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, December 30, 2007

End of Year Musings

Even though I have not been composing during the holidays, I have been busy preparing scores for posting at my website and at sibeliusmusic.com. For the 7 1/2 years that I have been retired from teaching, I have been gradually working on getting examples of all my music posted in both places. For each piece, I create a file that can be seen and heard simultaneously using the free Scorch player from Sibelius. I also create mp3 excerpts and a graphic of the first page of the score. I have been a Sibelius user for about 8 years, ever since they came out with a version for MAC. Prior to that, I used Finale since around the mid 1980's. Therefore, out of my over 250 compositions arrangements, over half need to be converted to Sibelius files. The ones in Finale come over fairly easily, but need a lot of formatting to look correct. The works that were in manuscript need to be entered into Sibelius. This takes a lot of time. Then I need to create all the files and post them in the two places.

At the end of the year, I usually update my composition records. It had been two years since my last update, and it was interesting to see what I accomplished. During the two year period, I wrote around 15 new compositions, transcribed 3 works that were in manuscript, converted around 35 works that were in Finale, and posted around 40 works to my website and sibeliusmusic.com. If you would like to see how my website functions, go to http://www.cooppress.hostrack.net
I think there is no better way to find new music than to see and hear the music in the convenience of your own home. I remember the hours I used to spend in the music store looking for new music and often guessing whether it would sound right for my needs. The internet certainly has changed the way we can select music.

While you are at my website, you may wish to check out my publishing company's grant programs and recording competition. Via a generous donation from a supporter and contributions from earnings from my music, we have established the Co-op Press Fund. The fund offers grants to encourage musicians to become involved in promoting the excitement of new music. The idea behind the "co-op" in Co-op Press is to find innovative ways for performers and composers to work together to create an excitement for contemporary art music and to spread the word to both audiences and other performers about the wealth of good literature that has recently or is presently being written. We really believe that both these talented musicians and composers need to be heard. As funds and time permit, our goal is to expand this program to continually create projects to achieve this goal. Our affiliate CD label, Emeritus Recordings, has two series of CDs. Our Artist Series features talented musicians playing a variety of repertoire, some older and some recent. Our Repertoire Series, focuses on recent repertoire in specific genres. A lot of my music has been recorded as a result of these projects and we are proud to be able to share the talent of these artists and composers with audiences throughout the world.

I hope that 2008 brings all my readers all the musical and personal blessings that are on your wish list. I look forward to productive year and to traveling to premieres and performances of my music. During the early part of 2008, I'll be in Lancaster, PA, Washington, DC, Cincinnati, OH, Manhattan, KA, and Iowa City, IA for performances. If you are a reader of my blog in those areas, please ask for details of my trip and stop by and say "hello".

Dr. B

Friday, December 14, 2007

Odds and ends

As you can see it has been a while since my last post. I'm still waiting for some more feedback from Meggie Aube regarding Guatemaya. It is exam time for her so I understand that she has other priorities. I have also been busy preparing some of my orchestral scores for posting on sibeliusmusic.com. If you haven't discovered this site yet, you will be amazed with what is available. There are over 75,000 scores that can be seen and heard with a lot of them available for free printing. Most of my scores that are posted cost, but I charge less at sibeliusmusic than I do at my website because the customer prints the music instead of my printing it and mailing it to you. There is also the fact that there is no waiting to receive your music. My goal is to have all music available through sibeliusmusic so I as I get a little extra time, I work on getting scores and parts ready for download. This is usually a fairly easy process except when my scores have been written using Finale first as I need to import them into Sibelius and edit them. I also still have several compositions in manuscript that I need to enter into Sibelius. My website at sibeliusmusic is http://www.sibeliusmusic.com/cgi-bin/user_page.pl?url=sbrandon

I have been working on my orchestral music because my publishing company is sponsoring a recording competition for my large ensemble compositions with a deadline of November 1, 2008. There are two prizes; $1000 and $500. So all band, orchestra, choir, brass ensemble, and percussion ensemble folks may wish to check out http://www.cooppress.hostrack.net/recordingcompetition.htm

The performance of my "Peace Is Not A Season" for chorus and strings by the York Symphony Chorus and Orchestra went very well. I am anxious to hear the recording which should be available in January. The few weeks are busy with brass quintet performances and then in January, I get to take a vacation from retirement! My wife and I plan to enjoy a camping trip to the sunny Southwest.

My posts will be less frequent, but I still intent to write as things crop up. I hope everyone enjoys their holiday and may there truly be peace on earth and goodwill, not just during the season, but forever.

