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Billy Childs: Lyric

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AAJ: Yeah. The level is super high for everybody.

BC: Yeah. So in order to stay on that level you have to keep practicing. But then in order to stay on another level composing you have to keep composing. So it's kind of hard. One suffers when the other one prospers. At a certain level they can both kind of augment each other. But then when you get really specialized, or being known really as a composer or a pianist, to maintain that is hard. It takes a lot of time.

AAJ: Maybe at that point you have to make more of a conscious decision...

BC: A lot of times I'll get my composition practice in because I've got a commission to write something. I have a project, you know? Or if I have a project where I'm playing piano then...there are a couple of pieces that I've had to learn which are really difficult so that forced me to have to practice.

AAJ: Yeah, I was going to ask about that specifically. Whether marketplace kinds of things sometimes make the decision for you about whether you're going to concentrate on your playing or writing.

BC: Yeah. Pretty much it does, you know. I was talking to Chick Corea and he had said a long time ago it was really hard to get motivated to compose something unless he had a project in mind. Unless there was a project.

AAJ: Right. Unless you know that it's actually going to get played.

BC: Yeah. Why it is that you're spending the time doing whatever it is that you're doing.

AAJ: Well—the stuff on Lyric...there's a ton of music, and lots of musicians. Especially the pieces that have that augmented string section and some other instruments as well. So much music, over an hour.

BC: Yeah, like seventy-five minutes.

AAJ: Yeah, a lot of music. Have you been writing this stuff for...maybe even years? How long have you been working on this music?

BC: Yeah. I was approximating how long the group's been in operation. It's been about five years since we first started talking about it. "In Carson's Eyes" was the first thing I had written for the group and that was back in 1998 or '99. I remember doing a clinic at Berklee School Of Music and working out a lot of the ideas for "In Carson's Eyes." That had to be like about seven, eight years ago.

AAJ: Was he (Carson is Childs' son) a baby then?

BC: Yeah, he was. He's nine. When he was born he had these incredibly large, round eyes you know. So I wrote a song about that.

AAJ: Yeah. There's a cool picture of him playing the cello. That's him on the [cd artwork]...

BC: No, no. That's me me back in about 1967. It looks like Carson though, actually. That's what Carson looks like.

AAJ: Oh, man! (Laughs) I figured that was Carson. Great picture. So a lot of the music, including "In Carson's Eyes" kind of, seems almost like program music.

BC: What do you mean?

AAJ: Well, sometimes (maybe more in Classical music) things are written to kind of represent an event [or a person or place] to produce specific images or something like that. I'm wondering if you have that kind of thing in mind? Do you just think of that vaguely? Or are you really trying to be specific about certain things?

BC: It's a trip you know. What I usually tell people about composing is there's really no one way to conceptualize composing. It could be programmatic music to depict some sort of story line or image. Or it could be expressionist or impressionist, you know? It could be wherever you're coming from. What you're trying to express is what the motivation should be. So all this to say that some of these pieces started out just as music, you know, and some of them started with me trying to evoke some sort of image. Like, "In Carson's Eyes" started out with me trying to evoke the image of what I thought Carson was.

But "American landscape," I had just a notion of these triads, you know, it kind of sounded American. Most of these, I guess [were] trying to tell some sort of story now that I actually think about it...beforehand, and then the music came out. But sometimes I just write the music and then kind of figure out what it means to me.

AAJ: When I think about that kind of thing, sometimes I guess it's black and white where you know you're setting out to do a particular thing. But a lot of times, people I've spoken to, and myself as well, it seems like it's kind of a chicken or the egg kinda thing.

BC: Uh huh. Yeah. Like "Prelude In Bb Major" just started out Baroque. I wanted to do something, kind of an updated neo-classic take on baroque music. Where it's baroque, but then the harmonies are a little askew.

AAJ: A tune that's not on the record, "Voices of Angels," is it something that you're working on, or are you going to perform it soon?

BC: Actually it was performed in April.

AAJ: There was some kind of connection between that tune and a tune that's on Lyric called "Hope In The Face Of Despair." Is there some similar music and it's just augmented. Or are they just based on the same book, Maus?

BC: Well it's based on the same atrocity which is the Holocaust. Basically they're both coming from that same thing where Maus is. Have you read Maus?

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