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.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Preparing Score and Parts for Four Poems

During the past few days, I have been working on the tedious but necessary task of preparing the score and parts to my “Four Poems”. I take a lot of care in doing this as Robert McBride, my composition teacher at the University of Arizona, instilled in me a very practical sense. My goal is to have the score and parts error free. In addition, I am concerned with page turns and inserting appropriate cues. Fortunately, the Sibelius 5 software I use makes all this easier.

One of the big things I have learned is to not print the score until I have extracted and checked the parts. I often find little errors by looking at the parts that I don’t see when looking at the score. For those of you who might be interested in what goes into the final preparation of the score and parts, I have listed the steps below.

1) Decide who will perform using the score and who will have parts. In the case of “Four Poems”, I thought that both the vocalist and the pianist should have scores and the flutist and clarinet could play from parts. The score is 60 pages long so I will use plastic coil binding for ease in page turns. The parts will be printed on 11X17 paper and folded to produce a 12-page booklet. Time for page turns needs to be left on all odd number pages. Sibelius usually does this automatically but sometimes only gives a measure rest, which in my opinion is not enough.
2) I looked at the score to see if there are sections that are primarily in one key. I start out with a neutral key signature. Even though my music is tonal, it changes tonality and modality freely. The only movement that is sort of in one tonality is the third, but I decided to leave it in a neutral key to be consistent. Once I decided this, I used the Sibelius plug-in to add cautionary accidents.
3) The cautionary accidentals usually overlap some notes, so I select all and ask Sibelius to respace the music. This cleans up the score quickly and nicely.
4) I then play through the score looking for anything else that needs cleaning up. Sibelius enables one to grab hold of any symbol and move it.
5) Sibelius enables one to switch back and forth between the score and parts as the parts a created simultaneously. But the parts usually need more formatting than the score. First, I give the bottom of the page a little more space (.8 inches instead of .59) as the default setting usually cuts off some dynamics or expression marks.
6) The next thing I do is select all and respace the part as there is often overlap, even though I did this with the score.
7) I also move things like Rit. & accel. underneath the staff as Sibelius places it above, which is fine for the score, but not for instrumental parts. One can move things on the parts without affecting their placement in the score.
8) I carefully check the parts for notation accuracy and make sure page turns can be accomplished easily.
9) Sibelius has a new feature where one can add cues to the parts but they don’t appear in the score. I try to cue all entrances that follow meter or tempo change or occur after long rests. The goal is to make it easy for the musician to make his/her entrance.

Despite all this care, there usually are some things that slip by, but they usually are minimal.

Dr. B

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

End of poem 4

Well I have arrived at the end of poem 4, but not without struggles. But this is not unusual for me as I usually struggle with endings. This poem was particularly a challenge for several reasons.

The first reason was length. I mentioned in an earlier post that I was halfway through the poem after about a minute of music. I thought when I transitioned to the new meter and slower tempo, that length would not be a problem, but I was wrong. When I finished setting the words the timing was just over two minutes. I was planning to recapitulate the beginning in just the instruments which brought the timing to an appropriate length of 3'20"and the setting of the poem itself was balanced nicely. But after listening to the four poems together, "The Road Not Taken" seemed anti-climatic. That is when I realized that "Annabel Lee" makes a better ending poem than "The Road Not Taken", so poem 3 and 4 are now reversed.

The second problem I had was getting the right mood for the recapitulation. This is the music that is used for the first two verses of the poem which express indecision and doubt. But now I wanted the music to expressive confidence in traveling the road not taken. I started by putting the vocal line first in the flute and then in the piano. For the section where the flute has the vocal line, I developed the line with more activity and put some of the previous flute fills in the left hand of the piano. When the piano took over the vocal line I had the choice of harmonizing it, doubling it in octaves, or creating a canon between both hands. I chose the canon approach. I then worked on the ending itself. I wanted things to quiet down and then end with an ascending figure expressing optimism in the choice. After doing this, things still did not feel right. The piece seem to end to abruptly. After listening over and over, I came to the conclusion that things were too complex throughout this section. I solved this by making the three part canon used in the beginning interlude into a two part canon for piano alone. I also made the last canon (4 parts in the beginning) into a two -part canon as well between flute and piano left hand. Then I simplified the canonic treatment of the vocal line to a combination between canon and supportive harmony. All these simplifications helped me get the correct mood of confidence rather than struggle.

