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.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lan Na Thai - Comments from Andy Wen

I thought I'd share the comments I received from Andy Wen, for whom Lan Na Thai is composed. Andy said that saxophonists prefer contemporary music to be written without key signatures and prefer sharps over flats because being an Eb instrument, they are more used to sharps that flats. This is because Eb instruments remove 3 flats or add 3 sharps to the key signature (or a combination of the above) so they more often play with sharps than flats. For example, if the concert key is C, transposing for an Eb instrument puts them in A or 3 sharps. So after I carefully formatted the piece using key signatures, I removed the key signatures and made some of the flat notes there enharmonic sharp equivalent. Fortunately the page turns worked in the spots I had before even with the addition of all the accidentals.

During the next month or so, I'll be working on arranging for orchestra the winning songs in the York Symphony Song writing competition. Songs is probably not the correct word as the winning compositions are more than melodies, they are complete pieces within themselves. There are two winners in the elementary category, two in the middle school category, and one in the high school category. I am amazed at the level of creativity and craftmanship exhibited by these young composers. I may also try to compose something of my own during this time. If I do, I'll be reporting on it here.

Thank you to Carlton for his comment regarding Lan Na Thai. As always, I appreciate any comments from my readers.

I wish all my readers a blessed and peaceful holiday season.

Dr. B

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lan Na Thai Formatted

Yesterday, I worked on formatting La Nan Thai so that the saxophonist would be able to turn pages and also coordinate with the pre-recorded sounds. The first thing I did was to make my score a transposed score since the saxophonist will be playing from the score rather than an extracted part. In doing so, I decided to add key signatures even though the piece in not in a traditional major or minor tonality. The key signatures made the reading easier as there were less accidentals. The middle of the second movement was put in Db major as this section uses a black key pentatonic. I changed some of the notes enharmonically in order to make them easier to read.

The next step was to be concerned with page turns. I first told the Sibelius program to hide any unused staves. It does this by system and made the notation cover less pages. I then looked at where the page turns occurred and combined the gong and taiko drum parts in spots in order to eliminate more staves. I then combined some measures so that page turns always occurred during rests for the saxophonist.

The last thing I did was to extract the pre-recorded sounds part by muting the saxophone line. I am sending Andy Wen an mp3 version of the pre-recorded sounds along with a pdf file of the music for his comments and suggestions. I'll let you know if anything needs to be changed.

I have posted to the following link a transposed and formatted version of the score so that you can see the results of yesterday's efforts compared to before. The recorded accompaniment sounds are not accurate on the MIDI playback. The shakuhachi plays back like a saxophone instead of a flute and the gong ageng plays as a cymbal instead of gong. Since the correct sounds and balances are an integral part of the piece, I have posted an mp3 version of each movement that uses the Sibelius Sounds Essentials playback. To see and hear what I have composed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/lan_na_thai_blog.html

Dr. B

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lan Na Thai 3rd movement

I have been working on this last movement for about 2 weeks and have not posted until now because I was unsure whether what I was writing would work. One of the reasons that I was unsure was because I was using the same pentatonic scale that was used in the other movements and I was concerned that the three movements together would not have enough tonal variety. I did try to incorporate the B and F or F# (4th and 7th tones of the major scale) which were omitted previously to keep the scale more purely pentatonic. This seemed to help, but it is the treatment of the musical material in this movement that creates the needed contrast.

The movement begins with a florid saxophone line that is punctuated by various percussion and flute sounds. At 5'29.1", a two-note motive emerges that becomes an important idea for this slow section. It becomes the basic idea for the transition at the Piu mosso at 6'11/1". As you can see and hear, the two-note idea is expanded and repeats several times while the saxophone continues with flourishes. At 6'24.5", the saxophone plays a staccato figure that is imitated in the xylophone and we are off and running to the Presto.

A Taiko Drum rhythm begins the Presto. The xylophone plays the opening idea of the new Presto theme, but it is the saxophone the carries the idea while the xylophone inserts the motive as an irregular ostinato (6'29.9"-6'43.4"). The ostinato gets turned upside down at times for variety. At 6'43.4", the xylophone offers a contrasting melodic idea that is filled with glissandi. The finger cymbals are added to the Taiko Drum for the rhythm background and the saxophone takes over the ostinato. Notice the different rhythmic placements of the saxophone ostinato in this section. At 6'50.9", the saxophone takes over the xylophone melody. I was challenged by creating glisses in the saxophone. after checking with Andy Wen and finding out that while the saxophone can do scoops (easier up than down) from short distances to the intended note, glisses can only be created by fast chromatic fingerings. I decided to write my own fast fill-ins using the pentatonic scale instead. Behind the saxophone are true glisses in the shakuhachi. At 6'59.9", this melodic idea turns into a 3 part canon, 2 measures apart. The shakuhachi begins the canon, followed by the xylophone then the saxophone. When the canon begins, I remove the percussion sounds to add a variety in texture. The canon ends at 7'23.9" when we return to the xylophone statement of the 2nd Presto melody with the saxophone ostinato. At 7'40.4", the canon begins again, this time one measure apart with the xylophone leading and the shakuhachi and saxophone following. The percussion stays in during this statement of the canon. As the canonic voices dissipate, the saxophone winds done to a written out tremolo. The movement piece ends with a two and a half octave saxophone flourish.

My next task is to combine the pre-recorded sounds into one or two staves so that the saxophonist will have less page turns. I will also try to post an mp3 realization of each movement so that you can hear what the piece would really sound like as the MIDI sounds are inaccurate.

The alto saxophone part is in concert pitch while I compose the piece. The recorded accompaniment sounds are not accurate on the MIDI playback. The shakuhachi plays back like a saxophone instead of a flute and the gong ageng plays as a cymbal instead of gong. These sounds are correct when I use Sibelius Sound Essentials, which I will use to create the prerecorded sound version to go along with the saxophone part. The sounds are also in a better balance. Please use your imagination when listening and substitute the correct sounds in your mind. To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/lan_na_thai_blog.html

Dr. B

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lan Na Thai 2nd movement

I wish everyone a blessed and happy Thanksgiving! I woke up early this morning and worked on the 2nd movement which I began several days ago. To my surprise, I completed that movement this morning. Part of the reason for completing it sooner than expected was the fact that my ear was telling me to bring back the opening sections for the end therefore creating a ABA'C ABA' form.

The experience of trying to create a piece of music that sounds like Thai music by using western musical language and aesthetic has been challenging. Eastern music uses a lot of repetition yet sounds improvisatory. The contrast is created by things changing subtly over time. Western music has greater contrast and clearer formal structure. I already addressed the challenge of the different scale systems and how I dealt with them in an earlier post. So what I seem to be creating is a piece influenced by Thai music but written with a western aesthetic. With this in mind, let me discuss my second movement.

I chose to use an oboe-like instrument that I hear in examples of Thai music for one of the pre-recorded sounds. Sibelius has a Duduk (an Armenian double reed instrument) as one of its sounds, but this instrument sounds closer to an oboe that the double reed instrument I hear on recordings of Thai music. The Thai double reed instrument is much less focused and seems to be richer in clashing overtones than the oboe. To recreate this sound, I double the melodic line a second or third below the melody according to the pentatonic scale that I am using. I am very pleased with how this recreates the Thai double reed instrument. I also use finger cymbals, taiko drum, and a xylophone-like instrument in the pre-recorded sounds.

The pre-recorded sounds begin this movement and create an ostinato to the saxophone melodic line. The saxophone line is very rhythmic and technical and incorporates trills (A). At 3'05.2", the xylophone ushers in a contrasting section, alternating the line with the saxophone (B). At 3'16.5", the A material returns but this time the saxophone and xylophone are in imitation with the xylophone being the lead voice (A').
Even though I use these constructional principles, I still let my ear be my guide. One thing my ear suggested was a change of rhythm in the xylophone part approaching 3'21". The original line called for a rhythmic shift to having the phrase start on the beat, but this did not work here. I then shifted the phrase to starting on the upbeat. I also wanted the saxophone to imitate the sound of a xylophone roll on some of the long notes. A trill did not work, so I suggest the use of flutter tongue or a timbre trill (where the saxophonist trills between two different fingerings for the same note). 3'36.5" begins the C section with its new tonality shift and thinner texture. Programatically, this movement represents a period in Thai history where there were wars with Burma. One could think of this section as introducing this foreign element into the piece. 4'19" ushers in the return to the ABA' section from the beginning. I did not alter this section very much except near the end where I extend a 4/4 measure to a 5/4 measure to create a stronger ending. The movement ends with the gong.

