Richard is a vocalist, songwriter and guitarist. His songs traverse multiple genres but may be described as folk, acoustic blues or funk-rock. He sometimes blends hip hop into his songs. Please take a listen to them on SoundCloud. There, you'll find music from his album, Splendid Love. Its title song was featured in a compilation album, The Diamond Collection, released in Los Angeles, California in 2007. You'll also find songs he's written for various other projects including stage plays, musicals and performance art pieces. Richard conducts songwriting workshops so that people can get their own kicks by being doers.
Can an understanding of music composition and songwriting help a person create works in the domain of the literary arts (fiction, poetry, playwriting, etc)?
Can the experience of listening to music or the appreciation of the elements of a piece of music - such as its counterpoint (the way different melodies are combined to form a meaningful, harmonious relationship with each other), its rhythm, tempo, time signature, and so on - make way for an atmosphere of mind that's able to produce creative writing?
Richard's own artistic development and interactions with participants in his creativity workshops suggest that people are intuitively inventive. Among the first things they invent in life are tunes and songs. They might have picked up the words and melodies from somewhere, but the way they put them together is original; as unique as their fingerprints. Music making is a remarkable use of the imagination and a sign of the generative powers of the mind. Can this innate music-making capacity inform the creation of literary works as well?
Richard is interested to explore aspects of this broad question through qualitative research. This type of research uses data gathering strategies such as field work, participant observation, in-depth interviews, and the like. Qualitative research - as opposed to quantitative research, which measures things in terms of quantity, amount, intensity and frequency - is predominantly verbal rather than numeric. Hence, it is better able to capture the subjectivity and essence of individuality that inquiries in the arts hope to shine a light on. It will provide data that yields insights on the socially constructed nature of reality, the relationship between the researcher and what is studied, as well as the situational constraints that influence the inquiry.
Why research this?
The German philosopher, language scholar, statesman and educational reformer, Wilhelm von Humboldt, said that every human being acts with one force at a time: Our whole nature disposes us at any given time to a single form of spontaneous activity.
Because of this, he adds, it appears that humans are destined for partial cultivation, since they only enfeeble their energies by directing them to a multiplicity of objects.
But such a conclusion is wrong, Humboldt cautions. He notes that human beings have the power to avoid this one-sidedness by striving to unite the separate faculties of their nature. He argues that each person has it within himself or herself the ability to increase and diversify the powers with which he or she works. The individual can do this by harmoniously combining his/her powers, instead of looking for a mere variety of objects for their separate exercise.
Perhaps this idea of uniting our separate faculties, or harmoniously combining our powers that we tend to apply singly, offers a fresh way to think about creativity in the arts.
Might it not be that works of art from different disciplines, music, writing, or dance, for example, share a common root? Can a person whose defining gift is music or writing or dance use that defining gift as a starting point for adventures in other art forms?
Richard's own artistic journey started with music. Music offered him a way to understand the structures, techniques and essence of creative writing. More deeply and subtly, music awakened him to the complexity within him and gave him a way to understand that complexity. This in turn developed a confidence, or rather a sort of inner courage to be able to handle complexities of various kinds of information. In a broad way, music might even have played a role in Richard's quick mastery of medical journalism during his career as a journalist. Music remains the atmosphere in which Richard's literary work breathes.
As such, he's interested in the question as to whether an understanding of music - knowledge of how the various elements of music come together, for example - can offer a starting point from which people may approach the composition of literary forms such as poetry and fiction. Despite their differences in structure and the imaginative and intellectual thought processes they depend on, it is possible that fiction and poetry share a single intuitive spring of inspiration.
For sure, the true nature of music will remain a mystery and there are many reasons why it would be good for this beautiful aspect of the human experience to remain so: the best art has come from an unconsciousness of its methods. Richard's research does not aim to strip down music composition to its basic elements in order to employ those elements in the construction of literary forms. Such crude, reductionist methods may serve a utilitarian, production purpose, but they'll not advance our evolution as a more enlightened species. Richard hopes data from his investigation will act as a rough guide to how people can, through music's evocative power, open the door to other forms of expression, be it creative writing, dancing or painting.
Richard's experience in using music as a starting point for literary and dramatic creations
First, something about Richard's background to put the following information in context. Richard is a musician, a writer of fiction, and a journalist. His short story, Mutton Curry, was shortlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize 2017/18. He has written a novel and is currently working on a collection of short stories. As mentioned earlier, he also composes songs and writes poetry. This essentially means that, like any good habit, the habit of creativity needs constant upkeep. Music acts as the creative base that recharges Richard.
Music was the first artistic form that made an impression on him as a child. The English language captivated him mainly because it was the language of his favourite songs and nursery rhymes. So it was music first, then words, and later on, all their permutations.
Following positive experiences composing songs, writing plays, staging and performing in various productions and concerts, and winning competitions in primary and secondary school and college, Richard saw that his area of excellence would be in the arts.
Not wanting to kill his passion by making it a crutch, he got a day job as a copywriter, and later on, worked as a medical journalist. Meanwhile, he maintained several artistic irons in the fire. The necessity of having to manage his day job while immersing himself in creative writing was what convinced him that it's possible to find in oneself a single defining gift and, from there, spread out into various branches of excellence. Music provided him this unity.
On the right hand side of this page you'll see photos and brief write-ups on some of Richard's projects whose creative processes have borrowed from music.
On the left is an exposition of Richard's research interests, and below are some tracks for your listening pleasure...
Below: How music plays a role in creating literary and dramatic works.
Night is about a few strangers who get together to spend their last night on earth. The idea came to Richard when he was listening to Chopin's Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor. He was working as a medical journalist at that time, so he had to write the script in short bursts, on weekends. The five-day breaks between writing were disruptive. Nocturne provided the continuity he needed to maintain the flow of the narrative and dialogue. He would loop the track on the CD player and write as the piece went on in the background. Practically the whole script was written on Friday and Saturday nights as Nocturne played on. Music has the power to breathe life into the stories that lie dormant within us.
Together with co-director Law Soo Leng, Richard conducted feedback sessions with fellow artistes to get a sense of their thoughts and feelings as they went through weekly rehearsals spread over a period of 8-9 months. While the themes that arose from the discussions and research surrounding the work did not directly influence music composition, they nonetheless contributed to the emotional pool that musicians tap when they write songs. Richard experimented with chord progressions until he arrived at one that resonated with broad aspects of the human condition, such as pain, mystery, sorrow and injustice. The song, “Mr Mystery” was born. It served as a musical description of the paradoxical forces at the root of crimes against humanity.
Duet is a contemporary dance piece resulting from a collaboration between choreographer and composer. The work led to an interesting exploration of space, time and sound. Silence is alive with music and, modern dance, with its juxtaposition of movement sequences bearing different time signatures, for example, can create the kind of intellectual ambience conducive to the creation of copacetic melodic lines. The contemporary dance work was also a good case study on how music can leaven, empty or fill the collective mind of an audience primarily engaged in its visual field. For example, decisions on the level of activity in the visual space had to factor in the level of activity in the sonic space and vice versa. Broadly speaking, choreographer-composer collaborations work well when practitioners of either form discover similarities in the other and speak using terms that indicate confluences. Terms like "sonic dance" and "visual music" carried along the collaboration smoothly.