The other challenge I faced in working with this poem was incorporating the audience participation. My original plan was for the audience to say the last three lines. What I came up with was the recitative section at measure 65 leading into the audience speaking only the last line.

It is nice to arrive at the end of the piece. Every time I reach this point, I feel as if I have given birth! It is a long gestation period from initial idea to the last note and I am very emotional involved in the entire experience. At least I didn't have morning sickness! But my work is not over. There are the final refinements and proofreading to get the piece to its printed stage. I'll be talking about that process in next post.

To see and hear what is discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/fourpoemsblog.html

Dr. B

Monday, September 24, 2007

Poem 4 Verse 3

One of the points that I was making in my last post was about being careful not to get stuck in a pattern just because that is what you were planning. In previous posts, I have also urged trying to keep a pattern going as it often can create great continuity in the composition. These two thoughts may seem contradictory, and in a sense they are, but the bottom line is that one needs to let their ear be the guide. The ear tells the composer which of these is needed at any particular time.

As I was listening to what I had written thus far, I was becoming aware of a need for a change of tempo, meter and mood. Verse three seemed more reflective than verses one and two, so I slowed the tempo down and changed the meter to a moderate 3/4. I transitioned into this change by extending the end of the 4 part contrapuntal section that set up a more relaxing section that uses alternating 8th notes, triplet and 16th note patterns. The harmony is more lush therefore the piano plays a primary role. After creating the two measure piano interlude, I concentrated on the vocal line. After I wrote the melody for the first two lines of the verse, I went back to fill in the accompaniment. The piano continues some of its independent lines similar to the interlude but also begins to overlap arpeggiated chords. Some of these arpeggiated chords create a mild bitonality. In order to assist the vocalist with the stronger tonality, I bring in the flute alternating and overlapping with the clarinet on a quiet murmuring figure. The overlap is a continuation of the overlap principle introduced in verse 2 (an example of carrying and idea through for unity).

To see and hear what is discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/fourpoemsblog.html

Dr. B

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Poem 4 Verse 2

I am back working on setting Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" for the ensemble Conundrum. I want to focus my discussion today on how sometimes solving practical problems often leads to new and exciting ideas. Even though I compose at the computer and use MIDI for playback, I am still very much aware that I am writing for real people. I think some composers loose sight of this and assume that just because the computer can play it back, real musicians can play it too. I am constantly aware of providing rests and places for my musicians to breathe. When I am writing for voice, I make sure the vocal line has points of reference in the instrumental parts. All this had a lot of influence on setting this verse.

I started with vocal line. I like the 5/8 meter for this movement as it provides a nice contrast the the meters used in the other songs. I also felt that it gave a jaunty "traveling music" feel. Sometimes the groupings are 3+2 and other times 2+3. But I was not locked into that meter. There were times where the accents of the words did not fit a 5/8 pattern, therefore I used 6/8 and 4/8. Solving this problem actually created more rhythmic variety. Because of the frequent accent shifts, I tried to have the instrumentalists assist the vocalist by having the intrumental parts line up with the strong parts of each measure without sacrificing the independence of the lines. Even though the accents were in the right place, the vocal line felt frantic at times because there were not enough pause on certain words nor time to breathe. I fixed this by chosing diferent meters for m. 27, 30 & 32 which allowed me to stretch some notes out.

The clarinet begins the accompaniment to the vocal line at m. 23. In m. 25, I wanted to do a sequence of beat one on beat two, but it did not help the vocalist with pitch. By turning the figure upside down, the line became more interesting and supported the vocalist's pitches. By the time I reached m. 27, it was time for the clarinet to breathe, but I still wanted rhythmic movement. I solved the problem by using the flute instead, which creates a color change. The clarinet and flute then alternate while overlapping slightly and the alternation happens quicker as the section progresses, therefore adding energy.If I wasn't concerned about allowing the clarinetist to breathe, I never would have discovered the overlap approach to the accompaniment.

The interlude is similar to the one between the first and second verses, but this time it is 4 part imitation instead of three and the order of entrances is slightly different. I may expand this interlude or save the expansion for the interlude between verse 3 and 4. I'm a little concerned about the length of this setting being short compared to the others as I want it to balance the other three. With two verses set and two to go and the time thus far is slightly over a minute, the piece may end up 2 1/2 minutes. I think it may need to be 3 minutes at least. This challenge I'm sure will help my find something exciting and will make the piece better.