The alto saxophone part is in concert pitch while I compose the piece. The recorded accompaniment sounds are not accurate on the MIDI playback. The shakuhachi plays back like a saxophone instead of a flute and the gong ageng plays as a cymbal instead of gong. These sounds are correct when I use Sibelius Sound Essentials, which I will use to create the prerecorded sound version to go along with the saxophone part. The sounds are also in a better balance. Please use your imagination when listening and substitute the correct sounds in your mind. To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go tohttp://www.cooppress.net/lan_na_thai_blog.html

Dr. B

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lan Na Thai 1st movement Finished

This morning, I tentatively finished the first movement. I say tentatively because while I feel that is finished now, it may not be in balance with the other movements. It may be necessary to come back to it and lengthen it if the other movements over balance it.

The first movement is 2'52" long. I have repeated some of the earlier material with variations to the instrumentation and melodic line. Since the first part had been so freely composed, I felt that it was necessary to repeat some of the material in order to provide the movement with unity. After the faster and more energetic middle section, the Taiko Drum at 1'22.8" transitions to a slower tempo and more calm ending which concludes quietly with the gong alone.

The alto saxophone part is in concert pitch while I compose the piece. The recorded accompaniment sounds are not accurate on the MIDI playback. The shakuhachi plays back like a saxophone instead of a flute and the gong ageng plays as a cymbal instead of gong. These sounds are correct when I use Sibelius Sound Essentials, which I will use to create the prerecorded sound version to go along with the saxophone part. Please use your imagination when listening and substitute the correct sounds in your mind. To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/lan_na_thai_blog.html

Dr. B

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lan Na Thai 1st movement Continued

Over the past few days, I have worked on the second section of the piece. This section is more intense than the first section. It begins at 39.6" and continues until 1'30". Since I am trying to stay with a limited scale system, I needed to find other ways to introduce variety into this composition. This section has a steadier rhythmic feel although the rhythms that I use are very varied therefore still creating a sense of improvisation rather than strict 4/4 time. This section is also more contrapuntal as the saxophone and the 4 other pre-recorded sounds are all active. I even use a little bit of imitation from 1'03.6" to 1'08.4". At 1'10.8" I bring an earlier section back (27.6" to 39.6") but add parts to that section so that it fits with the previously established energy. 1'22.8' uses the taiko drum to transition back to a calmer feel.

The alto saxophone part is in concert pitch while I compose the piece. The recorded accompaniment sounds are not accurate on the MIDI playback. The shakuhachi plays back like a saxophone instead of a flute and the gong ageng plays as a cymbal instead of gong. These sounds are correct when I use Sibelius Sound Essentials, which I will use to create the prerecorded sound version to go along with the saxophone part. Please use your imagination when listening and substitute the correct sounds in your mind. To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/lan_na_thai_blog.html

Dr. B

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lan Na Thai 1st movement

I have completed around 54 seconds of the first movement. Here is a description of what I am attempting to depict with this movement: I. Sukhothai - Refers to the period between 1248 and 1438 and is known as "the dawn of happiness". This was an ideal state, a land of plenty, and peaceful. I envision a peaceful movement.

I listened to a lot of Thai music before composing this piece. I discovered that Thai music uses a scale of 7 equal tones and the 4th and 7th tones are often used only for embellishment. I toyed with trying to recreate this scale using my Sibelius software for the pre-recorded sounds, but found the process complicated. I also toyed with the idea of using short excerpts of recorded Thai music but rejected this because of copyright concerns and also the challenge of linking up the sounds to the saxophone part as I compose. I opted for using a pentatonic scale for both the saxophone and pre-recorded sounds. It is interesting to note that if one compares a pentatonic scale (c,d,e,g,a) to the major scale (c,d,e,f,g,a,b,c), the 4th and 7th tones are omitted. The actual pitches are not the same as the Thai scale, but it has a similar character. Starting at 39.6", I use an F# and B (4th and 7th tones) more often. I also toyed with having the saxophone play some quarter tones. This is still an option, but I was challenged by the play back plug-in for quarter tones in the Sibelius program. It was easy to use, but did not seem to play back correctly.

Other things I observed about Thai music is that it seemed to lack strict formal structure, therefore it was more improvisatory, and it seemed to be more like story telling rather than having strong musical direction and climax. I am trying to capture these characteristics as I compose this piece.

Another challenge I faced was how to notate the music for actual performance. You will notice that I added a second count to each measure so that the saxophonist can relate to the pre-recorded sounds. I also intend to condensed the pre-recorded sounds to one staff for the purpose of providing the saxophonist with cues as to when the pre-recorded sounds occur.

As a composer, I am interested in balancing unity and variety. There are repetitions in this piece, but not strict repetitions, therefore creating unity and variety simultaneously. For example. measures 5-9 are a repeat of measures 1-4, but a beat is left out of the sustained note on the repeat therefore creating a rhythmic variation. The saxophone part is very ornamented similar to the Thai singing style and the rhythms are very varied creating a sense of free meter even though it is written in 4/4 and 3/4. Tempo changes add to that sense of freedom. It will take practice by the saxophonist to coordinate with the pre-recorded sounds.

The opening 39" are fairly sparse regarding pre-recorded sounds. That changes at 39.6" as the pre-recorded sounds become more dominant, therefore creating contrast to the opening section.

The alto saxophone part is in concert pitch while I compose the piece. The recorded accompaniment sounds are not accurate on the MIDI playback. The shakuhachi plays back like a saxophone instead of a flute and the gong ageng plays as a cymbal instead of gong. These sounds are correct when I use Sibelius Sound Essentials, which I will use to create the prerecorded sound version to go along with the saxophone part. Please use your imagination when listening and substitute the correct sounds in your mind. To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/lan_na_thai_blog.html

Dr. B

Friday, November 14, 2008

Plan for a new piece

I have completed the transcription of a work of mine for brass octet that I will enter into a competition, so now I am ready to begin work on another piece. A former colleague of mine, Andy Wen, asked me to write a piece for him to premiere at the World Saxophone Congress to be held in July 2009 in Bangkok, Thailand. Naturally, my first thought was to try to use Thai folk music in the composition. After researching Thai folk music on the internet, I found it troublesome to incorporate because the timbres used are very unique and do not translate well for solo saxophone. I then began to researched Thai history and came up with the following ideas:

Title: Lan Na Thai (translation - Million Thai Rice Fields)
Instrumentation: Alto Saxophone and Pre-recorded Sounds
I. Sukhothai - Refers to the period between 1248 and 1438 and is known as "the dawn of happiness". This was an ideal state, a land of plenty, and peaceful. I envision a peaceful movement.

II. Ayutthaya - This is the period from 1351 - 1757. It was characterized by wealth and wars with Burma. I envision this movement to be fast and violent.

III. The Chakri Dynasty - 1782 to the present - General Chakri, also known as Rama I, was the first king of the Chakri Dynasty. He moved the capital to Bangkok. This dynasty witnessed Thailand becoming a modern nation and moving from a absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. I envision the movement being triumphant in character.

Recorded Sounds:

I plan to use composed sounds that are characteristic of Thai music. The sounds will include various percussion, a marimba-like instrument, oboe-like instruments, and flute-like instruments.

As you can see, my inspiration is different from what I originally intended, but still will incorporate Thai folk music. I still marvel at the internet because I am able to sit in my own house and see and hear examples of Thai folk music thanks to utube and amazon.com.

I have a busy concert weekend with the York Symphony as we are doing Mahler's 5th Symphony, so my creative energies are going towards that. I hope to begin actually composing this piece next week.

Dr. B

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Mesa State College Visit

I send my readers greetings from Grand Junction, CO where I am in the last day of a three-day residency at Mesa State College. Tonight is the premiere of my Regal Variations, a flute and clarinet duet that I wrote for the Ballif Duo. Kristi and Adam are doing a marvelous job with the piece and I am looking forward to the performance this evening.

On Monday, I spoke with a group of music majors about creating win-win opportunities in music. Much of the music business has functioned with the creative artists being at the bottom of the ladder regarding receiving compensation for their talent. Fortunately, technology has enabled composers, performers and audiences to connect with each other and to by-pass the traditional music business model. I urged the students to think like the people they want to reach and to come up with creative ways of helping those people achieve their goals while they achieve their own goals.

