The Influence of Late Afternoon Sunlight

This afternoon I found myself doing something that I hadn’t remembered doing in a long time – a sort of habit I developed in childhood.

I was sitting at the piano, playing random, arpeggiated jazzy chords (read: Major and minor 7ths and their inversions, mostly), staring out the window into the late afternoon sunlight, but not really seeing anything. Rather, the quality of sunlight at that particular time of day – and the chords I was playing – put me in a state of complete reverie. Despite their almost entirely abstract, almost existentially tabula rasa nature, each of these things (the chords, and the late afternoon sunlight) holds for me symbolic and intensely emotional import.

Even when I was very young, I associated certain chords, or chord progression, or bits of melody, etc., with events in my life. The sound itself seemed to give physical form (of sorts) to various memories.

Additionally, I am – and have always been – deeply inspired by late afternoon sunlight. In fact, one of my earliest memories is of being alone in a quiet and peaceful room, and watching the curtains being blown by a light breeze, with the late afternoon sunlight filtered through the window’s translucent curtains.

One particular aspect of late afternoon sunlight that has both fascinated and moved me throughout my entire life is how the late afternoon sunset casts various types of shadows in a room. For instance, the sunset may cast on the wall of your room (or on the floor, etc.) the shadow of a branch of a tree, gently swaying in the wind – or the play of light through the blinds over one’s windows.

So moved am I by this particular quality of sunlight that last year I recorded an improvisation entitled, The Sunset Casts Shadows In the Corners of the Room (slightly re-titled as The Sunset Casts Its Shadows in the Corners of the Room, for its release on Keyboard Improvisations (Volume VI)).

Given the completely personal and entirely symbolic nature of these things (the symbolism attached to certain chords, melodies, etc., the emotions associated with late afternoon sunlight), their musical embodiment can be easily (and perhaps inevitably) misunderstood. It’s natural for a listener to “read into” (or, “hear into,” rather) a piece of music something the composer never intended. This happens to me all the time. Someone will say, “That piece was so peaceful,” when, for me, the creator of that particular musical composition, the music might be very sad.

For instance, one of my most beautiful compositions – and among those of which I am most proud – is a soft rock ballad instrumental entitled No One But You.

For me, the most moving – the most emotionally overwhelming – part is heard towards the end (beginning ca. 2:18). This part of the recording is saturated in musical symbolism.

You’ll note here a gentle, bell-like synthesizer patch, playing a melody that’s repeated with slight variations, through to the fade-out. Towards the end of the piece, I go so far as to thin out the texture so that that melody can be heard absolutely clearly; almost as if it’s a solo with accompaniment, despite its being part of the accompaniment for the bass guitar melody.

For those who listen carefully to my music, they may note that that particular bell-like synth patch has been used in only one other recording; another soft rock ballad instrumental, entitled September.

One may also note that not only is it the same synth patch in both recordings, but the contours of the melodies in either recording are rather similar.

It could be that in the intervening years since I last remembered doing so, I’ve indeed sat at the piano and played random, arpeggiated “jazzy” chords. and looked out the window into the late afternoon-sunlit world, and reminisced, and not really noted it or remembered doing so. However, tonight I felt an existential awareness of it – and that led to this newsletter.

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