I was reading a novel by Terry Kay during by brief vacation that had this line in the author's note. "Events I have not previously considered appeared magically, and that is the true joy of writing: you are not telling a story; you are discovering one." This is how I feel about composing. Pre-planning and the basic idea you have suggests where the music might go. At the same time, you may discover new things you never expected if you don't get stuck in a pattern. Solving practical performance problems is one of the avenues of discovery. It is always a joy to see where the piece takes me.

To see and hear what is discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/fourpoemsblog.html

Dr. B

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Third Movement "Sacrifice and Compromise"

A sweeping 16th note pyramid effect leads into a descending chromatic line in the strings to open the third movement. At m. 4, the French horns enter with a noble theme representing sacrifice. The sweeping 16th note figure fills in during the long notes in the French horn line. At m. 13, the strings take over the noble melody while the French horns move into a staccato and syncopated figure. This staccato figure becomes the dominant feature of the section at m. 17 while the woodwinds present a chord that grows into a four-note motif. This motif then expands into an English horn melody at 28 while the staccato, syncopated figure accompanies it. The harp also enters with chords used as punctuation. The English horn is used imitatively with the oboe at m. 33 and then the flute and clarinet are used in counterpoint on variants of the English horn line. At 47, the strings do the chord that expands into a four-note motif over the staccato, syncopated idea. At m. 59, the section with the noble French horn melody returns and is slightly expanded before leading into a 6/8 variant of the staccato, syncopated idea. This section at m. 74 develops the single chord to four-note motif. At m. 86, the English horn and a trumpet are used imitatively in a variant of the English horn melody used earlier. From m. 106-149, the number of voices used in imitation increases, as if more and more people are willing to compromise and join in on a solution. At m. 149, the chord to four-note motif idea returns and expands further leading into the noble French horn melody once more. Measure 177 introduces a new expansive theme in the clarinet and viola representing success. Triplet arpeggios alternate with syncopated rhythms to accompany this section. Everything keeps building in intensity leading to the final three measures where a rising pyramid effect followed by the three-note repeated chord from the introduction to the first movement occurs. This time the repeated chord motif creates a sense of triumph rather than foreboding. Throughout this movement, all the variants are also symbolic of compromise, which, in my opinion, is the only way that “global warming” is going to be solved. The issue cannot be ignored!

To see and hear what is discussed, go to http://www.sibeliusmusic.com/index.php?sm=home.score&scoreID=133682

Dr. B

Second Movement “Consequences”

It is Sept. 17th and I am now sitting at a picnic table at our campsite at Assateague National Seashore struggling to see my computer in the bright sunshine and to keep my score from blowing away. Extreme conditions, but nothing like what I’m trying to represent in the second movement.

The movement begins by depicting the barren landscape with open fifths in the violins that are answered by a triplet figure in octaves using the low range of the piano. A solo cello introduces a melancholy theme. The last part of the theme uses the triplet idea from the piano. This triplet idea is expanded in viola and cello at m. 14, by the French horns at 17, by the English horn and bassoons at m. 19, and by the upper strings at m. 21. The harp accompanies the last two instrument combinations to add additional contrast. Most of this section disguises the beat through shifting rhythmic patterns and the use of duple and triple figures. At m. 23, the French horns introduce a syncopated pattern that is joined by the trumpets after one measure. This accompanies a plaintive oboe melody that is later stated in imitative counterpoint with the flute. This section builds in intensity leading to m. 32 where the brass section introduces a 16th note sextuplet figure that is answered by descending and swooping strings. The woodwinds enter with a variant of the plaintive melody but this time it is more intense as this whole section depicts the harsh environment. At 43, the woodwinds take over the repeated 16th note sextuplets and the strings have the woodwind melody that climaxes at 49 on a repeated chord figure reminiscent of the introduction to the 1st movement. A timpani roll returns the listener to a quieter mood while two trumpets in imitation ponder how we have gotten to these challenging living conditions. The movement now reverses itself by returning to the syncopated section and then the rhythmic free section, therefore creating an arch form (ABCBA). The ending sections have been altered slightly to create smooth transitions for the last part of the arch form.