I am also doing a three-day composition seminar for ten student and community members that is based on my book, "A Composer's Guide to Understanding Music". The students appear very enthusiastic and I have been meeting with some of them individually to give them some ideas they can incorporate into their compositions.

This afternoon I am doing a talk at the Mesa County Library called "Music To Your Ears". It is intended to help people listen more effectively to music by showing them how composers used unity and variety to express their ideas.

During my free time, I visited Colorado National Monument and enjoyed the scenery as well as nice hike amongst the cliffs. I have also been transcribing one of my compositions for brass octet to enter into a competition.

I return home tomorrow and hope to get back to more composition. November and December are very busy performing months for me, so composition gets put on the back burner.

Dr. B

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Walk In Balance and Beauty Part 4

I have completed Walk In Balance and Beauty and I am pleased with the way the piece turned out. The fourth saying that I used has a similar sentiment as the first saying:

Treat the Earth well.
It was not given to you by your parents,
It was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors,
We borrow it from our Children.

Ancient Indian Proverb

The opening idea for the flute interlude at measure 74 is borrowed from part of the beginning, but it takes its own direction at the end. It serves as a unifying factor and leads the listener back to a recapitulation of the opening choral section which is sung in full voice. I varied the musical material to fit the new words. After setting the first two lines (measures 78-82), another flute interlude at measures 83-87, this time borrowed from measures 42-45, leads the listener back to the mood of the second saying, which was quiet and reflective. In measure 88, I bring in the top three voices in a pyramid effect. Instead of having all three parts sing the words in rhythmic unison, I have each voice sustaining its own word. I chose this approach because the tenor is on a high G and singing the words "do not" is harder than the vowel sound of the word "we".

My challenge in the setting of the last saying was its short length and the fact that I wanted two moods, strong for the first part and reflective for the second. Its length did not seem to balance the rest of the piece. I solved the problem in two ways. First, I repeated the word "Children" three times, each time getting softer and the last time being elongated. Second, I reduced the tempo of the last section to quarter equals 54. A flute and percussion line that is borrowed from the very beginning of the piece, became my ending.

My experience as a performer in choirs is minimal. I love writing for voices, but as I said in an earlier post, people have criticized my choral writing as being too instrumental. After studying many choral pieces, I have taken this to mean that the voices are too independent. I have always taken care with setting up pitches for the entrances of the voices and to use good voice leading. I was especially conscious of that in this piece. A choral director friend also pointed out that certain vowel sounds are hard to sing in the high register, so I was also conscious of this. I hope I created a singable piece. It is probably college level more than high school, although I suppose there are high school choirs that could do this piece. I invite those of you with more choral experience than myself to let me know whether I have created a singable piece.

I am looking for a choir to premiere this. If anyone is interested, please let me know.

To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/walk_in_balance_and_beauty_blog.html

Dr. B

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Walk In Balance and Beauty Part 3 and other thoughts

This past week I worked on the third Native American saying which is an Indian Blessing:

Let us walk softly on the Earth
with all living beings great and small
remembering as we go, that one Great Spirit
kind and wise created all.

My goal in this section was to create a prayer-like mood. The last note of the flute interlude sets up the a minor tonality for the voices at measure 57. It does not stay in a minor long as by measure 58, it is already moving to f minor which is the tonality that dominates this section. The texture is primarily harmophonic in the a cappella choir with only a few uses of percussion for color and rhythmic fill. At Measure 65, the flute enters with an obligatto while the choir becomes imitative for four measures before returning to a harmophonic style.

After I completed this section, I reviewed what I have composed thus far. My impression was that I needed some more variation, not so much in notes and texture, but in tempo and dynamics. This section is slightly faster than the previous section and crescendos and diminuendos were added. Sometimes I wait until I have all the notes written before adding much dynamics to give the piece its final shape. But in this instance, the shape is integral to my setting of the text.

Also during this week, we at Co-op Press reviewed our grant programs as the recession has created some challenges for us to continue these programs the way they were. We were able to come up with solutions that enable us to keep these programs going. If you are a performer and are interested in having a composition written for you, then I encourage you to look at what we have to offer.

From Nov. 2-6, I'll be in Grand Junction, CO at Mesa State College for a premiere of my Regal Variations for Flute and Clarinet by the Ballif Duo and to teach a 3 day composition seminar. I am looking forward to the experience.

To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/walk_in_balance_and_beauty_blog.html

Dr. B

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Walk In Balance and Beauty Part 2

Measure 30 begins my setting of words of wisdom from Crowfoot, Blackfoot. The words are:

What is life?
It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.
It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.

My goal is to make this section sound ethereal in contrast to the more bold opening. At measure 30, I use pyramids to ask the question "What is life?" The entrances are pianissimo and there are some major second clusters in the first entrance that expand to thirds in the second entrance. The second entrance occurs on beat two instead of beat one like the first entrance therefore shortening the rhythm. I feel these are subtle variations that enhance the listening experience. I originally used ties on the repeated pitches so that each part sang one word, but changed it so that each part is doing the same words to help the text come through clearer. In measures 34 and 35, the pyramids are in a different pattern than the rising pyramids preceding it. You might observe that I vary the texture a lot in this section from one part up to four parts, from unison to harmony, and from homophonic to imitative. I also have sharp changes in dynamics. All this adds to the ethereal quality.

The percussion add color and fill in rhythmic dead spots. The flute does some word painting like being a firefly in measures 36 and 38. It also has a short interlude between measures 41 and 45. At measure 46, the choir has a short imitative section and then repeats the phrase "runs across the grass" with some lush harmony. I noticed when I typed the poem here that I omitted the word "little" in my setting. I tried to put it back in but I like what I wrote too much to change it and I think the meaning of the text is there without the word. I guess I am exerting my artistic license. In measures 54-57, the flute expands upon the syncopated idea in measure 53 to play an interlude that leads to the 3rd saying. The setting of the next section will be prayer-like.

To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/walk_in_balance_and_beauty_blog.html

Dr. B

Friday, October 3, 2008

Walk In Balance and Beauty Part 1

I have completed setting the first Native American saying and I am ready to move on to the second saying. I will begin my discussion at measure 14. The setting of the text here is like sung speech. I fill the silences between the text first with tom-toms then with a flute motif added. The flute motif varies each time as I try to recap the previous harmony while setting up the new harmony using the five note arpeggiated idea. At measure 20, the voices become more lyrical as they sing the title line. I repeat the first phrase three times leading to a F climax. The harmony is interesting in this section. It starts out triadic with moving parts in the inner voices and as it reaches toward the climax, the harmony is in fourths. This produces both a rich sound and an openness that suggests nature. After the climax, the harmony becomes more triadic. I was very careful with voice leading in this section as it is not clearly in one tonality. The tom-toms and rattle add color and keep the section moving forward. At measure 26, the flute and percussion both recapitulate part of the introduction and also transitions to the more ethereal setting of the second saying. Since the choir ended in Bb minor, returning the flute to the G minor tonality was a little too abrupt. I solved that problem by turning the G double dotted quarter note into a appogiatura G quarter note that resolves to F. This ideas is used again in measure 29 to help set up the new tonal center when the choir enters at measure 30.

To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/walk_in_balance_and_beauty_blog.html

Dr. B

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Piece for Choir

Hello everyone,

Well I have started composing again after a very long break. The break was caused by a lot of house projects that I was doing, my involvement with the Friends of the Kreutz Creek Library, and my work on promoting two recording projects. Be sure to visit the Co-op Press homepage to listen to examples from our latest two releases "Collage" and "Mosaic".

I found that I have really missed composing. I don't know how the rest of you feel, but I feel like a part of me is missing when I am not writing music. I am excited about this piece for mixed chorus, flute, tom-toms, and rattle. When my wife and I were traveling this May and June we stopped at a rest area in Eagle, CO off of Interstate 70. There was a globe at the rest area that was covered with Native American Wisdom regarding living in harmony with the Earth and I photographed the sayings to use in a composition. I have selected four of the sayings, the first being:

Honor the sacred.
Honor the Earth, our Mother.
Honor the elders.
Honor all with whom we share the Earth:
Four-leggeds, two-leggeds,
Winged ones,
Swimmers, crawlers,
Plant and rock people.
Walk in balance and beauty.

Lakota Instructions for Living

The last line has become the title of the piece. I expect to use the other three sayings to create a one-movement composition and will share them as the piece develops.

