Sayings of Kyle Gann in the Classroom

As collected by Andrew Schulze

Kyle on Tenor Clef:

Tenor clef is not in my contract - I don't have to do more than five sharps or flats, or tenor clef.

Kyle on Composition:

Composing is like driving down the highway; a performance is like stopping at a toll booth.

Composing music in a twelve-tone idiom is like making love in scuba gear.

Species counterpoint is like running with anvils tied to your legs. It's not fun, but you can compose a lot better when you take them off.

I consider my orchestra pieces to be billboards in the mainstream world put up to draw attention to my real music.

One of the ways you know you're developing as a composer is when people start performing your pieces better.

I can write a good piece of music in three weeks. A bad one takes me six months.

I don't consider anything finished until it's on paper.

Kyle on Music History:

The Classical Era ended in 1828 with the death of Schubert. The Romantic Era started in 1830 with the premiere of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. In between were two years in which musicians got very nervous because there was no era.

Everyone agrees that the Baroque Era ended in 1750 when Bach died. Of course, Handel didn't die until 1759, so he spent the last nine years of his life asking, "What am I, chopped liver?"

Kyle on Uptown Music:

Uptown music is allergic to momentum.

Kyle on Microtonality:

The problem with alternate tunings is that after a while they start to sound normal, and you have to keep finding weirder and weirder tunings to get a thrill again.

Making microtonal music is like trying to build a bookshelf with bricks that are different sizes.

Going into microtonal music is like trying to be the smartest person in Tasmania, rather than trying to be the smartest person in New York.

Microtonal notation isn't pretty.

Composing music in an uneven microtonal scale is like carving in wood. Composing music in an equal-tempered scale is like carving in plastic.

Kyle on Art:

Creating beauty is mostly a matter of getting out of its way.

One can prove by analysis that, in reality, Webern's music is highly unified. But art isn't about reality: it's about appearances.

Mystery is easily achieved. It's clarity that's difficult.

Kyle on Xylophones:

The problem with xylophones is that they always sound like skeleton bones.

Kyle on Composers:

Webern was a musicologist who became a composer. Bartok was a composer who became a musicologist to get material for his music. I'm a composer who became a musicologist to get a job.

I think Bartok wrote four or five of the greatest works of the twentieth century, but I don't care for the rest of his work.

Subtleties tend to get lost in performance. That's why Beethoven was so successful - he didn't put any subtleties in his music.

Stravinsky was the master at sustaining a musical idea.

Schoenberg has the squarest rhythms of any composer - even Bach was more exciting.

Kyle on Tongue-Twisters:

It's hard to say "second and sixth scale degrees."

Kyle on God:

Garlic and wasabi are two proofs that God exists.

Kyle on Birds:

Birds always chirp tritones.

Kyle on Altos:

There's no such thing as a "too boring" alto line. No alto line is ever boring enough.

Kyle on Twelve-Tone Music:

I've been brainwashed twice in my life - first by the Baptists, and then by the twelve-tone people. The first were easier to escape.

I don't think there is any medium that makes twelve-tone music sound as bad as a string quartet.

"Great twelve tone piece" is a term I don't use very frequently. I could maybe come up with five.

Twelve-tone music is the worst idea anyone ever had.

Kyle on Music Theory:

Use of the tritone [in 19th-century music] used to mean that someone was going to hell. Now the tritone means someone is going to Columbia, which is worse than hell.

Kyle on Analysis:

The ultimate goal of analysis is to discover things you can steal.

We’re looking for things that we've seen before. We're also looking for things that we haven't seen before.

Analysis is supposed to make you feel as if you've just walked over a dollar bill.

Kyle on Teaching:

Do I love teaching music theory? It beats working.

I love teaching so much I just do it as a hobby. I've already made a fortune with Harry Partch transcriptions.

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