To see and hear what is discussed, go to http://www.sibeliusmusic.com/index.php?sm=home.score&scoreID=133682

Dr. B

First Movement “Conflicts”

I wanted to start this movement with a dramatic statement drawing attention to the severity of the issue. I chose the violins for this statement because of their ability to sustain the intensity and their ease in performing wide intervals. It was after I composed this idea that I realized it sounded like a “Native American” cry. After composing the four-measure violin melody, I then looked at places for “punctuation”. What I mean by punctuation is that there are long notes in melodic lines that can be answered by other instruments, in this case the lower instruments doing a three-note repeated figure. The repeated chord figure made its way into all three movements although I had no idea that this would be the case when composing this section. Notice that it occurs once, then twice, and then three times, therefore increasing the intensity. The next thing I heard was a need for contrasting material. The contrapuntal woodwinds and French horn gave me the contrast I needed and it sounded like people arguing. These two ideas alternate and develop throughout the introduction with the counterpoint becoming more complex and the “cry” becoming weaker.

The Allegro begins with tom-toms creating the feel of African drumming. The flute solo and later, the piccolo solo, are modal melodies that have a primitive quality to them being made up of two repeated phrases followed by a contrasting phrase. When the piccolo does this melody at M. 47, the bassoons, cello and double basses are added to the tom-toms giving specific pitches to the shape of the tom-tom line and increasing its intensity. All this is representative of developing nations. The timpani at M. 60 leads into a section using pyramids, swooping lines and richer harmony representing the industrialized nations. The tom-toms fade at the end of this section while melting into the harp chords built in fourths and fifths. Even though the tempo is the same as the opening Allegro, the meter of 2/4 at m. 86 creates a calmer feel. The upper strings introduce a short modal motif that is harmonized in fourths. It is answered by a pentatonic motif in the woodwinds therefore giving this entire section an “Asian” flavor. Both these ideas develop. At. M. 113, an intense string melody, harmonized in close harmony, makes its first appearance. It is answered by an expansion of the pentatonic woodwind motif along with a reminder of the 6/8 African drumming idea in the bassoons and piano. This section grows in intensity again, pointing to conflicts. At m. 155, the piece returns to the industrialized nations music that gets developed further from its initial appearance. This section quiets down with the use of the African drumming leading to a new section that is influenced by Indian Raga. Florid woodwind lines answer the drones in the low strings. The Raga is interrupted several times by the piano playing the African drumming line. The Raga itself expands both in length and in counterpoint until the repeated chords from the introduction interrupt it. A lament from the introduction closes out the movement.

To see and hear what is discussed, go to http://www.sibeliusmusic.com/index.php?sm=home.score&scoreID=133682

Dr. B

Legacy General Description

Since I am on a weeklong camping trip(Sept. 12 -18)and I am not composing, I am interrupting my writing about my “Four Poems” to write about a recent composition, “Legacy”. I began my blog-site after reading a mystery novel based around a blog. At that time, I was nearing the completion of my composition “Legacy”, which was being composed for the Washington Sinfonietta. I started my blog-site because I thought it would be interesting for both the musicians for whom the piece is being written and the potential audiences, to be able to experience a new piece of music unfold as it is being written. I also thought that it could be an interesting learning experience for developing composers. Rather than beginning my blog as I was composing the end of “Legacy”, I waited until I began a new one. Subsequently, my blog has created enough interest that members of the Washington Sinfonietta asked if I would consider writing about “Legacy” after the fact. So here I am, on the third day of my mini-camping vacation sitting at a picnic table on a beautiful sunny late summer day in Prince William Forest Park south of Washington, DC jotting down my thoughts.

Since I am now writing about the piece after it was composed, I am including the program notes here to give the reader a sense of what “Legacy” is about.

Legacy is a three-movement composition for chamber orchestra that makes social commentary on the issue of global warming. It was commission by the Washington Sinfonietta, Rufus Jones, conductor.

