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.
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