I began the piece with a seven measure dialogue between flute and percussion prior to bringing the choir in. This sets the mood of the piece by using a lyrical modal flute idea alternating with more staccato sounds of nature. The percussion adds color and a Native American flavor. When the choir enters, it builds on the modal quality of the flute ideas. In my other choral works, I have been told that I write too instrumentally. No one has really explained what they mean by that, but I conclude it is that I write too independently for the voices. I am being careful to keep the choir in rhythmic unison more than I have in the past. As always, I am being very careful with voice leading to make sure the parts are reasonably easy to sing. There are a few chromatic chords and one use of a passing tone. The men are beginning the section that names the beings that share the Earth. This section is different than most choral writing in that it tries to capture inflections of Native American speaking. I expect to come back to more typical, lyrical choral writing on the last line.

Another unusual aspect of composing this piece is that I am not writing it for a specific group. I am thinking of approaching the new choral conductor at Millersville University where I used to teach to see if he is interested in doing the premiere.

To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/walk_in_balance_and_beauty_blog.html

Dr. B

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Developing Win-win Projects

When I was in graduate school and just beginning my composing career, I became aware of the limited publishing opportunities for contemporary composers and on a whim, started my own publishing company called Manuscript Publications. The idea was to have print-on-demand publishing so that no stock was involved. After putting an announcement in several composer publications, we began to represent about a dozen composers. We did mass mailings to college and university professors and we were off and running. This benefited me as it gave legitimacy to my publishing company by representing several better-known composers than myself and it also benefited the composers I represented as they had an opportunity to get their music heard.

As a result of starting the publishing company and selling some of my music, I was approached by James Houlik, a well-known tenor saxophone soloist, about writing him a piece on a “performance commission”. The performance commission is where a composer writes a piece for a musician and instead of receiving money, the composer is guaranteed several performances. This is a win-win situation as the performer receives a composition written especially for him/her and has the premiere rights. The composer receives several fine performances of the composition in important venues as well as a fine recording.

I ran Manuscript Publications for over ten years and participated in several more performance commissions, all of which were very beneficial. Manuscript Publications became too big and too time consuming to run, but it served its purpose as a win-win opportunity for myself and other composers and performers.

In 1983, I started Co-op Press, my current publishing company, this time publishing only my music. The intent of Co-op Press is to offer my music to the public at reasonable prices and to use those profits to support more win-win opportunities. When we were fortunate to receive some funding from an anonymous donor, we started the Co-op Press Fund which offers grants to performers to enable them to commission me to write them a piece. The purpose of the grant is for the performer to experience the excitement of working directly with a composer. A residency is also a requirement of the grant so that both the composer and performer are trying to create audience interest and excitement about contemporary music. This competitive program whose applicants are evaluated by a committee of judges has been very successful, resulting in approximately 30 compositions composed, premiered and recorded over an eight-year period. The performer and audience feedback has been very positive as well.

In 2005, we expanded the grant program to include a recording grant. This competitive program is a collaboration between the performers and Emeritus Recordings, the CD arm of Co-op Press. The performers provide high quality digital recordings and Emeritus does the artwork, licensing, manufacturer, and promotion of the CD. Profits from sales are split between Emeritus and the performer. Ten grants have been awarded to date with our latest release of Cristina Ledford on piccolo and Michael McGhee on piano coming out by September 1. This win-win project enables the artists to produce a CD that includes many compositions not previously recorded including about 15 minutes of my music. Sharing the cost and profits makes this win-win as well.

In 2003, we began our annual recording competition for recordings of my music. This competition that is judged by a panel of musicians has resulted many fine recordings of my music. Cash prizes and a CD release of the winning recordings are awarded to the winners. In order to fill some of the CDs, we have often put a call out to composers to submit their fine recordings of their music. We have released two recordings that contain my music along with other composers. We do not charge the composer anything for being on the CD and pay the composer mechanical license fees based on the number of units sold. This win-win project provides prestige to competition winners, prestige to the composers included on the CDs, and is another vehicle for getting my music heard. Airplay over classical music stations, retail sales and music downloads has been very favorable.

Our August release of Collage that contains performances of my chamber music by Cincinnati’s premiere chamber music ensemble, Conundrum as well as the winners of the 2007 Co-op Press Recording Competition is an example of this win-win project. Details and samples from this CD and our other recording projects as well as our grant programs can be found at http://www.cooppress.net

I hope that this article will inspire both performers and composers to come up with win-win projects of their own. The internet and advances in technology makes all this possible in this ever-changing music industry.

Dr. B

Friday, August 15, 2008

My Recent Activities

When I first conceived this blog, I intended it to be a daily posting of my compositional activities. Recently, I have realized that daily posts are too time consuming and not all that interesting. There are also times where composing takes a back seat to other activities. Therefore my posts will be less frequent.

Lately,I have been transcribing a piece I wrote for flute, clarinet and piano for woodwind quintet at the request of John Rush, who was part of the group that originally commissioned the piece. John now holds the principal flute position in many of Tulsa's professional music organizations. The transcription of "Scenes from Tom Sawyer" is going well. I have been mainly able to put the piano part in the oboe, horn and bassoon, but there are times where I have needed to re-orchestrate the music to achieve the desired sound. It is challenging to give a piece new life in a different instrumentation because of the idiomatic writing one tries to incorporate while composing. Piano lines do not always transcribe easily for single line wind instruments without some tweaking. It also creates some balance and register issues that also need to be addressed. So while this is not as challenging as creating a new piece, it is still time consuming.

The other project I have been working on is the release of the CD "Collage" which contains two pieces of mine performed by Cincinnati's premiere chamber music ensemble, Conundrum along with the three winners of the 2007 Co-op Press Recording Competition. The Co-op Press Recording Competition is an annual event for recorded performances of my music. We have a fine panel of judges that select the winners from many worthy entries and we award cash prizes and a CD release to the winners. The 2007 winners were a trio from the New World Symphony, a duo from the Hartt School of Music, and a duo who freelances and teaches in the central Pennsylvania area. One of the pieces recorded by Conundrum is the "Scenes from Tom Sawyer" mentioned above in its original instrumentation.

For more information about the CD, you can go to http://www.cooppress.net/page18/page19/page19.html

Dr. B

Inspiration and Developing Ideas

I received a very nice comment from a Carlton who asked about where does a composer get ideas and how does he/she develop them. Composers have many different ways of going about this and this is a very common question from developing composers as well as from audiences. My blog addresses these questions through my discussions of the pieces I am creating, but I have also written a book, "A Composer's Guide to Understanding Music" to help composers develop their technique. But this book also helps listeners learn how to listen to music and it also helps performers and conductors with interpreting music. To answer the part of Carlton's question dealing with getting ideas, I have reproduced below the chapter from this book on inspiration. The rest of the book would help Carlton learn how to develop his ideas.

The book is available from http://www.lulu.com/content/446374 as either a printed hard copy or as a download. There is also a free download of the musical examples that accompany the book and purchase of the book entitles the reader to join a free discussion group about the ideas presented in the text.

Here is the chapter on Inspiration:

One of the most frequently asked questions of composers is “where do you get your ideas?” Inspiration can come from many sources, both musical and extra-musical. The concept that a composition comes to a composer in a moment of divine inspiration is true only on rare occasions. Most of the time, composing is a laborious process where initial ideas come slowly and much time is spent developing and reworking the ideas until a finished product is achieved.

Any of the components of music that were discussed in previous chapters can be the source of an idea. For example, timbre was the source of inspiration in my composition “Echoes” for double euphonium choir. Faced with the challenge of creating timbral variety when writing for a group consisting of the same instruments, I thought of the possibility of dividing the group into two choirs and placing them on opposite sides of the stage. This would enable the timbres to have spatial variety with one choir imitating the other in the manner of double choir compositions from the Renaissance. I then expanded upon the imitation by having imitation occur within each choir as well as between choirs. This gave rise to the idea of echoes, which is imitation, that gradual gets softer through the course of several repetitions. The challenge of creating variety with homogeneous timbres enabled me to come up with a title as well as a blueprint for developing the musical material.

