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.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Movement 3

Movement 3 is titled "Lake Atitlán" after the deep blue volcanic lake. I began by looking for some deep and rich rolled chordal sounds. I started with the interval of a perfect fifth in each hand and then began moving the parts to create the rest of the harmony and melody. The chord progression is non-traditional. The 3/4 cadence chord at measure 8breaks up the 4/4 pattern. I then started to hear a syncopated 16th note ostinato pattern that was used in measure 9. The rolled melodic idea enters in measure ten. I wanted the ostinato effect to continue, but I made smaller intervals so that it could be played with the left hand only. This section builds in intensity by repeating measures 12 - 15 up a fifth at measures 16 - 19. The 5/4 measure at 15 again breaks the 4/4 pattern as does the 2/4 measures in this section. Measure 22 ushers in a repeat of the opening measures up an octave and slightly varied, climaxing in measures 25 and 26 before relaxing into the 16th note ostinato idea at measure 33. Measures 10 - 19 are repeated next, but the octaves are changed and the idea is slightly varied. The ending shifts the listener's ear to a new tonality as the memory of the lake fades into the distance.

I envision soft mallets throughout this movement so that the strokes of the rolls are not very prominent. Unfortunately MIDI doesn't have mallet options, so the movement sounds choppier than the way I hear it. Imagine a deep blue lake with the image of a volcanic mountain reflecting on its surface for the sustained sections and sunlight glistening off the waves for the 16th note sections.

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

Dr. B

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Movement 2 finished

Yesterday I completed the 2nd movement. The biggest challenge I had was trying to create the indefinite pitch quality of drums on the marimba. I was able to approximate the highness and lowness of the various drums by using a single pitch on the marimba, but this sounded more melodic rather than percussive. So I added some notes to create irregular interval content which gave the marimba a more drum-like quality (measures 37-40). The low drum was used as an ostinato in in measures 41-60. The example on youtube had the rhythm as 6/8 but I changed it to 5/8 to add an intensity that the counterpoint on the youtube example created. The ending is a repeat of the first part of the movement. I lengthened the ending notes of the first bird call in order to make the transition smoother. The movement fades away with a repeated figure.

The youtube url is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mX2lsG1Lw_8. I suggest that you copy and paste this into a separate browser window so you can compare it to what I wrote.

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

Dr. B

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Guatemaya Movement 2 started

The second movement is titled "Tikai" which is an ancient Mayan city with two temples. In my search of information about Mayan music, I came across a youtube example that uses flutes and drums imitating sounds from nature. My goal for this movement is to use this as a source of inspiration for a movement done entirely on marimba. It has been quite a challenge to do this, but I think I have been successful thus far.

The marimba uses three distinct registers. The high register is used for birds sounds, as if the marimba is a flute. The middle register is used for both drum sounds and middle register nature sounds. The low register is primary drum sounds. The contrapuntal nature of the youtube example is difficult to capture with just one player on marimba. I create the illusion of counterpoint by switching back and forth between ideas. I even use foot stomping as a counterpoint to the high bird sounds at several points.

I am leaning to keeping Guatemaya entirely for marimba. It would be tempting to add another percussionist as it would certainly make capturing some of these colors easier, but since the marimba is the national instrument of Guatemala, I want to focus on the versatility of the marimba and discover ways the marimba can imitate other percussion instruments through illusion.

The youtube url is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mX2lsG1Lw_8. I suggest that you copy and paste this into a separate browser window so you can compare it to what I wrote.

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

Dr. B

Friday, November 23, 2007

Guatemaya Movement 1 finished

This morning was productive as I formatted the clarinet part for my Sonata for Clarinet and Piano and finished the first movement of Guatemaya. In formatting the clarinet part, I discovered one more note that was out of range that I missed while working on the score. This exemplifies why I feel that is so important to work on the parts before declaring the score finished. This one note (beginning of rubato section of movement 2) caused me to move about three measures up an octave in order to preserve the intended line. At the same time, it added a nice variety in register that was not present before, so it was a blessing in disguise.

