Monday, November 30, 2015

Guest Artist Feature: Nathan Mays, Composer, and his String Quartet No. 2, Mvt. 2.

Nathan Mays, String Quartet No. 2, Mvt. II. Nathan Mays Studio © 2014. All Rights Reserved. Video Created by Charles Wolf.


My name is Nathan, and I write music. Initially, I had such grand ideas for this small post; however, as with most grand ideas, this is what happened instead.

For anyone who has written music, they know that it is a very exposing and often gut wrenching process. But, it will not stop us. This particular piece was written for a festival I attended last year, the highSCORE 2014 New Music Festival. Now, why does this matter? It probably doesn’t, but you’re here, and you’re reading, so you must find something interesting about this.

I guess, let’s back up a bit.

Charles invited me to write this little article a couple weeks ago, and I quite honestly had no idea what I was going to talk about. I mean, sharing my thoughts in a non-technical manner seems like an easy thing to do, until you sit down to do it. Now, I could talk about how I wrote the piece, or I could talk about what inspired the piece, or I could even talk about my crazy ideas of fashion while I wrote the darn thing. Actually… That might be interesting.

See how I’m sort of spewing various ideas as you read this? That’s a lot like what my process of writing is: shooting in the dark until I find a melon. This string quartet, like this article, really had no sense of direction for about 2 or 3 weeks while writing it. Don’t tell anyone, but I didn’t even sit at a piano or an instrument while I worked on it (it was all done in notation software)—and that was kind of scary. Much like this post, the encroaching deadline was my burst of inspiration. There’s something magical about having to finish something within a time frame. Will you sit and play videogames until you have hours left, or will you diligently work until the last minute? Personally, I don’t think that there is a right or wrong answer. Everyone’s process is their own.

As my deadline approached, I realized that I had nothing worthwhile to submit. Literally nothing. Zero things that I could confidently submit for a professional group to play. Suddenly, a stroke of genius hit me. Plagiarism. IT WAS PERFECT AND NO ONE WOULD KNOW. Right? I justified myself through the words of a former teacher, and while I can’t remember the specifics, it came down to this: good artists copy, great artists steal. So, I began working. As a sort of homework for myself as I write a piece of music, I listen to pieces the masters have done before me. I poured over Beethoven and it was beautiful, but not what I needed. I tore through Brahms, and it was amazing, but not what I needed. I researched Mendelssohn, Schumann, Webern, Berg, and a plethora of others… some weren’t even quartets, I just needed ideas. Anything.

And then, I stumbled upon Debussy. He only wrote one quartet. Just one, and it was in G minor. Such a delightful key. Very dark in the strings. Just my cup of tea.

I took it, and I made it my own. Specifically the Scherzo[1].

My first step was a simple analysis of the piece. Not as in-depth as anything from a standard theory class, but much more of a general outline. I took melodic and formal shapes from the piece. If Debussy had some pizzicato[2], then by golly, I would have some pizzicato! If Debussy’s musical textures thickened, then I guess I should thicken mine as well. It was similar to taking tracing paper and copying someone like Van Gogh, but then having your own mistakes and different colors. That’s probably the limit to that analogy, but one can begin to see how my process would produce a new, if unoriginal, piece of music. Something many of my peers tend to forget is that, we as composers do not need to push the boundaries all the time. Sometimes, we just need to copy the Debussy string quartet and roll with it.

As I diligently extracted shapes and lines from the Debussy, I began to form my own ideas for a piece of music. Instead of opening in a lilting 6/8 meter, I’d go for a more angular 7/8 meter.[3] Debussy opened with thick chords in the violin and cello, so I followed suit. While my harmonic language[4] is much more brash than Debussy, it did not stop me from molding his form into my own. From that initial starting point, I launched into a frenzy of writing. The harmonic material came easily once I had decided on a form, and if it worked for Debussy, there was a good chance that it could work for me. Debussy’s Scherzo became something entirely new for me, and the piece masks it’s roots quite nicely. No one at the festival, except one man, figured that out, and he even applauded me for it.

So, my point is this: don’t be afraid to emulate or even copy what people have done before you. The irony of what my teacher told me is that Stravinsky said the same thing, and that he probably took it from someone else. Art is circular, and nothing great can come if one hasn’t even attempted to copy what someone before has done.

How else can you learn?

Bio: Nathan Mays is an up and coming, modern classical concert music composer, and his award-winning music has been performed internationally. He is currently completing a Master of Music Degree from Texas State University, and will soon be applying for Doctorate work in Music Composition. He resides in Houston, Texas, composing music and working as a professional musician on the Bass.   

Listen to more of his music at:

[1] Editor’s note: A Scherzo is typically a quick, lively piece of music that is humorous and lighthearted, the irony with both Mays and Debussy’s Scherzos is that the music sounds rather serious and dour.   
[2] Editor’s note:  Pizzicato—plucking the string, instead of using the bow like normal on string instruments such as the Violin, Viola, Cello and Bass. 
[3] Editor’s note: Meter is the grouping of the pulses or beats that you tap your foot to in music. Nathan, in his work, employs asymmetrical groups of seven, while Debussy used the much more common group of 6 (heard two groups of three). 
[4] Editor’s note: Chords utilized.

