Saturday, June 14, 2008

Profile: Charles Knox, 'Dean of Atlanta composers'

Posted By on Sat, Jun 14, 2008 at 5:41 PM

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Charles Knox has been writing orchestral and choir music for half a century, and spent three decades teaching music theory and composition at Georgia State University.

He prefers writing to performing. “I’ve played the piano and the trombone, but I don’t play anything in public.”

Classical is also classic, he says. “Music that has an immediate appeal often doesn’t last very long.”

He got into music while at the University of Georgia, playing in jazz and dance bands, but says he quickly committed himself to writing.

"Yes, there are times when performers add their own interpretations [to his compositions]. They're not computers; they don't just read what's on the page. They add their own emotions. Only on rare occasions have I been disappointed in a performer's take, and then it was usually just a kid, so you cut them some slack."

On his least favorite kind of music: “I can’t say. Within any style there are the truly talented ones and there are the ones who are just going through the motions.”

On being called the dean of Atlanta composers: “Basically it just means I’m the oldest.”

He does get writer's block, he says, but if he has a secret to beating it, he's not giving it up. "I always manage to find something to get started, and once I get started I can usually write something. Then I just hope it's good."

He’s written a few palindromes. “Some people say it’s a lazy way to write music, since you just write half, but you’d be surprised. A lot of music doesn’t quite work backward.”

"Having a visual aspect is something we've come to expect with entertainment. Having a group of musicians essentially sitting still on stage, except for bows moving, you have to be very intent on listening."

"I suspect that rock and hip-hop have become so popular partly because of visual displays. The guitar is one of the only instruments you can play and sing and dance at the same time. If you tried to do that with a flute or trombone you could rattle your teeth out."

Knox titled a CD of his music Clouds Are Not Spheres. "It's a quote from a mathematician describing how things are much more complicated than they seem. A sphere is simple; clouds are not. That's what I was referring to."

Listen to the three movements of Knox's "Semordnilap No. 2," recorded live in Hawaii in January 2006.

First movement

Second movement

Third movement

The first and third movements mirror each other (the third is the first in reverse), and the second movement is a palindrome in itself. Performers for this rendition are Amy Schwartz Moretti (violin), Steve Moretti (djembe), Dorothy Lewis (cello) and Cary Lewis (piano). (Live recordings courtesy Cary Lewis and Lux Nova Press)

He hasn't written much music in recent years because his wife has been ill, but his latest piece, written to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Druid Hills Presbyterian Church, will be performed there June 22.

(Photo by John Nowak)

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