The "Porta Barrios" movement of "Guatemaya" turned out to be just under 2 minutes. The movement interchanges the short motivic ideas with the rolled notes derived from the more lyrical theme. Thinking about this movement got me thinking about what I feel is a problem with much contemporary music. I feel that the good music has a balance between good craftmanship and, for the lack of a better description, has "memorable" quality. Good craftmanship is present in most contemporary music, but one of the things I feel is a problem is that many composers loose their sense of proportion. They get so carried away with the craft that their ear just doesn't tell them when it is time to change to a contrasting idea or end what they have done. The "memorable" quality is often lacking because they loose sight of the principals of Gestalt Psychology, which have documented how the human brain remembers. I strongly encourage everyone to read John Winsor's book "Breaking the Sound Barrier: An argument for Mainstream Literary Music". He has an excellent discussion of this approach. Because "Porta Barrios" uses short motivic ideas to create variety, I use the lyrical line as way of creating unity. The are many well-crafted variations of the motivic ideas, most of which the listener will not be aware of. What the listener will perceive, however, is a sense that things a similar, but not exactly alike. I feel that the movement has a good sense of proportion and after the ideas were developed, it was time to stop and move on to a contrasting movement.

I am awaiting feedback from Meggie Aube regarding the practicality of performing sections of this movement. I have written for marimba before, but because I am not a percussionist, I am concerned that I will write something that could be made easier without loosing the effect I am aiming for. I heard a radio announcer introduce a clarinet concerto by Louis Spohr by saying he was not a clarinetist but a violinist and wrote the piece as if he was writing for violin. This caused clarinetists to stretch their technique. I am all for composer's and musicians collaborating to expand the capabilities of and instrument. Yet I think it is irresponsible for a composer to write whatever they want and let the performers figure out how to make it work, especially if there is another way to write something and achieve the same goal. I remember the brass players of the Lancaster Symphony complaining a few years back about playing a piece that was selected for their Composer's Award Concert that was page after page of extremely high tessitura. Yes, the notes are on the instrument, but brass players need to rest. Just because a computer can play it, doesn't mean that people can. So my advice is to check with several musicians to see if they all have the same opinion. If they do, maybe the composer needs to re-examine how to create the effect he/she is looking for.

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

Dr. B

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sonata for Clarinet Movements 2 & 3

I have finished transcribing my Sonata for Viola and Piano for Clarinet and Piano this morning. While working on this piece, I realized why I am so enamored with this project. I feel this composition is one of my best and it is great to see it getting new life. I think clarinetist will be more open to learning a new piece than violists and it transcribed very well.

The second movement is an example of my lyrical best and the interplay between clarinet and piano makes this a true duet. The opening theme (Measures 1-13) appears as a variant at measure 20-27. Both these sections end with a rapid 32nd note motif that becomes an important development idea. It often appears with an expansive line that begins with the M7th interval. At measure 30, the meter change to 12/8 ushers in a transformation of the 32nd note motif that interplays with the M7th motif creating an entire section that continues to develop these ideas. Measure 54 returns us to the opening material and the movement ends with a rubato section.

Again, my main focus was changing the articulation to fit the clarinet. The rubato section had double and triple stops that I divided among the clarinet and piano.

The third movement brings the piece to an exciting close. I find it amazing when I come back to a work, I discover how well constructed it is. I am amazed because I don't consciously create this construction, rather my ear dictates what comes next. For example, when I wrote the grace note motif at the beginning of this movement, I had no idea it would play such an important role in the coda. The movement is in arch form ABCBA. The C material is the introduction to the first movement at a faster tempo therefore giving the entire piece unity. Once again, the interplay of lines between clarinet and piano has a true duet quality.

In adapting this movement, I had two note that were too low for clarinet. Rather than moving those notes up an octave, I preserved the line by using different pitches. Pizzicato was changed into staccato. The repeated notes at the end were changed into a scalar pattern.

If you have any questions about what I did, please send me a comment. I hope you enjoy this work as much as I do.

The score I am posting has the clarinet part transposed.

