Composer Cody Forrest answers student questions about Lux Arcana.
Q: I am curious what the composer pictures when he listens to the piece.
I should preface my answer by saying, I truly haven’t heard the piece yet. Audiating (listening with your inner ear) and midi mock-ups only go so far. That said, I do have an image of the piece that formed while composing the work—I see some kind of ancient being or force that grows and then quickly disperses like the seeds of dandelion in a strong wind. These seeds then intermingle and through their dance form a new being.
Q: In the first movement, why do you sometimes switch notes to a different spelling when you are really still using the same note?
I believe this student is referring to enharmonic spellings (the same note “spelled” two different ways, like A-sharp and B-flat). I try to avoid doing this with back-to-back pitches, because, as this student discovered, it can be a little confusing and may seem unnecessary. However, pitches spelled differently have different functions within the chord or surrounding harmony. The next time you get to this passage in rehearsal, listen to the harmony shifting around you as you play the two enharmonic pitches. It will feel as if the ensemble is rotating around your notes like a kaleidoscope.
Q: The time signatures puzzle me. What is the goal with the changing time signatures in Lux Arcana?
Time signatures have implied “strong” and “weak” beats. Think of the strong beats as what you would clap along to when listening to a song. Beat one is usually the strongest beat (unless you are listening to pop music, where beats 2 and 4 are usually the strong beats). In my music, I change meters to alter where the strong beats are felt, which provides contrast and variety, and also keeps the audience (and band) on their toes.
Q: What was the inspiration to give the piece it’s distinctive sound?
I find it fun and rewarding to deny expectations in my music. So, like my changing time signatures, I like to compose with harmonies that don’t necessarily go where you would expect them to. Sometimes, this includes added pitches (dissonances) in chords to provide “color,” but even more often I choose a harmonic progression that is not standard. I like each piece I write to have its own harmonic landscape, and I create these through using progressions of harmonies that are not common practice. I also incorporate dissonances to further enhance a sense of resolution when it finally arrives.
Q: What came to mind while writing Lux Arcana?
I had a lot on my mind while writing Lux Arcana, but my priority was to write a piece that would create opportunities for the musicians to learn and grow, and hopefully have some fun as well. A lot of what I wrote in this piece requires the musicians to listen and interact with one another, particularly through chorale writing (voices must be balanced and in tune) and contrapuntal passages (musicians must hear how they are weaving around and through the parts surrounding their own). This requires the musicians to not only learn their own part, but understand how it fits in with the surrounding texture.
Q: What inspired the name of the piece?
There was something about this piece that always reminded me of light— what I perceived as its undulations, flickerings, softness, and incandescence. I also found something particularly striking about the mysterious way in which this piece poured out of me. Almost as if a light switch turned on and it suddenly materialized in front of me. It was this “mysterious light” that inspired the title Lux Arcana.
Q: Is the piece written with a broader audience in mind, or is it a more personal story?
With all of my music, I hope that I can reach a broad audience. Most of the time, I avoid creating specific programs or stories for my pieces, but prefer to give a more general description of the narrative. This way, audiences and musicians can take what I have written and make it their own. I also try to include little bit of something for everyone in my pieces—something fast, something slow, something brash and loud, something lyrical and quiet—so maybe not everyone will love the entirety of my work, but I hope that there is at least a passage or some portion of it that resonates with them.