I. Conflicts - This movement begins with a "cry" from native cultures admonishing our neglect of the environment. The cry is interspersed with "debate" regarding the seriousness of global warming (woodwinds). The debate grows stronger as the cries grow weaker. The debate is quieted by a measure of repeated chords that could be the words, "stop it! stop it now!". A weak cry in the English Horn brings the introduction to a close. An Allegro section follows with a rhythmic and primitive sounding section representing the underdeveloped nations that are destroying the rain forests for economic gain. This material evolves into a more harmonic and contrapuntal section representing industrialized nations reluctant to change, also for economic reasons. Things quiet down as the music takes the listener to another part of the globe, East Asia. Conflict is again present in this section. The music returns to a varied restatement of the industrialized nations music before traveling to India for a section influenced by Raga. This section builds in dissonance until we hear the repeated "stop it now" chords from the introduction. A brief reprise of the cries brings the movement to a close.

II. Consequences - This movement evokes a somber mood that is reflective of living in a climate of extremes. The movement is in arch form as it begins and ends with open harmony reflective of barren lands that once were fertile. The middle section serves as a climax expressive the harshness of the climate. Colleen McCullough’s book, "A Creed for the Third Millennium" was a source of inspiration for this movement.

III. Sacrifice and Compromise - The movement begins with a strong section that suggests progress. It is followed by a quieter and intense section that alternates lyrical lines over a staccato ostinato that creates a sense of urgency. The opening section returns and is followed by a development of the ostinato section. This section is symbolic of how ideas need to be adapted in order for progress to be made. The opening section returns once more before leading into the concluding section where there is coming together of the instruments on a long lyrical line representing more and more people working together for change. The movement ends with a sense of triumph over adversity.

What I’d like to discuss in this first post is the process I used to get started on “Legacy”.

Since I was commissioned by an orchestra located in our nation’s capital, I wanted to write something that would deal with a controversial current events issue, and the concern over “global warming” and its ramifications is something that is close to my heart. The other influencing factor is a request from the Washington Sinfonietta to incorporate some ethnic influences in the piece as their orchestra consists of ethnically diverse personnel. I then came up with the title “Legacy” and the titles for the three movements, “Conflicts”, Consequences” and “Harmony of the Earth”. The ethnic influences were easy to incorporate into the first movement, “Conflicts” as “Global Warming” is an international concern. My true “Romantic” character likes to bring my compositions to a close with a message of hope that follows the conflict and struggles presented earlier. But as I was composing “Legacy”, “Harmony of the Earth” became too much like a pipe dream and even I, with my “Pollyanna” optimism, couldn’t feel comfortable with the title of the third movement. It was while I was writing the third movement that the present title “Sacrifice and Compromise” occurred to me and is a better representation of the realities surrounding global warming.

When I write a piece for a large ensemble, I do not usually compose on a reduced score and orchestrate later. Orchestration is an integral part of my compositions and I orchestrate as I compose the piece, therefore the full score is in front of me from the moment of conception.

To see and hear what is discussed, go to http://www.sibeliusmusic.com/index.php?sm=home.score&scoreID=133682

Dr. B

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Poem 4 Verse 1 into verse 2

Yesterday I began to work on setting Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken". I kept hearing some "travelling" music in my head and needed to get it notated before I forgot what I was hearing. The first verse is essentially a duet between the clarinet and voice with a short flute figure inserted for punctuation on longer notes. The piano is used as well, but more percussively, as it is has a wide spread between hands and each hand uses fourths, fifths, and the occassional third, which give some harmonic support, but is intentionally hollow sounding. The meter changes between 7/8, 5/8, 6/8, and 4/8. A short three part canonic section between flute and piano serves as an interlude between verse 1 and verse 2.

To see and hear what is discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/fourpoemsblog.html

Dr. B

Monday, September 10, 2007

poem 3 Verse 5 to the end

Even though I worked quite a bit of Friday, I did not post as I was in the middle of this final section and I wasn't sure where things were heading. I did a little bit over the weekend and finished this poem today.

I was struggling quite a bit on how to notate the audience participation. I went to a concert Friday night and heard the Philadelphia Big Brass. It was a marvelous concert and on one piece, "La Virgen de la Macarena", they had the audience shout "ole". The audience was really into it and it reinforced my desire to involve the audience in my "Four Poems". The challenge for me is that my audience participation is more complex. In order to make the audience participation simpler, I decided not to notate the exact rhythm and I hope the audience will stay somewhat together on their own. My "Karaoke" idea of projecting the words and cuing the audience on each word also seems too complex. I just plan to have a handout with the words and sounds the audience needs to do and to have the Soprano lead the audience. I also indicated on my score that audience participation is optional as it is not always practical. The soprano would recite the words and do the sound effects in this instance.