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

Dr. B

Monday, November 19, 2007

Starting Work on Guatemaya

Today, I began to work on the solo marimba piece for Meggie Aube called Guatemaya. Yesterday, I did more web research to find out more about Guatemalan and Mayan music. I was able to listen to quite a few examples and the piece is beginning to formulate in my mind. As a composer, I often listen to music as a way of helping me get ideas for a composition. I do not copy what I hear, but rather use it as a source of inspiration to trigger my ideas. I remember working on my doctoral dissertation, which was a composition for choir, organ and brass based on parts of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and Kennedy's Inaugural Address and being stuck. I listened to Howard Hanson's Song of Democracy and all of a sudden ideas on how to proceed came to me. With Guatemaya, I knew I did not want to directly quote Guatemalan music. Rather, I want to create a piece that is my impression of places in Guatemala that are influenced by the sound of Guatemalan music.

The first movement is titled "Porta Barrios" which is a bustling port on the Caribbean. The first part of the piece is rhythmic and syncopated. There is no real melody as such. My ear just created some short motivic ideas that seemed to go together well and I developed these. The first motif occurs in the right hand of measure one. I extract the 2 eighths, eighth rest, 2 eighths syncopated figure and begin to use that in various ways measure 3-11. The left hand in measure 4, which first is an accompanying idea, takes one its own life in measures 8 & 9. The first 3 notes of measure 5 also becomes a motive for development as the intervals are shrunk in measure 6, turned upside down in 7 and 11, and the figure is extended in measure 13. A contrasting, more melodic idea makes its presence in measures 14 & 15 as a resolution of this rhythmic section. The lyricism will dominate the next section but will alternate with eighth note rhythmic patterns.

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

Dr. B

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sonata for Clarinet 1st Movement

I am back posting after a three days of trying solve problems associated with updating the operating system on my MAC. I anticipated things would take awhile, but nothing like I experienced. The new operating system is going to be great as it enables me to run both Windows and OS X on my computer. One of the things I hope to accomplish is being able to print 11X17 booklets directly from my computer to my photocopier. What I didn't anticipate was the lack of compatibility between the new OS X and my software. For example, my MIDI interface driver needs to be updated but M-Audio hasn't updated it yet for Leopard. It is in the works, but for the meantime, my keyboard can't enter notes into Sibelius! Fortunately I had recently bought an Oxygen 8 MIDI Controller for composing while traveling and that works fine. One lesson I learned is to wait until something new is out 6 months before purchasing it. That way supportive technologies have a chance to get caught up.

I have completed the first movement of the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano that I am transcribing and adapting from my Sonata for Viola and Piano. In addition to changing the slurs and adjusting the range as needed, I made two other changes. The first was to put the notes of the pizzicato triple stop in measure 86 into the piano right hand. I tried arpeggiating these notes for the clarinet in various rhythms, but was not pleased with the effect. The second change was with the next to last measure. The viola stays on one pitch, which worked for viola because the repeated notes crescendoing drove nicely to the end. I felt that it did not work as well for clarinet so I move the notes around a bit. I first tried a descending scale, but that ran in parallel fourths to the piano and sounded weak. I then tried an ascending scale. That had a good drive, but I really wanted a descent at the end. That lead me to what I wrote which had elements of drive and descent.

When I wrote the Sonata for Viola, I was conscious to use a lot of the lower register of the viola so that the piece sounded like a viola sonata and not a violin sonata played on viola. I kept that quality in the transcription using a lot of the low and middle registers of the clarinet which gives the piece a dark rich quality. The use of the upper register is reserved for climaxes and special colorations.

It is also interesting to revisit an earlier work to see how I constructed the piece. The first movement is a sonata form. The slow introduction is not directly related thematically to the allegro, but it does set a flavor for the use of fourths and fifths and wandering tonality of the movement. The first allegro theme is more agitated than the lyrical second theme. A transition sets up the 2nd theme by ending on the opening motif (m. 49 & 50)of the 2nd theme which begins at M. 54. The development section develops both themes. The recapitulation enhances the melody slightly on the return.

The score I am posting has the clarinet part transposed.

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

Dr. B

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Piece for Marimba, etc.

Well, I haven't even had time to load the new operating system on my MAC yet.I need a time when I don't have anything pressing to do as I worry that all my software may not be compatible with the new operating system. Maybe next week will be a better time to try things out.

