Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Composition 4100!

This will be my last blog entry on here!

I wasn't really sure what to expect going into this class (other than the fact that there will be a lot of composing).  At first when I found out that it was a seminar type class with a "show-and-tell" kind of format, I was both reluctant and nervous at the same time. I'm a pretty shy guy. I like to do things on my own, and I'm perfectly okay with that. But the format of this class meant I had to speak in class! And explain my work to everyone! The entire first week of classes I was stressed out about all of it.

That quickly changed.

It didn't turn out to be the nerve racking experience that I had previosly thought. In fact, I actually perfer this style of class. Everyone was really supportive of each other's work and gave amazing feedback. Also, seeing everyones work every week was really great, as it is good to see what your peers are working on.

Another great thing about this class is that I finally got an opportunity to write for a larger ensemble. Although my finished product was just an alright piece (which I am still proud of), I earned a great deal of knowledge on how to write for concert band in the process, and I will continue to write for concert band in the future.

I had a great semester with everyone!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Thoughts on the Reading

The reading of our band pieces by the MUN Wind Ensemble was something that I both worried and excited about for a while now. I was excited to hear something that I wrote performed by a larger ensemble, but I was worried about the actual sound of it. This being something I've never done before I didn't know how things like balance or instrumentation would actually sound in practice.

What they ended up reading was not quite a finished piece, but it was pretty close. Here are my thoughts on what they read:

  • There were some concerns from both people in the class as well as myself that the texture throughout would be too thin (due to my conservative use of instrumentation). On the whole, I thought that it sounded quite full and rich sounding, while maintaining that cleanliness I was trying to achieve by not over orchestrating.
  • Although it did sound full, there is a section that I scored for just bari sax and tenor sax in the lower register. I found that it just got almost completely buried under anything and everything else that was happening around them. The solution to this would be to double what they are playing in another instrument, but the problem is I only want that sound. What I will probably end up doing is just remove anything else around it and create a very exposed texture.
  • The piccolo doubling the flute up the octave in the second section sounded great! I use a bit more of this, but its isolated occurrence makes it much more special.
  • It's not exactly a result of hearing the piece, but some of the ensemble members gave me a bit of written feedback. The feedback was both on the sound of the piece as well as notation issues found in specific parts.

Nearing the End

As I get closer and closer to completing this piece, it becomes harder and harder to see my own mistakes and places where I could possibly fix what I have already written. The hours and hours I've spent staring at my screen trying to write have left me feeling like I have not control over the piece anymore. The piece is about four and a half minutes at this point, but it still feels like I'm so far from actually getting it done. I feel that now I just need to finish the piece and be done with it!

Here are the last few comments from my last presentation of the piece:
  • Keep going with the interjections in section “H”.
  • There is a part of the “G” section where the vibes are exposed, perhaps use this sound more often as it has a very distinct character.
  • The vibes throughout could stand out more, so maybe write them at a slightly louder dynamic than what my intentions are so that they break through the rest of the ensemble.
  • Use the vibes to articulate/attack certain notes where another instrument will be responsible for the sustain underneath.
  • Use dynamic marks for the swells used in “H”
  • Perhaps use the First and Second sections juxtaposed as a way to end the piece?

Short Score to Full Score

Up to this point, I had been writing this piece in a quasi-short score. I would put all flutes on one line, all clarinets on one line, etc, etc. This was a great way to get my ideas down quickly and easily, as opposed to the rather intimidation full score, but with the amount of material that I have accumulated and how far I am into the writing phase a short score seems somewhat detrimental to the compositional process.

There are a number of elements that I had not even previously considered (or at least not in any great detail). Doubling is one is these elements. The way I composed in my short score was just simply melody with underlying harmony, not thinking about balance between the two. I would take the flutes and give them the melody, then give, say, the chord underneath to brass. In the conversion process I might find that just the flutes don't quite break through that chord that the brass has the as much as I wanted, as they are largely outnumbered. Being able to look back and say “I'm going to double that melody in the trumpets” is rather important to the compositional process, and I somehow miraculously neglected to think about it before the switch!

