From yin and yang to public debate, much in the world revolves around opposing forces. POLARITIES VOL. 2, an album of new presentations in classical music, documents the intricacies of these forces, expressing the emotions, sensations, and scenes associated with the extreme ends of conversation and change. Featured is Mel Mobley’s Labored Breathing, a piece resembling the imbalance of the intake and output of breath through rhythm, timbre, and melodic structure.
Today, Mel is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to learn about his inspiring toy glockenspiel solo, and his shameless indulgence in life’s guilty pleasures…
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?
Though I had always wanted to be an artist, I don’t think I really understood what that meant until I began my collegiate studies. I remember one particular moment in a percussion rehearsal that has stayed with me ever since – We were rehearsing a fairly difficult work with a lot of rhythmic complexity and nuance. The instrumentation was fairly unique including found percussion instruments with conventional ones. I remember at one point looking around and feeling the intensity of all the performers working towards making music with these materials and ideas that were really new to me. Everyone was totally engrossed in the process. Nobody had any judgments or doubts about the materials or concepts. I think for the first time, I felt at home musically. That memory has always stuck with me because it wasn’t about a specific piece or a specific type of music. It was about a process of openness where anything was possible.
What was your most unusual performance, or the most embarrassing thing that happened to you during a performance?
The most unusual came from a request for a glockenspiel solo. Once while teaching at a music camp in Haiti, the camp director really wanted me to inspire the percussionists to work on mallet percussion instruments by performing a glockenspiel solo on one of their recitals. Their glockenspiel was the only melodic percussion instrument they had, and it was much more toy than instrument. I tried to explain the limitations, but she was sure this was a great idea. I spliced together some extant mallet etudes with some original ideas and figured out how to put them on this tiny instrument that didn’t sound like much. While I wouldn’t have termed the resulting performance as all that incredible, the students and staff were so appreciative and excited by it. The whole experience made me realize content, circumstance, and expectation are so central to performance success.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I refuse to feel guilty about any of them. Whether binging a campy show on Netflix, smoking a cigar, or eating unhealthy food, I do it without shame or regret!
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
So many places come to mind. I am always inspired by ancient historical sites, but it is the energy and bustle of a large city and interaction with people that really spurs creativity for me. Recently, I have had a strong urge to visit Cairo, Egypt. It feels like the perfect place to have those elements both at hand. Hopefully, someday soon.
What does this album mean to you personally?
I am always excited to have work put on a compilation album. The idea of having multiple works that come from different perspectives has always been attractive for me. The fact that my piece was so timely, albeit by accident, really made it more special. Labored Breathing was built around the idea that breathing, the most central act to life, is often irregular and almost always reflects the emotional significance of the moment. The fact that the piece was recorded and released during the COVID-19 pandemic was quite emotional for me. When the struggle for breath became the central issue around the globe for over a year, the thematic content of the music really hit home. Middle moments of the piece that originally signified the ordinary loves, conflicts, and triumphs of everyday life became a painful reminder of how ordinary life now contained so much struggle.
Is there a specific feeling that you would like communicated to audiences in this work?
Absolutely not. The thing I love about music is its openness and abstract nature. While my pieces have specific meanings and connections for me, I am always hopeful that any listener can hear the music in a way that connects to their own specific journey.