Welcome to my blog

I have created this site in order to provide performers, listeners and composers with a description of a composer's experiences with the creative process. The posts will provide discussions of the inspirations, challenges, and successes of a composer from the inception of the piece to the culmination in performance. I will provide a link to where you can see and hear the works in progress. Comments and questions are always welcomed. They will not posted unless you grant me permission.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Character Pieces On The Seven Dwarfs for Bassoon and Piano

This composition is commissioned by and dedicated to Dr. Susan Gustavson Maxwell. There will be seven movements that musically suggest the character of the seven dwarfs. There are times where programmatic elements may appear but for the most part, the composition is designed to suggest the nature of each dwarf rather than tell a specific story. My outline for this work is as follows:
1. Doc - Maestoso and contrapuntal to reflects Doc's leadership and careful thinking
2. Bashful - Slow and romantic (flirty)
3. Grumpy - Slow and dissonant
4. Dopey - Fast and playful with surprises
5. Sleepy - Slow and lethargic
6. Sneezy - Allegretto with powerful sneeze-like figures
7. Happy - 6/8 fast and humorous

Videos and further descriptions of the movements will be posted as they are composed.

Movement one "Doc" is mostly diatonic with some chromaticism. In order to add variety to the mostly step-wise bassoon line, wide interval leaps have been added. Meter changes add variety to the rhythm hints at Doc's nervousness. At measure 24, imitation is added to suggest Doc's intellectual prowess. The strong parts of this movement reflect upon Doc's being the leader of the dwarfs.

The second movement is "Bashful." The slow tempo and soft dynamics reflect his shyness and his infatuation with Snow White. At measure 13, a slow to fast trill represents Bashful twisting his beard and fluttering his eyelashes as he attempts to flirt with Snow White.

The third movement represents Grumpy and is in a slow tempo. The dissonant cluster chords in the piano represents Grumpy's disagreeable nature. The bassoon's low register, frequent descending lines and multiphonic serve that purpose as well. The more flowing middle section shows another side of Grumpy. While he is disagreeable, he is always first to rescue his friends should the need arise. The repeated piano left hand grows in intensity and the syncopated piano right hand and bassoon part also add to the intensity as Grumpy comes to the rescue. The multiphonic at the end is more dissonant than the sound in this video.

Dopey really isn't dopey. He just likes having fun and playing tricks and often looks silly. Therefore this fourth movement is full of fun and surprises. The musical materials for this movement consist of leaping major 7ths, chromatic lines, and part of a whole tone scale. It is in a rondo form: Introduction, ABACA. Meter changes and different ranges and instrumentation contribute to the surprises.

The fifth movement, Sleepy, begins with the bassoon playing a slow descending line unaccompanied. Measure 4 hints at a slow yawn, but the actual yawn motif is a sextuplet that first appears in the piano at measure 6 and then in the bassoon in the next two measures. Motifs from the opening bassoon line then used to create the remaining musical material that is in free form. The yawn motif interrupts frequently throughout. Rallentandos and soft dynamics add to the sleepy atmosphere.

A big sneeze by Sneezy begins movement 6. The rising motif followed by a bassoon trill and piano tremolo that resolves to a low note represents the sneeze. After the sneeze, a faster tempo section represents Sneezy trying not to sneeze by sniffling. However, he is unsuccessful and a big sneeze occurs at the end of his attempt to control it. This sniffling and sneeze section occurs twice, although each time it is slightly different. At measure 40, an imitative section in duple meter once again represents Sneezy trying not to sneeze, but by the end of this section he thinks he is successful only to be surprised with four big sneezes in a row before admitting defeat.

The last movement portrays Happy. A lilting theme in 15/8 opens the movement and becomes the A section of a rondo (ABACA) form. The B and C sections represent Happy's fondness for jokes. The wide interval leaps at measure 9 which begins the B section is suggestive of laughter. This section is contrapuntal and modulates through several keys before ending in an outburst of laughter. The C section is very playful with its use of odd meter (5/8).

As always, comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

The New Colossus for Clarinet and Prerecorded Sounds

This composition was commissioned by and dedicated to Vanessa Davis. It was inspired by the ongoing controversy regarding immigration policies of the Trump administration and serves as a reminder of how immigrants helped the United States became a world leader and were once welcomed with open arms. The poem "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus served as both an inspiration for the clarinet solo line and also as material for the prerecorded sounds.

