Bewitching Swerves

A carelesse shooe-string, in whose tye
I see a wilde civility:
Doe more bewitch me, then when Art
Is too precise in every part.
“Delight in Disorder”—Robert Herrick

Years ago in a journal I wrote, “Use unexpected shifts and swerves.” Like the 17th-century poet, Robert Herrick, I sometimes find “a wild civility” more bewitching “than when art is too precise in every part.” Max Patrick, Herrick’s 20th-century editor, described this ancient aesthetic principle as “an artistically deliberate fine disorder.”

This principle recognizes that an unexpected deviation from a prevailing order may fully capture our attention, and if this surprising twist becomes an unanticipated aspect of a larger effect, the result sometimes proves surprisingly expressive—whether delightful or darkly foreboding.

I enjoy incorporating predictable patterns (such as tonal and metric frameworks) into my compositions precisely because they provide opportunities for unexpected swerves and sudden shifts of energy. As my approach to composing became increasingly intuitive in my 30s, I discovered that my rebellious muses relish artful disorder. And in many fields of artistic expression and design, some measure of “wilde civility” is often a trait of the works I find most engaging.