Literature, art, poetry, national causes, and environment can provide some of the extra-musical inspirations for composers. The challenge for composers working with extra-musical inspiration is to find a method of allowing the music to convey extra-musical ideas while at the same time, remaining cohesive from the purely musical perspective. Program notes, visuals, narration, and sung text can assist in conveying the extra-musical idea. Because music emphasizes repetition (unity) and drama emphasizes development (variety), the composer is faced with reconciling the different characteristics of the two art forms. Richard Wagner’s concept of leit motifs is an effective solution that composers still use today. The leit motif is a short musical idea that represents a person, event, place, or emotion. As these extra-musical elements develop, the leit motif also develops, therefore creating musical unity and variety without interfering with the plot development.

In my “Scenes from a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” for brass quintet, Mark Twain’s social satire was the source of inspiration. The piece contains detailed program notes to help the listener understand the relationship between the story and the music. The piece can also be performed with a narrator in order for the musical representations of the story to coincide. When working with large literary works as a source of inspiration, an additional challenge is deciding what to include and exclude. Much of the detail of literature does not translate well into music. Length is also an issue that must be addressed.

Inspiration does not always occur in the order that it appears in the finished product. A composer’s initial idea, while having potential, may not be best for the beginning of the piece. It is important for composers to save all ideas, as they may be used later in the piece or even in another composition. An example would be my inspiration for my “Celebration Overture”. This piece was composed as an entry in a composition competition sponsored by WITF-FM to celebrate their 25th anniversary. The competition gave rise to the title and general nature of the piece. The first section I composed was something I really liked, but I had difficulty moving on from that point. After stepping back for a short period of time, I realized that what I had written was too complex for the beginning of the piece, but was perfect for the end. I then created a simpler version of the material and the remainder of the piece developed more easily. “In my end is my beginning” said T.S. Eliot. That is exactly what happened when composing my “Celebration Overture”.

Dr. B

Friday, July 18, 2008

Regal Variations Finished

I had finished Regal Variations about two weeks ago but have not had time to write because we have been busy with doing some house remodeling. I hope to get back to posting more regularly once things calm down.

Variation V is unique in that in begins by varying the melody of variation 4, which is in itself, a variation of the main theme. It is also unique in that the introduction idea plays a prominent role throughout. The flute plays this introduction idea in measures 1 & 2 which becomes expanded in measures 3 & 4 and the expanded even more in measures 5-8. The clarinet inserts fragments of the variation 4 melody in the silences between the flute phrases. The clarinet expands these fragments leading to its longest statement in measures 10-12. At measure 13, the flute uses a phrase of the introductory to link to a rhythmic accompaniment that is built off of the introduction ideas from measures 14 - 21. Going against this accompaniment, the clarinet plays a rhythmic variation of the variation 4 melody. After a return to the introductory section in a new tonality at measure 22, the flute and clarinet interchange what they played at 13-21 in measures 34-41. Measure 42 ushers in the transformation in the clarinet of the original theme now in a more "regal" setting while they flute continues the accompaniment ideas. At measure 52, the two parts change roles and there is a shift in tonality. A hemiola section during the last 4 measures feels like a written out ritard that brings the variation at the piece to its climatic end.

This was a fun and challenging piece to compose. For those of you who have played duets, you probably know that duets are more fun for you to play than for your audience who listens to it. It is very challenging to write interesting a varied music for only two instruments. It is hoped that my blog on the composing of Regal Variations will give my readers some new ideas on how to write for two instruments.

To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go tohttp://www.cooppress.net/regalvariationsblog.html
The score is in concert pitch.

Dr. B

Friday, July 4, 2008

Regal Variation 2nd-4th Variation

Hello again to my readers. I am now back home from vacation and even though I haven't posted in a while because of my travels, I have been working on Regal Variation fairly regularly. I have now completed four variations and have one to go. Instead to talking in detail about each variation, I thought I'd address some thoughts that I had while working on this piece. I will refer to each variation as illustrations of my thoughts.

I'd like to begin with a general observation regarding variation form. One of the interesting things about a set of variations is that the further one goes into the piece, the farther removed the variations are from the theme. This is what is happening in my Regal Variations. The first variation uses motives that are very clearly derived from the theme. The second variation begins with a 7/8 accompanying idea that is not theme related before using a transformation of m. 13-17 of the theme. Interestingly, the accompanying idea takes on a life of its own and almost seems like a theme itself. The third variation only uses the descending perfect fourth of the beginning of the theme and then it is off to develop as my ear sees fit. There are no other deliberate uses of the theme in this variation. Variation four uses the melodic intervals of the theme, but the rhythm and tempo are so dramatic changed from the theme that this relationship is difficult to perceive.

This discussion leads me into something I have discussed before; the importance of composers relying on their ear rather than emphasizing construction. Craftmanship is important in any composition, but the ear must always guide that craftmanship. I found myself getting into that trap a few times while composing some of these variations. For example, when I began variation three, I was trying consciously to use motives and intervals from the theme. But this was not working, so I switched to just letting my ear tell me where the music wanted to go. There may be some relationships to the theme that have subconsciously slipped in, as this usually happens when one is living and breathing the material, but I hope the music sounds freely composed rather than contrived.

I also like to discuss my use of key signatures and time signatures. I usually find an opening time signature that works for my initial idea. I change time signatures as needed to help with the placement of accents and cadences, but a lot of times that is misleading as my music is very contrapuntal and one part may line up while the other one does not. A good example is in variation 2. The 7/8 accompaniment idea from the beginning carries through in measures 6 & 7, but these measures are written in 9/8 to accommodate the flute melody while the clarinet part is a hemiola 7/8. It looks awkward in the 9/8, but it should have the same uneven beat feel as the beginning. This type of thing happens a lot in this variation and less often in the other variations. With key signatures, I usually start out with no key signature. After I have composed for awhile, I try to find a key signature that works best for ease of reading by eliminating a lot of accidentals. Sometimes, this lines up with the tonality and sometimes it does not. My music changes tonal center and modality often therefore making key signature something that is used for ease of reading more than an indication of tonality.

The other thing that I was giving much thought to while driving and while composing is the importance of "subtlety" in art and in life. I believe that all good art uses "subtlety". Subtlety is something that is implied rather than overtly stated. For example, in Regal Variations, variation 3, I recapitulate the opening measures at measure 21. The tonality is now G instead of F and the flute is now the lead voice and the clarinet the follower. Later on the theme contains some dotted eighths and sixteenths for variety. What may appear on first hearing as a repetition of the opening, is really a subtle variation within that repetition that adds interest while at the same time serves as a unifying factor. This is one of the beauties of art, because it enables the appreciator to always find something new to appreciate. Popular music emphasizes immediate appeal over subtlety. It is less complex and therefore more repetitive. Pop music serves its purpose, but I argue that the arts are an essential part of our humanity and an essential part of education. Without the arts and arts education, it is difficult to people to learn to perceive and appreciate subtlety and subtlety is an essential part of communication. Can you imagine how many less fights a couple would have if the partner was able to understand what is not said by observing differences in the tone of voice and facial expressions? Expand this to other forms of communication and you can understand why the arts are essential in our lives.

I once again invite my readers to comment on or question anything I say. I will not publish your response without first obtaining your permission. All replies are monitored by myself before the appear in this blog.

To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/regalvariationsblog.html
The score is in concert pitch.

Dr. B

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Regal Variation First Variation

I am now in southern Oregon and had a chance to work on the first variation and complete it today. The first variation is in a Presto tempo which creates a dramatic contrast to the lilting theme. The motives from the theme that play a dominant role in this variation are the flute idea from M. 9 of the theme and the 16th note descending pattern first seen in M. 6 of the flute in the theme. The rhythm of these ideas is translated into a 2/4 pattern.

After a two measure flourish in the flute, variation 1 begins with the descending idea in the clarinet in measure 3 followed by the two 16th and eighth motive in the flute in measure 4. At M. 7-9, the clarinet has a syncopated version of the two 16th and eighth idea that later turns into a hemiola (3/8 against the 2/4) ostinato accompanying the melody lines. The lines develop and subtly change as the movement progresses. About 2/3 through the variation, I felt things were getting tonally static. This suggested the idea of sequencing down a step that led to the material at 68-70 and 81-end. The variation ends quietly after being loud and energetic throughout.

To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/regalvariationsblog.html
The score is in concert pitch.

Dr. B

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Regal Variations

I'm writing this blog from a lovely city RV Park in Eastern Oregon. Our vacation has been enjoyable and I have found a few times to compose my next commission, which is a piece for Flute and Clarinet for the Ballif Duo. I was listening to my satellite radio and heard Elgar's Enigma Variations which is one of my favorite pieces and thought I'd like to write a set of variations in the manner of Elgar. The "Enigma Variations" is truly a symphonic development of the musical material rather than a set of variations where the theme structure remains the same and the variations are built on that structure. My "Regal Variations" (Regal being and anagram of Elgar) will attempt to symphonic develop the theme as well.