The prerecorded sounds consist of a ship's horn, clarinet key clicks, ocean waves, drumming, and various readings of the poem. The readings have been segmented into fragments and interspersed between the clarinet playing. Male, female, and children's voices have been used and in one section, both English and Spanish occur. Some manipulation of the voices was done to create interest and there are times where more than one voice are speaking simultaneously.

The clarinet line both reflects and anticipates the text. The piece is through-composed although repeated and developed motives add structure to the free form line. At one point multiphonics are used as a duet to the ship's horn. The piece ends triumphantly with the hope that past American values will triumph over prejudice.

The video below contains both the clarinet part and prerecorded sounds.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Monday, August 12, 2019

Hope Collage for Saxophone Ensemble

This is a four movement composition that I am writing for the Hope College Saxophone Ensemble. The piece is called "Hope Collage" and it consists of movements that represent hope. The movements are "Castles In The Sky", "A Light at the End of the Tunnel", "Knock on Wood", and "Promised Land."

I chose the meter of 6/8 for the first movement but some of the syncopated rhythmic figures pit 3/4 against the 6/8. The major tonality is disguised by chromaticism either in the melody or the counterpoint and harmony An example would be the ascending thematic material at measure 7 that spans a major 7th encompassing a chromatic line near the end. The form is basically AB with a Coda. The first movement transposed score and playback appears below.

 The slow second movement has the tenor and baritone saxophones representing the darkness of the tunnel using minor and slightly dissonant harmony. The light at the end of the tunnel is represented by the alto and soprano saxophones. Even though they are still in minor, their brightness and rising arpeggios represent a glimmer of hope. By the time the movement reaches measure 26, optimism has taken over and the entire ensemble is in shifting major tonalities leading up to the quiet, yet, prayerful end in B major.

The third movement "Knock On Wood" has a Scherzo quality and is at an allegro tempo. The opening theme sets the tone of optimism with its combination of quartal, quintal, and triadic harmony along with staccato articulation. It is answered by the saxophones doing rhythmic slap tongue in a pyramid formation that represents knocking on wood. The theme and its variations alternate with the slap tongue throughout most of the movement. At measure 21 and 63, the theme and slap tongue appears in canon. At measure 80, the theme becomes fragmented and the slap tongue dominates. The fragments become pieced together leading to a final outburst of 16th note joy before the last chord. The movement ends with foot stomps that rhythmically "knock on wood."

The last movement "Promised Land" is in two parts. The first is meditative and prayer-like in a moderate tempo. It has a passacaglia bass line and contrapuntal lines are added above it. It also grows in intensity until it reaches the Allegro, which is the second part and is celebratory. The Allegro begins with a sixteenth note motif that plays an accompaniment role in many places throughout the last section to the slower moving declarative lines. From measure 58 to the end, motifs from the Moderato section are transformed in the Allegro, therefore linking the two sections.

Your comments are always appreciated.

Dr. B

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Craters of the Moon

This composition is being composed for Trio De Bois (Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon) and Piano. This is the first movement of three that are inspired by Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. It is especially appropriate during this 50th anniversary of the moon walk as the astronauts trained at this location. This movement is called Violent Past.

Much of this movement is built around the dissonant intervals of a half step and the tritone. These  intervals are used both melodically and harmonically. The movement begins with a half step trill that is answered by chords in fourths where the tritone splits the major seventh interval. The oboe and clarinet then follow with melodic versions of the tritone and half step. This introductory material lasts through measure 12 but presents most of the musical material of the movement that undergo transformations in the various sections.

In measure 13, the texture thins in order to present a melodic development of these intervals, sometimes in short canons. The sixteenth note triplets introduce a new rhythmic element. This section reaches a climax at 21.

Measure 23 brings in a contrasting section in 7/8. A melodically static rhythmic ostinato sets the tone but this idea eventually incorporates the tritone and half step. Variants of the introductory melodic ideas permeate this section. The more sustained and slurred variant is like lava oozing out of the ground. This section builds to a climax at measure 36 before starting again at 37 with even more transformations.

Measure 50 begins a further development of the material. The half step trills dominate but instead of being upward trills they are downward trills. Measure 58 develops the ostinato section. The faster tempo hints at the most violent eruption to come at the conclusion of the movement. On July 25, this movement was revised incorporating suggestions from the commissioners. I like the improvements to this movement. The video bellow incorporates the changes.