Over the weekend, my publishing company was doing the judging for our 2007 Chamber Music Recording Competition and as a result, we have selected three excellent recordings of my chamber music as prize winners. We are planning an April 2008 CD release of the third volume of my solo and chamber music that will include these recordings as well some others on our subsidiary, Emeritus Recordings. If you haven't checked out our previous releases, go to http://www.cooppress.hostrack.net/emeritus.html

I have heard back from Meggie Aube regarding the marimba piece I am planning for her. Here is her response:

Hi Sy,
Thank you very much for writing me and filling me in on the process so far. I am very excited that you will start writing soon. To answer your question, I am able to play other percussion instruments, and I also have access to other percussionists if you would like to write two separate parts. I would also like to let you know how the rest of the recital is progressing. As you know, I will be playing your piece on my Masters Degree recital. I really like to create themes for recitals and try to connect the pieces together in interesting ways. The theme of my recital is going to be "primal urges" which is an interesting concept for percussion because it is so natural and is found in every culture. I think that your piece being based around Guatemalan ideas will fit nicely in the program. I look forward to working with you on this project. Thanks!

Meggie Aube

It is exciting when my creative ideas fit so nicely with what the performer is looking for. I still have more research to do regarding Mayan and Guatemalan music before beginning this piece. But I miss composing, as it has been about a week without writing a new note. There are times where I need to spend most of my time planning for new projects and working on details of previous projects. I did start to work on transcribing the viola sonata for clarinet. Most of what I am doing with that piece is working on articulation and adjusting the range as needed. There were a few spots where the viola part went lower than what a clarinet can do, so I was finding the most appropriate spot to bring the clarinet line up an octave. In string music, the slur line is often used to indicate what notes are to be played in a down bow or up bow. I am changing the use of the slur to indicate what notes are to be played without the use of the tongue on the clarinet part. It also indicates places for possible breaths. As you can see, the nature of the instrument changes the way the part is notated. When I finish this process, I'll post links to the viola sonata and the transcribed clarinet sonata so that you can compare the versions. This is almost a 20 minute piece, so it will be a while before I complete the transcription.

As you can see, the life of a composer is spent doing many other things besides writing music. And all this is besides my personal life that gets hectic at times. It is always a challenge to find time for all the things that are important. I am certainly not unique in this regard, but fortunately I am blessed with excellent organization skills, without which, I would probably only get half as much done.

Dr. B.

Friday, November 9, 2007

New piece for marimba

The next piece that I'll be composing is a composition for marimba for Meggie Aube, a doctoral candidate in percussion performance at the University of Iowa and a recent recipient of a Co-op Press Fund Commission Assistance Grant. I thought I would post my email to her about my idea for the piece and I hope to follow up with some of the exchange that goes on between composer and performer during the creation of a piece of music. Here is my email to Meggie:

Hi Meggie,

I'm getting ready to start composing the composition for you and I am looking forward to the opportunity. I was looking for a source of inspiration for the piece and decided that I would start first with finding out more about the marimba. When I did my search, I discovered that the marimba is the national instrument of Guatemala! So I began to read about Guatemala and its music and found that the ancient Mayan culture is a large part of that country's history and many of its residents are descended from the Maya's. That is when the idea for a title struck me. I am calling the piece Guatemaya. It has a nice ring to it and is descriptive of what I plan to compose.

My wife had spent some of her high school years in El Salvador and had visited Guatemala so I asked for help in identifying impressionable places that might make interesting movements. Between her guidance and further web searching, I came up with the following possibilities:

Tikai - An ancient Mayan city with two surviving temples
Lake Atitlan - A deep blue volcanic lake
Chichicastenango - a small city with a famous, colorful native marketplace and colorful religious processional
Porta Barrios - A Caribbean seaport

I am thinking of writing music descriptive of these places that also may be influenced by Guatemalan music. I have more research to do in this area. At the present time, I am thinking of a piece for solo marimba as it would be easier for you to present this piece in various venues throughout Iowa as you expressed in your application for a commission grant. But I am also hearing various percussion sounds. Do you play other percussion instruments so that I could write for things like rattles, etc in short passages in a primarily marimba piece? I also may include a separate percussion part. I am leaning in this direction but want to check to be sure you have easy access to a percussionist who can perform with you.

