of sound,” or “a parade of fascinating effects,” or “random rhythmic bursts and captivating colors,” I’m usually pretty sure that it’s a piece I’m not terribly interested in hearing.

All good pieces contain captivating sounds or colors of one kind or another. But “parts is parts,” as the old hamburger commercial goes, and good composers write coherent pieces, not collections of interesting materials. Many years ago I brought an ill-fitting suit home from college. My father took one look and said, “That’s a nice piece of material. Too bad somebody didn’t make a suit out of it.”

This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.