The second movement is called "Lunar Landscape" and is more evocative rather than descriptive. It creates a feeling of vastness and openness. This movement is a tribute to the 50th anniversary of landing on the moon that is being celebrated at the same time that this movement was created. The Apollo 14 astronauts trained at Craters of the Moon in 1969 in order to learn more about volcanic geology.

The movement is built around a "walking" passacaglia theme that is in the left hand of the piano. At measure five, it is accompanied by open 4ths and 5ths in the piano that later appear in the oboe and clarinet, and then in imitation between the piano and high winds. At measure 29, the bassoon plays a more melodic variant of the passacaglia theme over the original in the piano. At measure 38, the original drops out while the clarinet plays the bassoon melody and the bassoon plays yet another variant. The earlier starkness returns at measure 46.

Beginning at measure 54, further development takes place using the earlier material in new keys and combinations while gradually building in tempo and intensity. At measure 98, the opening material returns in the original key and tempo and eventually fades into the distance. On July 25, this movement was revised incorporating suggestions from the commissioners. I like the improvements to this movement. The video bellow incorporates the changes.

"Forces of Nature" is the title of the third movement. There are five natural phenomena in the park that I wanted to represent musically, The Great Rift, Lava Flow, Vents, Cinder Cones, and Lava Tubes. Each of these have a motif that is descriptive and the motifs transform and combine as the movement progresses. 

The Great Rift is represented by open dissonant harmony in contrary motion similar to shifting plates. It first appears in the piano and then the woodwinds. A half step repetitive triplet figure represents lava flow. This appears in rhythmic unison and also as overlapping phrases. 

Vents makes its first appearance in measure six but does not not get fully developed until the section at measure 74. It is represented by a rising arpeggio that resembles a diminished 7th chord. The figure diminuendos and overlaps similar to steam evaporating into the air.

My favorite motif of this movement is the cinder cone motif because it provides such contrast to the other motifs. It appears at measure 16 and consists of repeated sixteenth notes. The motif is layered from low to high and back down to low so that it creates the image of a mountain of cinder. It has a Minimalism quality and is combined with the Great Rift motif as the section develops.

The last motif to appear is the Lava Tubes motif section at measure 43. It is a stern, accented motif in the left hand of the piano and the bassoon suggesting an underground cave. To enhance the underground aspect, the right hand of the piano and the oboe have high sustained notes. These instruments then start to incorporate the lava flow motif also in the high register.

As the movement develops, the motifs transform and reappear in different orders, meters, instrumentation, and in combinations. The coda at measure 127 brings back all the motifs in close proximity.

Your comments are always appreciated and welcomed.

Dr. B

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Festival Finale for Clarinet Choir

I am composing a piece for the Millikin University Clarinet Choir called Festival Finale. It will be a one movement work in three sections, fast - slow - fast. Dr. David Cook plans to use the work as part of the final concert at Millikin University's Clarinet Day to be held on Saturday, February 22, 2020 and he wants a piece about 8 minutes long.

The excerpt below is the first part of the composition. The fast tempo is reflective of the joy of the day and is written in what is referred to as the other major mode, the Lydian mode. This mode shares characteristics with the major mode but differs by having a raised fourth degree. This gives this first section a slightly exotic flavor.

After a short introduction, the first theme appears in the Eb Clarinet. At measure 14, the theme is now stated in a one measure canon between the 1st Bb Clarinet and Eb Clarinet. At measure 24, a more lyrical theme makes its appearance in the 3rd Clarinet accompanied by the 1st Bass Clarinet. The second part of this theme moves to other instruments not so much for a change of color, but to spread the solo lines among the entire ensemble. At measure 40, the second theme repeats this time with more counterpoint and a tonic pedal in the 2nd Bass Clarinet.

At measure 56, the first theme returns but in a different key.  A sudden shift of tonality at 73 introduces a contrapuntal triplet idea that seems to be a third theme but transforms itself into an accompaniment for another statement of the second theme beginning at measure 87. This section builds in a similar manner as the first appearance of the second theme but with more triplets and other slight variations. Measure 119 is the final appearance of the first theme before it transitions to the slower section.