Once I solved that problem, I was free to finish my setting of the words. This entire setting is through-composed (different music for all the words) although there are several unifying factors underlying the free form. After the climax on the words "Yes! That was the reason", the tempo slows down and moves to a duple meter feel for most of the remainder of the piece instead of the triple meter feel. After the aside by the audience on the words "(as all men know in the kingdom by the sea)", the clarinet and piano begin a dramatic and intense section. On the words "chilling and killing my Annabel Lee) both the voice and piano descend in a mostly chromatic line. Immediately following is a change of mood with syncopated, rich harmony and 16th note arpeggios in the piano and lyricism in the flute and voice as the words describe the depth of their love. There is some word painting with soaring lines on "heavens above" and descending lines on "demons down under the sea". An audience participation speaking section occurs next over chords built in ascending perfect 4ths. The middle of this section introduces a five note descending pattern that will recur frequently in the last section of the poem. A return to the syncopated and arpeggiated piano part accompanies a new melodic line in the last section that also includes that descending figure just mentioned. After a rising arpeggio in the piano on the last word, the audience finished the setting by making the sounds of waves.

To see and hear what is discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/fourpoemsblog.html

Dr. B

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Poem 3 verse 4 & 5

My setting of "Annabel Lee" is moving towards its climax. After creating the melodic line for verse 4, I went about finding a suitable accompaniment. I was hearing a low clarinet color and created a one measure figure that grew out of the first three notes of the vocal melody (measure 56). Even though this idea came after I created the vocal line, the listener actually first hears this anticipating the vocal melody. Tension in this section is definitely building. I aid this along by using my "wind" motif that brought the chill to Annabel Lee (running 16th note scale) in the piano left hand, once in the piano right hand, and finally in the clarinet at the climax (measure 63). I continue the tension by doing the exact opposite of what I was doing before. Instead of loud and busy, I used soft staccato notes sparsely in the piano and in a repeated pattern in the flute. This gives the impression of quiet seething. This section climaxes suddenly on the words "Yes! that was the reason" with a sudden forte in the voice and the re-entry of the clarinet on a rapid figure at a loud dynamic. This will set up my treatment of the end of the poem, which be discussed in future posts as it occurs.

To see and hear what is discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/fourpoemsblog.html

Dr. B

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Poem 3 verse 3

I began today's composing session by working on the interlude between verse 2 and 3. I first created a flute flourish on the word "me" which led into the flourish being imitated in the clarinet. Accompanying the clarinet flourish is a hemiola figure that begins as a triad and expands in oblique then contrary motion. This hemiola rhythmic idea (grouping the 6 eighth notes in the measure to create a three quarter note feel instead of the normal two dotted quarter note feel) was hinted at in the flute in measure 2 and fully present in the clarinet at measure 16. I an often asked whether I consciously do this and the answer is no. My technique as a composer is so much a part of me now, that I just hear things and later, when I go back and look at what I did, I find these unifying factors. Composers must practice technique just like performers. The goal is to have the technique become second nature, however there are times when I need to go back to see what I wrote to find some technique to continue the piece. All composers get "writer's block" and by examining what you did, you can usually find some gem that gets you over the hurdle. Composers wishing to learn about and practice technique might want to examine my book "A Composers Guide to Understanding Music". This book also has activities to help listeners hear music like a composer and to help performers become better interpreters of music. It is available at amazon.com or by
clicking here.
The hemiola then developed into a 5/8 pattern of 2 + 3 for two measures then 3 + 2 for one measure before returning to the 6/8. The expanding harmony and contrary motion created my piano part for the beginning of this 6/8 section. It alternates with a figure derived from the 5/8. This is a curious instance where solving a practical problem leads to a more interesting line. The 5/8 figure began by alternating halve steps, but when I did that here (f,Gb,F,Gb), I had a clash between the "F" in the flute on beat 3 and the Gb in the soprano. My solution was to bring the "F" up to "Bb" and it eliminated the clash but also created a more interesting line.