The major thing that I hadn't considered that much was counter-line. With the short score I was using being spit up by instrument, there were far fewer parts to work with so I would focus on getting down what I needed (melody, harmony) and most of the time forget about a counter-line or counter-melody. When looking at the full score, there are just so many more opportunities for this. You can, for example, give first flutes and clarinets the melody, while the seconds take a counter-melody. The sheer number of instruments makes it easier to create counter-line. Another aspect is that it is just easier to actually see where counter-line would be appropriate, as you can see how every individual line interacts with each other.

Overall, I feel the switch to full score at this point in the game was a great idea, as it has given me a bulk of new opportunities to revamp previous material as well as coming up with new material, and finishing the piece!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Stream of Conscienceness

Something that forgot to mention in my previous blog was exactly how I came up with my material for this piece (other than saying I did it “freely”). While it is in fact free composition, the process involved was an almost stream-of-conscienceness process, where I sit and I write until I've amounted a certain amount of material (whatever my goal was for that particular session). Also, I would write entirely using my ears and my computer notation program (Sibelius), with an instrument in my hands, or even nearby. I believe that this process has given me both bulk of material as well as material that is very precise and coherent in sound

As for this week, I basically doubled the amount of material I had from my first week and moved into a slower, more quiet section. Otherewise, this is still in the early stages!

There were just a few suggestions:
  • Use more of the dotted quarter-eight figure using in section “D”, either in a continuation of that section or in later material.
  • Work more on the transition towards “E” (the beginning of the second section) with, perhaps, some diminishing instrumentation to ease into the quieter section.
  • Perhaps the entire first section could be extended or elaborated so that it sticks more in your head.
  • Continue developing the “E” section.
  • Try and move away from the traditional harmonies that I've been using up to this point and move towards some extended tonal resources and more dissonance.

Friday, 6 April 2012

My First Experience Writing for Band

As the title of this entry suggests, I have never before written a piece for a concert band (or larger ensemble, for that matter). Why then, one might ask, am I attempting this for my project as opposed to the smaller chamber ensemble? To put it simply, I want to force myself to write for band. On my own this would be an extremely daunting task (and as such, I would probably just never have bothered with it), but as intimidating as these large ensembles can be, I know that I need to get experience with them and familiarize myself with techniques involved.

I decided to approach this piece freely and with no previously conceived notions as to what I wanted to do with it. So, what I wrote is literally just what I felt at the time! Hopefully in the weeks to come the focus of the piece will emerge.

Because the piece is in such an early stage, there were many good suggestions to help me along the right path:
  • Try extending the opening.
  • Think about some more varied progressions to keep the harmonic language fresh.
  • Create a map of my ideas for the piece.
  • Build up a thinker texture over time.
  • Similarly, gradually work towards are more consistent texture, instead of jumping around in texture.
  • Split percussion into the 4 parts (as opposed to the 2 staves I have now).
  • Perhaps ease into the percussion parts as opposed to a sudden interjection.
  • Create a Heirachy of Dissonance within the golden mean to create dissonance over time. This also relates to the use of more varied progressions.

So far my experience with this has been great, and I'm eager to see what else I can write.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Sketch #3 (Week 4)

For my last piano piece, I wanted to write something extremely tonal (as opposed to using an extended tonal resource, or lack there of, like my other pieces). The basic idea is an ostinato figure in the bass that shifts the listener's perception of the metre from 3/4 to 6/8, along with melodic lines that put the emphasis on offbeats, swaying the perceived metre even further.

  • Rethink the accents used in the left hand
  • Use more notes outside of the key like in section B.
  • Introduce those notes earlier on in the melody.
  • In the third section, I could put a third voice on the top, giving that voice those off notes.
  • Use polyrhythms in the third section to further emphasize my intentions of the perceived metre.
  • In the third section, using a scattered low note an octave below the bass every now and then will give even further emphasis on those beats, even FURTHER emphasizing my intentions.