Dr. B

Friday, December 7, 2007

Revision of Guatemaya Movement 1

I have received from feedback from Meggie Aube regarding the first movement of Guatemaya and I thought it would be informative to my readers to see how a collaboration between composer and performer often works. As I have said earlier, I am not a marimba player although I am generally aware of what the instrument can do. But it takes an expert to reflect on what is technically easy and hard. Meggie has done that for me in her latest email that appears below:

Hi Sy,
I have some comments on the first movement to give you after my initial reading of it. If you don't mind I will give you my comments for each movement seperately. I have been so busy with the semester ending that I don't have a lot of time. Also, I officially set the concert date for April 30th and it will be at 6:00 p.m.
An over all comment for the first movement is that it could be harder if you would like to make it so. There are many sections where I am only using two of the four mallets, so you could fill those sections in with more notes if you would like. Measure 13-33 would be a good example of this. And there are some moments where it goes from needing two mallets to needing 4 mallets and then back, I think it could just use 4 mallets all the way, unless there is a measure run of single notes which does happen. Measures 33, 34, and 35 seem to go between needing two and then four mallets.
Some of the double stops when you wrote for two notes played by one hand are awkward and will be very difficult to play accurately at a faster tempo. When there is a G and B flat going to an A flat and C in the right hand, and a C and E flat going to a B flat and D, the movement is very uncomfortable. This happens in measures 3 and 9 and the one in measure 67 is also awkward. The double stops in measure 10 and measure 66 are ok and so is the one in measure 34 since it is a D flat. And any time they are played with both hands, not just the right hand, those are also ok.
Those are all the comments that I wrote down. When I play it again I may find more. If you have any questions about my comments or any questions about anything in particular that your wondering if I can do, please let me know. Its fun looking at your piece!


I began by tackling the passages that are too difficult and considered the comment about using 4 mallets more often. In measure 3, I eliminated the awkward movement on beat 4 by putting notes in the left hand and removing one from the right hand. I carried over two notes in the left hand into measure 4 as well and it adds a richness to the harmony. In measure 4 on beat 1, I moved the first C of the right hand down to an Ab. What I am gathering from Meggie’s comments is that it difficult in rapid passages to change the angle of mallets when the top mallet goes from natural to flat and the bottom mallet goes from flat to natural and vice versa. I know from my reading about the marimba that keeping one note the same facilitates the technique and this solution worked well here. In measure 8, I filled out the harmony like I did in measure 4. In measure 9, I used the repeated note technique to eliminate the awkward technique of the left hand on beats 3 & 4. In measures 66 & 67, I copied the solution from Measures 8 & 9.

I now began to look for other places to use 4 mallets more often. The first place I chose was measures 14 and 15. There is still some of the technical challenge of changing hand position between over the bar line in the right hand, but I hope the fact that these are quarter notes and not eighths makes it easier. I definitely wanted a change of texture in the section beginning at 16 so left some of the measures alone. I did fill in the harmony at 17, 19 & 20 and again at 33 and 34. Measures 38 & 39 are a repeat of 8 & 9 so I copied the changes into those measures. At measures 42 & 43, I used a variant of what I did at 14 & 15 since these measures are in a lower register. The section at 44 is a repeat of the section at 16, so it changed accordingly.

I hope these adjustments got rid of the awkward technique, filled in the harmony in some sections by using 3 and 4 mallets, and preserved my original intent of the movement. I feel that the texture change between 2, 3 & 4 mallets are important to add variety to the movement. I did attempt to incorporate Meggie’s suggestions where I felt appropriate. Hopefully it satisfies her concerns. I’ll report back to you as to her comments regarding the revised movement.

To see and hear the revision, go to http://www.cooppress.net/guatemayablog.html

Dr. B

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Guatemaya - 4th Movement

On Friday and Saturday, I worked on the fourth movement, Chichicastenango. I constantly marvel at the wealth of information available on the internet. I decided to base this movement more on direct quotes of folk songs than the previous movements. The internet made this task much easier than if I had to go to a library for research. Youtube was particularly helpful because I was able to find clips of actually performances of Guatemalan music that people captured on digital video equipment so I felt like I was actually in Guatemala. I also found a Folkways recording of a marimba group playing a tune called Chichicastenango and downloaded it for $.99. With this material at hand, I was able to put together my fourth movement.

I began with an introduction that quotes a brief flute melody heard at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Te-KwXMF4M&feature=related. After that quote, I then transcribed part of a celebratory instrumental heard at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yL1EXOPG7t4&feature=related. Measures 40 - 86 is a development section of the celebratory song. I used some free material of my own invention and motives from the tune itself and juxtaposed them, and transformed them through modulation, sequence, fragmentation, etc. I then returned to a quote of the introductory folksong (measures 87-92) that has a few notes added. Measures 93-121 contains more repetition and development of the celebratory song. Fragmentation of a motive and an accelerando leads into the statement of the song "Chichicastenango". The recording by Chaplandia can be found at http://www.folkways.si.edu./search/AlbumDetails.aspx?ID=3180#. I adapted it for one player and shortened it to fit my needs. The ending combines parts of the two main songs used in this movement.

When I use folk songs in my music, the challenge is knowing when to leave them in their original form or when to stylize them to bring them closer to the realm of art music. In this movement, I have done some of both. I frequently use folk material in my compositions. I have a set of four Spanish Dances that are my own melodies stylized from characteristics of these dances. I used a similar approach with three Greek Dances I wrote for clarinet and marimba. Even when quoting directly, I often combine one melody with another as in my Civil War Suite. I find that using folk music adds a sense a familiarity to a piece of music and at the same time enables the composer to use his/her craftmanship to present the material in unique ways.

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

Dr. B