On the word "wind", I created a wind line in the piano right hand that carries through for two measures and is used again in the piano left hand in measure 55. The rolling of the chords in measures 54 and 55 reflect the "beautiful Annabel Lee". This is my use of some "word painting" which is a fun thing to do when setting poetry. I took a little liberty with Poe's text by omitting the work "beautiful" before repeating the entire last line of the verse.

To see and hear what is discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/fourpoemsblog.html

Dr. B

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Poem 3 verse 2

I usually begin my composing day by reviewing what I have composed thus far. I do this because it orients me to where I left off and because I usually hear something that I could do better. Measure 11 was bothering me because the soprano "D" on beat one was interfering with the "D" on the downbeat of measure 12. The same note in close proximity (sustained and rhythmically strong) can make a melodic line less interesting. I first tried to change the "D" in measure 12, but soon realized that it was the "D" in measure 11 that needed changing. I brought that down to a "C" and changed the next note to "Bb". I also had to slightly change the accompaniment to fit with the changed melody. I think this was an improvement. I'd be curious to see if you (the reader) agrees with me.

I stated yesterday that I was avoiding using the piano to create a timbral change between the 2nd poem and this one. The section I was working on called out for a piano chord that would lead into the flute and clarinet interlude. That piano chord then became an important germ idea for the rest of this section. You will notice that the piano chord consists of perfect 4ths in each hand and is in the middle to high register. I exploit this open interval sound for the accompaniment, sometimes as 4ths and other times as fifths. The intervals change to thirds only at the climax at the end of this section. I am consciously avoiding any low register piano as I am saving this for the more somber sections of the poem.

The flute and clarinet are used more sparingly in this verse, serving as interludes and inserting "color" commentary on key words. The imitative interlude at measures 21 & 22 which begins on the 3rd eighth note occurs two more times, but starts on different beats each time (beat 2 at measures 26 & 27 and beat 4 at measures 32 & 33). This Stravinskian technique of shifting a rhythmic figure to different starting beats is a nice way to add variety to music while having a repetition. It works particularly well here because it rhythmically sets up each of the vocal entrances that follow it.

To see and hear what is discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/fourpoemsblog.html

Dr. B

Monday, September 3, 2007

Beginning poem 3

It is that anxious time for me once again as I am beginning the setting of a new poem, Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee". Even with a general idea of what I want to do, I really have no idea of whether what I am writing will work until I get into the piece. The first thing I considered before writing a note was the relationship of this poem to the others in the set. I wanted a contrast to begin the poem that would set it off from poem 2. Since poem 2 was in 6/8 and 9/8, I didn't want to use a tripple meter again, so I considered 5/8 and 7/8 but the words of "Annabel Lee" kept falling into a 6/8 pattern and the tempo was similar to poem 2 as well. The idea I was hearing to start this poem was cascading 4ths in the flute. So I notated that idea and realized that even though the tempo and meter were similar to poem 2, the mood is entirely different. What developed out of the opening flute idea was a light and playful contrapuntal setting of verse 1 for flute, clarinet and voice. The fact that I did not use the piano also gave it the contrast that I was looking for.

I find it interesting that the music can suggest an interpretation that is not present by the words themselves. "Annabel Lee" is a Romantic poem and in keeping with many of the arts of the Romantic Period, there is a preoccupation with death. The first two poems have this as well. But death is not always gloomy. In Whitman's "Oh Captain! My Captain!" death is both a personal loss and at the same time a heroic death. In Wilcox's "Solitude", death is used as an analogy for loneliness. In "Annabel Lee", death is a symbol of true love. To me, the poem begins with a childlike love that blossoms into a very deep and true love. It is this childlike love that is suggested by the music in the opening cascading 4ths of the flute, the hemiola two 16th and 8th figure that appears in both the flute and clarinet, the staccato articulation, and the imitation between parts.

It is nice to know that my original idea is working. I think a lot of my composing goes on at a subconcious level and it is not until I actually sit down and write that the subconscious ideas emerge. I am also very grateful to technology. No matter how much I have tried, I am a poor pianist. Before technological advances, I would find the sounds I wanted at the keyboard, but could only hear the piece in my head because I could not play what I wrote. Now I have the luxury of the computer playing back what I wrote in real time and it is easier for me to move forward at a more rapid pace.

To see and hear what is discussed, go tohttp://www.cooppress.net/fourpoemsblog.html

Dr. B