Please let me know your thoughts about this idea. I have created a blog about my daily composing activities and I post a link to files where viewers can see and hear my compositions as they are being created. I am posting this email there and would also like to post your response, as I think it would be interesting for readers to get a sense of the collaboration that goes on between composer and performer. I also hope that you follow along with the blog and let me know your thoughts as the piece develops.

I am looking forward to hearing from you and to getting started on the piece.


While I am waiting for her response, I will be writing over my Sonata for Viola and Piano for Clarinet and Piano for Yasmin Flores, another doctoral candidate at the University of Iowa, this time in clarinet performance. Yasmin received a Recording Grant from the Co-op Press Fund for a CD release on Emeritus Recordings. I'll also be uploading Leopard, the latest MAC operating system on my computer so hopefully all will go smoothly. First, I want to back-up my computer (which I do regularly) and organize my files to make more space on my hard drive as I will also be loading Windows XP as part of the new MAC operating system. Technology is wonderful but it does take time making sure everything works smoothly. If my blog posting disappears for a while, it is because I have been busy with symphony rehearsals and concert and working on my computer.

Dr. B

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

8th Movement (End of Microcosms)

I haven't posted for a while because it has been a very busy playing weekend for me with three 3-hour rehearsals and a symphony concert. Despite all that, I was able to plug away at the 8th movement, which I have titled "March of the Ants". This march had both a combination of seriousness and playfulness which suggested the title. The playfulness comes from imagining ants marching to this music and the seriousness is the idea that the industriousness and tenacity of ants as a microcosm of that side of human nature.

I began the movement with a one measure piano introduction in 3/4 using dissonant sounds in contrary motion. I though this set up the mostly 4/4 march well. I continued by creating a steady bass line in the piano left hand and rhythmic echoes in the right hand underneath the saxophone quarter notes and steady rhythm in both hands underneath the saxophone triplets. In previous posts, I have talked about carrying an idea through to see where it takes you. I have done that a lot in this movement. By doing this, unity is created. But the question might arise regarding "when does one stop carrying through the idea?" The best way I can answer this is that the ear must be the guide. There are times I can carry an idea further with slight alteration of the pattern. For example, if I am using chords in perfect 4ths, maybe I can keep it going further when it doesn't seem to fit, by changing to its inversion a perfect 5th, or writing an augmented fourth instead. My ear tells me if this is necessary. For example, if you examine the bass line in measures 2-6 you will notice that it moves scalewise most of the time. In measure 4 the pattern is broken as it goes down a third to Eb on the 4th beat insteed of keeping the pattern and going up to Ab. The Ab was already in the chord and my ear told me I needed to go to a note not in the right hand of the piano or the saxophone line. The Eb was the perfect solution. It adds a little variety to the mostly scalewise line therefore creating interest. It is this process of trying maintain unity yet look and hear places where variety is needed is what my composing is all about. It functions on many different levels like melody, rhythm, meter, dynamics, articulation, etc. as well as many levels simultaneously. A developing composer or listener might examine music at the different levels separately first before trying to put it all together.

At measure 7, the right hand of the piano now goes along with the saxophone line while the left hand plays the scalewise bass line twice as fast. This is unity and variety happening simultaneously. Measures 8 & 9 has the right hand of the piano playing triplets against the saxophone's quarter notes and then as an echo to the saxophone. Measures 11-13 uses 3 part imitation. The material is then used in a similar manner to what has been discussed until measure 22 where the left hand of the piano anticipates on beat 2 the 4 16th note motif used in the saxophone on beat 4. This motive is repeated in measure 23. In measures 24 & 25, the piano uses the introduction material to accompany the wide intervals of the saxophone. I had no idea when I wrote the introduction that I would use that material again, but it seemed to fit at this climax. Ideas that were presented earlier are now combined in the last four measures bringing the movement and piece to a fitting end.

I work in concert pitch, but the score I am posting has the saxophone part transposed.

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

Dr. B