I have composed my thematic material. It is about 45 seconds in length and is in a lilting 6/8 rhythm. The theme is in a rounded binary form ABA'. The A section goes from the beginning to measure 13 and the B section from 13 to the end. It is rounded because a small piece of A returns in the last two measures. In addition to the use of canon between the two parts, much of the melodic material is motivically derived, therefore giving the theme a symphonic quality even before the variations begin.

As I was composing this, I kept questioning whether this is my theme or will it turn out to be a variation. It was only when I began the first variation that I became convinced that this is my theme. I have just begun the first variation so I will discuss that after it is complete.

To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/regalvariationsblog.html
The score is in concert pitch.

Dr. B

Friday, May 16, 2008

Hep Cats Movement 3

The third movement is called "Tom" and it captures the aggressive, macho characteristics of a tom cat. It is in a fast rock tempo. The way this movement is constructed is by using short motifs that constantly interchange with each other and are varied by tonality, modality, interval, or by extension. I will identify the motifs for you below and leave finding where, when and how they are used up to you.

motive 1 - M. 1 beats 1 and 2
motive 2 - M. 1 beats 3 and 4
motive 3 - M. 2 beats 1 and 2
motive 4 - M. 4 entire measure
motive 5 - M. 7 beats 3 and 4
motive 6 - M. 8 beats 1 and 2
motive 7 - M, 12 beats 3 and 4
motive 8 - M. 14 beats 3 and 4

The overall form is an arch form with a short coda. For the center section M. 31-43, I felt I needed contrast to the outer sections that use the constant juxtaposition of the motives. I briefly toyed with the idea of using a more sustained melody but it didn't feel right. While doing my morning stretching, I was watching the weather channel and for the "Local on the 8's" they had rock music playing in the background that was using a repetitive riff. It was then that it dawned on me that a riff section is what I need to create the contrast. This middle section consists of 3 four measure phrases that are built off of a riff idea.

There are several climaxes throughout this movement. They occur at loud spots and/or high spots and they give the movement direction. Dynamic contrast is very important in making a composition for a solo single line instrument interesting.

I will be taking a real vacation between May 19 and June 27. I will be bringing my keyboard and computer with me as composing for me is very relaxing. I will be posting to my blog sporadically however as the next piece I work on develops. This may be a good time for those fairly new to my blog to read some of the previous posts and share your comments.

To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/hepcatsblog.html
The score is transposed.

Dr. B

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hep Cats Movement 2

Today I am posting the completed 2nd movement. Whereas the first movement "Siamese" has a lively and playful, yet sophisticated quality, the second movement "Angora" is mysterious, aloof, and vain.

The movement begins with an angular, yet expressive 7/8 melody suggesting the Angora's superiority complex. This idea is then followed by a staccato, rhythmic ostinato idea in mainly 3/4 suggesting the cat's sneakiness. I commented in my last post about the difficulty in creating counterpoint with a single melodic line. I have played a wonderful piece by Fred L. Clinard called Sonata for Unaccompanied Euphonium that effectively uses counterpoint. He has a low rhythmic figure that is interrupted by a lyrical melodic phrase. The two alternate for an extended time giving the illusion of two separate lines. Even though the don't literally occur simultaneously, it creates the illusion that the bass line is continuing while the lyrical line is being played. I tried to do the same type of thing in this movement except mine is in a slow tempo and Clinard's is at a fast tempo. From M. 16-26, the rhythmic ostinato alternates with phrases of the 7/8 angular melody therefore creating a sense of counterpoint. M. 27-32 uses a variant of the rhythmic ostinato idea. The tempo picks up again for even more variety.

The movement is in an arch form. the apex of the arch is the lyrical line that represents Angora's beauty from M. 33-50. After the climax, we return to yet another variant of the ostinato idea from M. 51 - 64 and then finally back to the 7/8 angular idea to end the arch form AB(A + B) C B' A'.

This movement has a modern jazz ballad flavor, sort of a 3rd stream. The intervals are bluesy, but the inflections are more classical.

To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/hepcatsblog.html
The score is transposed.

Dr. B

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

New Piece for Solo Eb Clarinet

I have been traveling again, this time to the University of Iowa for a premiere of my "Guatemaya" for marimba by Meggie Aube on her masters recital. We had a nice dress rehearsal together. The challenge was to make adjustments as Meggie had the piece memorized. She had to get the new changes (mainly dynamics and phrasing) into her mind, which is not as easy as marking the music with a pencil. She made the adjustments very quickly however. During the performance, Meggie had one memory slip at the very beginning of the piece, but after that, the performance went smoothly and was well received. While at the U of I, I meet with three graduate students with whom I have written pieces for recording projects.

I began to work on my next commission while in Iowa and finished the 1st movement today. This piece is for William Kelly, who is doing a CD of unaccompanied clarinet music. He wanted a piece for Eb clarinet, although this piece can be done on any clarinet. He also wanted a jazz influenced piece, therefore the title "Hep Cats". The title has double meaning, cats meaning jazz musicians, and also the feline species. I am a cat lover, so several of my pieces have cat titles and descriptions. I am sad to say that the latest member of our cat family "Siegfried" went to cat heaven on Monday. He was 18 years old and we had him for 16 years. He was a black cat with part Siamese in him. Therefore the first movement "Siamese" is written in his memory. It is an upbeat, swing movement and captures the joy "Siegfried" brought us. The other movements will be "Angora" which will be slow, moody and bluesy followed by "Tom" which will be in a rock style and be aggressive.

"Siamese" has a number of motives that are used in a flexible form. The challenge in writing a piece for a single monophonic instrument is that the elements such as harmony, counterpoint, and timbre variation are not readily available. One can hint at these, but the composer has to find most of the variety in the other elements. The movement begins with diatonic swing eighth notes which is the first motivic idea. In the second measure, the triplet motive is introduced, which adds rhythmic variety. These ideas interplay and change tonality slightly. In order break up the constant sound, I wanted a figure that used some rests. M. 7 introduces this motive and is used again, like in M. 10 & 11 for variety. The next motivic idea (M. 15 & 16) is a more chromatic version of the swing 8th notes, therefore adding a modality variation. The last new idea also takes advantage of silence (M 22). These ideas interchange freely as the movement moves towards the climax towards the middle at M. 39 and then again towards a climax at the end.

To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/hepcatsblog.html
The score is transposed.

Dr. B

Monday, April 21, 2008

Goulash 3rd movement finished

Last week I finished Goulash, but decided to wait a bit before posting as I wanted to be sure I was finished. Because of my hectic schedule, my composing has been sporadic and it was hard to feel a sense of continuity in the piece. After reviewing the piece, I feel that I did create the continuity I was looking for.

M. 122-136 creates a transition back the more rhythmic portion of the slow section. It begins with a restatement of the main fast idea and then begins to develop it a bit before fragmenting some of the ideas. M. 165 winds down the slow section material and M. 171 suddenly brings the listener back to the fast section. M. 192 is a slight variation of this material that appeared earlier. M. 210 to the end is a fiery coda that extends the marimba idea at M. 198 for some technical fireworks.

During this movement, I found myself using the ends of phrases to start my new phrase. This is a way of unifying ideas and also creating variety. An example would be how the saxophone line that ends at M. 9 begins the phrase at M. 16 and then develops into its own melody. T.S. Eliot said "in my end is my beginning". That certainly applies in many places throughout this movement.

I am now working on preparing the parts for this piece and getting them off to the performers for their comments.

To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/goulashblog.html
The score is transposed.

Dr. B

Monday, April 14, 2008

Goulash 3rd movement

In my last post, I discussed my getting started with the third movement of Goulash. This movement has been challenging to compose, partly because of all the interruptions I have been experiencing with my composing schedule and partly because I do not have a clear vision of the movement. I do have general idea of what I want to do. The opening slow section is now complete. At M. 25, I introduced a contrasting section that is imitative. At M. 32-42, I return to the material I used at M. 14-24 but the saxophone line is now more elaborate. A transition in the marimba at 43-64 brings the listener back to the opening material that gradually accelerates into the fast section at M. 61. The return to this opening section rounds out the slow opening nicely as it is free and exotic sounding before the stricter tempo of the fast section.