Reflections No. 1 - Acrylic Abstract

Hello everyone, I am excited to share with you a new abstract painting that I created this morning. I literally leaped out of bed, set up my canvas, got out my acrylic paints and went to work before breakfast. I had the vision of this piece vividly in my mind, the creative impulse, and I wanted to capture this idea on canvas as soon as possible. I haven’t really though much about abstract art before, focusing on more literal paintings. Over the weekend I have been working on sharing and expanding my Google+ following and have seen many amazing artists working across the world If you are not already following me on Google+ you can do so here, click the link then the click the follow button:

Among the artwork that I saw were several outstanding abstract oil and acrylic paintings —a few were “abstracted landscapes” and others were more purely abstract in composition. These pieces must have been percolating in my mind, because this morning I knew that I wanted to create my own! Here is the result of my experimentation. The image that saw when I awoke was the picture of streetlights or car headlights dancing across water, reflected poorly in dim lighting just after rain. We have had some stormy weather recently here in North Carolina, which is probably where I got this idea, but this morning I began to paint. I started with a monochromatic palette utilizing Black, Greys, and White, see below. I did not originally intend to work on such a large canvas, but I realized that on the smaller sizes I had already applied a red gesso—and this morning, I wanted to work on a white canvas—nothing for it but to go big or go home.

I next decided to add blue to painting also layering in more white, greys and black. I am trying to capture the essence of light bouncing across a puddle without being too literal with the image. 

Lastly, I put in the streetlight with the orange and reds, the long vertical lines help to draw the viewer’s eye downward and contrast with the mostly horizontal layout of the piece. You may have noticed that I actually painted this entire work upside-down; however, in this final picture below, I actually flipped the painting on its head and liked the orientation better.

Reflections No. 1, Acrylic on Canvas, Artist Charles Wolf, Charles Wolf Studio © 2015

Please let me know what you all think. I intend to make a series of these reflection- themed abstracts, which are for sale. You can find pricing and contact information by clicking on the Painting Gallery Link at the top of the page or here:

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Thanks for viewing,


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Blog News!

Impulsive Artistry Updates:

I have a new basic drawing video for kids and beginning adults that will be posted soon, and I am excited to announce that I will have a featured guest artist on my blog next week, a living concert music composer. He will be discussing one of this musical works along with an accompanying audio recording of the piece, very exciting!

 Lastly, the Impulsive Artistry for Kids page of this blog has been activated, and I have an inspiring Minecraft building video, I structure that I built in the game, on there for you and your kids to enjoy—so please take a look at that! 

How to Spend Thanksgiving like an Artist!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Yes, we made it to that day that we have all been waiting for… we can now finally get on to Christmas shopping on Black Friday, just kidding. To me Thanksgiving is a time to spend with those you care about the most in your life, consume more food than average, but not much Football, as I do not currently own a TV and neither did my parents for most of my childhood. Anyway, I’d thought I would share my Thanksgiving plans with you all and list a few things that I am thankful for this year!

How do you spend Thanksgiving like an Artist? Answer: don’t do too much and take a moment to enjoy life! Because it is just the two of us, my wife and I have made a tradition in our house of not cooking a traditional American meal of Turkey, Potatoes, Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, Pies…. We realized that are favorite Thanksgiving foods are the finger food/appetizers. Accordingly, we now just make cracker and cheese plates, salami, cream cheese and wax peppers on toothpicks, and break open a jar of stuffed green olives. We will instead spend the day starting to decorate for Christmas and playing board games together… wonder what we will play this year, no I do not mean Monopoly: Carcassonne, Letter Tycoon, Dominion, Castles of Burgundy, Agricola or Eclipse to name a few in our collection. If you are not familiar with these titles, I recommend that you Google: Board Game Geek, to learn more about them. I find that they are a lot of fun, deep thinking games that we can enjoy as a couple! Those are my holiday plans, what are you doing this Thanksgiving? Let me know in the comments below, and have the best Thanksgiving ever! 


Things I am Thankful For:

·      I am thankful for my wife who inspires me to be creative and artistic and to enjoy being who I am not who people often want me to be.
·      I am thankful for my two cats: Oliver and Ian!
·      I am thankful for everyday that I get to have a career that I really enjoy: making artistic creations through painting, drawing, writing, composing music, performing, and teaching private piano lessons.
·      I am thankful for all of you who read this blog, and I am looking forward to another month of posts!
·      I am thankful for the many blessings that God has given me this year, moving halfway across the country, starting a private studio, a home to live in, and a job for my wife!
·      Lastly, I am thankful for family and friends those that I have know my whole life and those who have even met this year!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!!

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