On June 26, 2019, I completed this composition. I am leaving the above video of the first part in order for the viewer to compare what I thought was the first part in May to what the first part actually became once the other parts were added. The reason for the difference is that when the first part was written, I was anticipating about a 3 minute slow section. However, as the piece progressed, the slow section felt complete at around two minutes. I then composed the last section that also lasted about two minutes so I thought I would recapitulate the opening musical material to round out the piece. When I played it back it felt very anti-climactic. The opening section is light and joyful representing  fun and friendship while the third section has a more intense and serious tone representing excitement. I then decided to enlarged the opening section by essentially repeating the material from measures 6-54 with some slight variations (key change at 55 and noodling line in Eb and 1st Bb clarinets at measures 73-105).

The slow section begins at measure 190 and represents a sadness that the festival is over and saying goodbye to new friends. It hovers between phrygian and aeolian modes. Because of the lack of a leading tone, modality is established more by repetition of pitch and length of notes and that is why the modality is vague. Adding to the vagueness is the alternation of 2/4 and 3/4 meter. The first statement of the theme is at 194 in the 1st Bass Clarinet. It continues at 202 in the 1st Bb clarinet. M. 210 is a contrasting section with 2 and 3 part imitation before returning to the main theme at 218. M 226 begins a written out repeat of the AABA. 258-260 fades into the sudden start of the third section.

I chose the locrian mode for the first part of the last section that is in 6/8 meter. I like its unsettled flavor due to the tritone between 5 and 1. After a brief introduction, the 1st Bb clarinet states the theme unaccompanied at m. 267. 275 is a canon between Eb Clarinet and 1st Bb Clarinet. At 283, the Bass Clarinet has the theme with accompaniment in the upper instruments. 291 is a canon between 2nd and 3rd clarinets. Measure 300 begins a contrasting section that mimics the unevenness of the meters from the 2nd movement. The music is now in the phrygian mode. 324 ushers in a dramatic section that is back in the locrian mode. 346 returns to the phrygian mode material for a final push to the end. The coda leads towards the ending in aeolian mode.

Below is the entire score.

Your comments are always appreciated.

Dr. B

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Sonata for Horn and Piano

Below are all three movements of a three-movement Sonata that I have created in memory of my dear friend, Hornist, and composer/arranger, David Baptist. To read more about Dave, visit http://todd.macshare.com/davidbaptist/index.html This work was created with the support of a commissioning consortium. For more information, visit http://cooppress.net

This first movement is heroic in style as Dave was one of my heroes. He had so much talent and yet was very humble. He was one of the first friends we made when we moved to Arizona and his sense of humor was priceless. The movement is in a modified sonata form. Measures 1-22 is the main theme, measures 23-40 the secondary theme, and measures 41-59 the closing theme. The clarity themes are slightly obscured due to a carry over of material. The development section uses motifs from all three themes and goes from measures 59-94. The recapitulation begins at 94 with the secondary theme, then the closing theme and finally the main theme therefore creating an arch form.

The second movement reflects Dave's love of jazz. This bluesy movement uses a slight twist of the blues scale. Normally the lowered third is in the melody and the normal 3rd in the harmony. While this occurs in this movement, the reverse also occurs. The normal third is in the melody and the lowered third is in the harmony. Frequent use of both the normal and lowered versions of the 5th and 7th also occur.  The form builds to a climax about two-thirds through before returning to the opening material.

The third movement is in a modified rondo form. The 2/4, 5/8 rhythm of the A theme was inspired by my counting my vitamins in the morning to make sure that I had what I was supposed to take. I counted 1234 12345 which gave rise to the rhythmic pattern. The asymmetrical meter idea is carried over into the B theme where it begins with 4 measures of 5/8 followed by alternating 2/4 and 3/4. The character is similar to the A theme. The C theme is radically different and sounds more like a development with its repeated Horn notes and changing harmonies underneath. I am in the process of preparing Dave's compositions for publication and observed that Dave used this technique frequently. After the C section the themes return as B followed by A and a coda. The odd meters, articulation, and dynamic surprises create a lighter, more humorous movement.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Adventures for Tuba and Prerecorded Sounds

This is the first movement of a composition that I am composing through a commissioning consortium for tuba and prerecorded sounds for performance by college level musicians and above. The composition is called Adventures and the three movements will be African Safari, Final Ascent to Mt. Everest, and Rafting Down the Colorado River. People interested in joining the consortium can do so by going to http://cooppress.net before April 1, 2018.

The three animal sounds that are used in the first movement are hyena, lion, and elephant. Djembe is used for the drumming sounds. The movement contains sections of traveling alternating with sections of observing.

The second movement uses Tibetan bowls, wind, an avalanche, and heavy breathing for the prerecorded sounds.