M. 61 begins the fast section with an angular, yet harmonically suggestive marimba pattern of eighth notes. The saxophone introduces the first melodic idea at M. 63. It has a dotted rhythm figure, some syncopation and some scale-wise flourishes. The last part of the idea uses imitation between the saxophone and marimba. At. M 71-83, the roles of the two instruments reverse and the last part of the idea is extended. M. 84 ushers in a variant of the idea with descending then ascending arpeggios in the marimba and scalar passages in the saxophone. Imitation once again completes the phrase. At M. 92-104, the roles reverse once again and the end of the idea receives an extension. M. 104 is another variant of the initial idea that incorporates both the eighth note arpeggios and the scalar 16th notes. The texture is all marimba at this point. At 113, the texture is now saxophone primarily with a few punctuations with the marimba.

Once again, the ideas seem to be working but I don't know where it will take me next. The challenge I am finding in writing for 2 instruments is to create variety of texture. I accomplish that by alternating lead in the two instruments, changing from harmophony to polyphony, and using one instrument only for phrases. Since I can't vary the texture like I could in an orchestral piece, I need to strive for variety in other ways, yet still maintain unity in the piece. This might suggest a return to the slow section briefly before the final virtuostic fast section. We will see if this happens as the movement progresses.

To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/goulashblog.html
The score is transposed.

Dr. B

Monday, April 7, 2008

Marketing, Guatemaya and Goulash

The title of this post sounds like goulash, but it highlights the three things I'll be reflecting on.

Yesterday, I had a table to sell my music and CDs at a Tuba/Euphonium conference being held at Millersville University. Normally, I market through internet news groups but I thought I would try something different. My publishing company is a print-on-demand establishment, so my first task was to decide what music to print and bring with me. I settled on some of my euphonium and tuba duets. I also had some copies already left over from other seminars I have done, so I brought that music along even though it was not tuba or euphonium oriented. I also made catalogs of my tuba and euphonium music for distribution. All in all, I'd say the day was a positive experience. I would have attended this event anyway as I am a tuba player, and it was nice to share my music with some of the people in attendance. I actually sold some of my there music as well as some of my tuba and euphonium music. My setup consisted of a display board with my publishing company and Cd label name, plus some graphics of things we offer. I had nice display racks for my music and CDs. I had a credit card swiper from CDBaby for credit card sales and had my laptop computer and headphones with me so that people could hear recordings or MIDI versions of my music. I will consider doing this type of marketing in the future, but it does take time and can be expensive.

This morning, I made what I hope will be the final revisions to Guatemaya. I have had excellent correspondence with Meggie Aube, for whom this piece is written. She has sent me rehearsal recordings and with the help of her teacher, made some suggestions for changing some of the octaves in the piece. I also made some adjustments to a few measures to facilitate the technique. The biggest change is in the 3rd movement where I adjusted the tempo slower as its sounds more majestic and mysterious that way.This is a good example of how collaboration can work between composer and performer.

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

I have also been working on the third movement of Goulash. I have settled on alto saxophone and marimba for this movement. It will be in the style of a Csárdás beginning with a slow section with some freedom of tempo and followed by a fast, fiery section. I started in 6/8 time because I haven't used that meter in the other movements and I'm consciously trying to stay away from imitating the famous Csárdás by Monti. Even though I like what I have written thus far, I am not sure where this is going and whether it will sound like a Csárdás. As you can see and hear, the opening is quite free in tempo. In measure 6 & 7, I develop the triplet motive first stated at the beginning of m. 6 in the saxophone to lead to a climax at the end of measure 7. Measure 9 begins a transition to a section of steadier rhythm. The marimba part of harmonic eighth notes becomes a steadier rhythm at m. 14. The saxophone dotted rhythm motif that ends the section at m. 9 becomes another unifying factor in the new section.

To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.hostrack.net/goulashblog.html

Friday, March 28, 2008

Kansas State Premiere

I'm in Missouri on my way back from a very nice experience at Kansas State University. It was a luxury in the world of composers to have 3 rehearsals with the tuba/euphonium ensemble that premiered my "Suit Suite". There was a lot of growth with the interpretation of the music. The one drawback was that we did not have all 13 musicians together until the run-through prior to the performance due to schedule conflicts. But Steve Maxwell and the students really came through with a very musical and exciting premiere.

While I was there, I did a Low Brass Masterclass on "Getting Into the Composer's Mind" which is based on ideas from my book, "A Composer's Guide to Understanding Music". I also gave a masterclass to the advanced theory class and a few composition majors. We covered such things as the need for versatility, how to develop your own voice, and concerns I have about the dominance of craftmanship at the expense of expression. I also played several recordings of my music. With both these classes, it would have been great to try to reach more students and to have those in attendance ask more questions.

Thank you Steve Maxwell for arranging all this and to the other faculty who were gracious in hosting me.

Dr. B

Monday, March 24, 2008

Conundrum in Cincinnati

I am now in Kansas City on my way to Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. I spent most of last week in Cincinnati working with the chamber ensemble Conundrum. They commissioned me to write a piece for soprano, flute, clarinet, and piano. They also arranged a residency and premiere for the students at Cincinnati's High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. The musicians of Conundrum are wonderful. We did a recording session while I was there of the Four Songs that I just wrote for them and my Scenes from Tom Sawyer. Both of these will be released along with three other chamber works of mine on a CD soon. The recording session went well and I thought we had enough takes of everything that I could edit a fine recording. Most of what was recorded was great but there are a few spots that need to be done again. It is amazing what one hears when one listens to tracks over and over. The microphone and recorder are the best critics. I am hoping that we can arrange another hour to record on my way home from Kansas to get better takes of these few spots.

The residency at CCPA was a little disappointing. Due to schedules and make-up city-wide testing because of snow days, the audiences were small and some kids were in and out. Parts of my presentations generated interest with some of the students, but I had hoped to connect with more of them.

I am hoping to find a little time to compose while in Kansas. I have ideas for the last movement of Goulash that I'd like to get notated. I am also starting to receive rehearsal recordings of works I've written for other musicians whose performances and recording sessions are approaching. It is a busy time for me, but I like it that way.

I'll try to report on my stay at KSU after Wednesday, but I'll be putting on the miles driving home and my wireless internet connection varies with where I camp. Please feel free to comment on my posts or share your experiences related to the topic. It seems like there are a lot of readers of my blog and I'd love to hear from you.

Dr. B

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Working With Performers

I am getting ready to leave for performances in Cincinnati and Manhattan, KS and thought I'd write a bit about working with performers. For me, working with performers is what it is all about. It is so nice to hear what you have notated on paper come to life. But it also can be frustrating. A friend of mine just had a piece premiered at the Kennedy Center and the musicians rehearsed it for the first time for one hour on the day of the concert. While the musicians got the gist of the piece, he was not pleased with the performance.

To avoid this type of rush performance, when I write a piece for someone, they are requested to send me a rehearsal recording at least two weeks prior to the performance. That way, I know they are rehearsing it and there is time for me to have feedback that can be incorporated into the performance. It doesn't always happen as the group in Cincinnati had scheduling problems so they are working to put the piece together this week. I have heard a recording of one of the movements. It was fine, but under tempo. I have confidence in this group so it should be a fine performance.

I'd like to share the correspondence I've had with two other performer as it illustrates the kind of collaboration that often goes on between composer and performer.

The first is with Dr. Steven Maxwell, director of the Kansas State University Tuba/Euphonium Ensemble. Steve sent me a rehearsal recording and these were my comments:

Hi Steve,

The package arrived yesterday. Thanks for sending the music and recording. In general, your group is doing a good job with Suit Suite, but I have several suggestions.

First of all, the style of all the movements are fine. The only exception is in Hearts where unless there is an accent or staccato, the articulation is legato or slurred. M. 77 & 79 are examples (no accents). The accents are fine in 78 & 80. Also Diamonds sounds dance-like but it would sound even more like rich people dancing in oblivion of the poverty around them if it could go faster.

The other general comment is about balance. I don't know if mic placement caused the tuba 3 to predominate, but he/she needs to blend with the ensemble better. Only when that part has an obvious melodic line like in Hearts at 62-66 should that part stand out.

I wrote the piece so that everyone has an opportunity to rest. What this causes is various sub ensembles within the 6 parts. Those sub ensembles need to be in perfect balance. Sometimes the lead voices are too soft other times the middle voices. Maybe making your students aware of the sub ensembles and balancing a few of them will help them hear this concept.

The ritards could be more in all places that they occur.

The flutter tongue effect could be more menacing.

Can the 1st euph trill at the end?

The 1st euph had rhythm problems in 81-82. Also 221 through the end, whenever there is a F-Gb the 1st euph is trying to play an Ab.

At 156 euph 2 & 3 should sound like one long line even though each has rest the overlap should help, but it needs to be balanced.

It sounds like there is one on a part for this piece and not the 13 piece ensemble. Is that correct?

I am looking forward to hearing the piece in person and working with your students.


As you can see, there is a lot to be done. I would hate to make these changes at the dress rehearsal.

The second is with Meggie Aube, marimbist at the University of Iowa. First her email then my comments.

Hi Sy,
I'm sorry for taking so long to write back to you again. I recorded the 1st and 2nd movements on a small recorder in a practice room, so they aren't very good, but I wanted you to hear the changes me and my teachers wanted to make. The only thing I changed about the 1st movement is I am playing everything down an octave. I think it sounds much better to be in that range of the marimba and it sounds more soloistic. Not much is changed in the 2nd movement. I doubled the octave in measures 30-31 and measures 34-37. My teacher accidently converted the take that wasn't so good on this movement so unfortunately there are several mistakes. Please give me any comments you have about these recordings even thought they aren't as good as I would like. I will try to have recordings of the other two movements to you by the end of next week. Thanks for being to patient with me, I just wish I wasn't so busy!


Hi Meggie,

Thanks for sending the recordings. I have a few comments about both movements:

Puerto Barrios - This is a bustling city on the Caribbean and I tried to capture the energy and syncopation of Caribbean music. I had in mind a strict tempo (almost dance-like) rather than the rubato that you are doing. What you are doing sounds very musical if it was another piece. The same comment goes regarding down the octave. You will have a chance for that part of the marimba in the 3rd movement. Because this movement is Caribbean influenced, it needs to sound bright, so I like it in the register it was written in. As a result of the need to keep a strict tempo, it sounds like the repeated sixteenth notes in m. 2 are not possible. Can we change the 1st 2 sixteenth notes to an eighth rest and the second 2 sixteenth notes to an eighth note? In M. 14, the leap in the right hand creates a break. Can you play the first beat up an octave so that it can be smoother? The same is true in M. 42. The gliss at the end didn't seem to work. Are you doing the gliss with the left mallet and striking the last chord with the right? The gliss should go 2 octaves from G to G and crescendo if possible.

Tikai - This movement really worked well and you captured most of what I wanted. Are you taking M 4 and M 65 down an octave? If so, I prefer then up with the other parts of the bird call. Make sure you wait out the full rest in M. 19 & 20. The silence is part of the music. M. 30-31, the notes are Bb to D. I didn't hear the change of pitch. In these measures and 34 - 36 where you are doubling at the octave, the sound is fine, but we need to hear the foot stomp clearly. It may be because you are in a practice room, but I hardly heard it. This may be a spot that gets adjusted according to the venue. If the foot stomp gets covered up, you may want to go back to not doubling at the octave. The 5/8 section needs to drive forward. It seems to hesitate rhythmically. If it is hard to do technically, try leaving off the left hand on the first beat of the measure.

I'm looking forward to your teacher and your reaction to my suggestions. I am not a marimba player so I rely on your judgment. As a composer, I can only explain what I have in mind. I'm looking forward to the April performance and to hearing a recording of the other movements.


I hope all this illustrates what goes into getting that ideal performance. I am fortunate to be writing for such fine musicians and cherish the collaborative efforts.

Performers and composers, please share your experiences and I'll post them on this blog. We can all learn from each other.

Dr. B

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Goulash 2nd Movement finished

While writing the Flamenco, I have struggled more than normal. I think it is because of the free nature of the form that really taxed my brain. I could only compose in short spurts as I didn't have a clear picture of where I was going with the music and just let it suggest what should come next. After I completed the middle section, I then had a clearer idea of how I wanted to end the piece as I found the haunting section from m. 22-32 worth repeating.

The middle section begins at m. 35 and is more strict in rhythm. However, after I finished the piece and reviewed it this morning, I felt the section was too strict. Some of the changes I made to remedy this concern are:

m. 40 - changed rhythm of last beat of pans to include 32nd note and rest instead of a 16th note.
M. 42 - did the same thing to the sax line
m. 43 - changed the rhythm in the last beat of the sax part to 16th rest and note instead of 8th note.
M. 45 - in the pans I changed beat 2 to dotted 8th and 16th from two 8th notes and inserted an 8th rest on beat 4 instead of and 8th note.

Because of these changes, the evenness of m. 46 stands out as building to the climax in m. 47.

Another problem I had was with the transition from 58 to 59. I ended up changing 58 to a 5/4 measure and having a rest on beat 4. Previously it was a 4/4 measure that went directly into 59. Never underestimate the power of a rest. Another place I changed a 4/4 to a 5/4 was in 48. This extended the ritard another beat and made the transition to 49 better.

Another concern in the middle section was the lack of chromatic notes. For a while, this was a nice contrast from the first section, but by the time I got to m. 44, I knew I had to get more chromatic. Once I did this, the rest of this section flowed easier and took on a direction.

This movement is a very stylized Flamenco, which means it has characteristics of a Flamenco, but I doubt if anyone could dance a Flamenco to it. The stricter rhythm section in the middle is not characteristic of a Flamenco, but I felt it needed that contrast. The ranges are not as narrow as a sung Flamenco, but this is a Flamenco for instruments. Flamencos often begin with a ornamented singing of "ay". I use this (not sung) at the end. My hope is that I have captured the intense emotional quality of a Flamenco and have created a movement both interesting to hear and play. The sax part does use some altissimo register (higher notes than the normal range produced by altering the embouchure and using fingerings that allow the saxophonist to use overtones present the notes they are fingering instead of getting the normal note.)

To see and hear what I've composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/goulashblog.html
The score is transposed.

Dr. B

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Goulash 2nd Movement Started

It is very refreshing to me as a composer to create pieces that are influenced by various ethnic styles. It keeps my music fresh and every time I work in this manner, I discover new sounds that I may not have previously considered. I have written pieces influenced by Spanish music, Greek music, Indian Raga, and Mayan music to name a few.

The second movement of Goulash is a Flamenco. While the Flamenco is a Spanish song, it does have Gypsy influences. The song is usually accompanied by guitar, but for this piece for saxophone and percussion, I've chosen alto saxophone for the "voice" part and at the suggestion of Andrea, the percussionist, tenor pans or steel drums. Interestingly, the tenor pans have a plucked quality to them that is reminiscent of a guitar. However, rolls are uncharacteristic of the guitar but fall under the concept of artistic license.

The Flamenco uses a scale where the 2nd and 3rd degrees vacillate by half steps. It also has free meter, ornamentation, narrow range (which I ignore to some extent since this is written for instruments and not voices) and repetition of phrases which I turn into repetition of motivic ideas instead. There is also a melancholy mood. The Gypsy influence is felt in a progression of A, Gb, F in F minor (the key I am using) and the style of cante flamenco which is even more expressive and florid.

This is a very challenging piece to write because of its freedom. I'm trying to create free florid ideas yet have them sound connected in some way. The movement begins with the descending progression in the steel pans. I break the triad into a single note followed by two mallets playing a third. I'm limiting myself to two mallets because of technical considerations. This gave me a chance to vary the rhythm and make the opening sound non-metrical. All the rubato of the lines also create a non-metrical feel. The varied rhythms of eighths, sixteenths, sixteenth note triplets and eighth note triplets, along with a quintuplet figure give the music an ornamented and non-metric quality. The quintuplet that first occurs at m. 15 becomes an important unifying factor as the movement progresses. Also at 15, the music becomes more homophonic and less contrapuntal than the beginning. This section is calmer too and is leading into section with a little bit more strict rhythm. I am not sure where this new section will take me. But that is part of the fun of composing. Each piece is a new journey.

To see and hear what I've composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/goulashblog.html
The score is transposed.

Dr. B

Friday, February 29, 2008

Goulash 1st Movement finished

Yesterday, I completed the first movement. M. 87 to 103 continues the tossing back and forth of motives followed by a canonic section. The end of this section diminuendos, leading up to a grand pause before returning to the opening material. In typical gypsy form, I ornamented the melodic ideas and I filled in some harmony in the marimba part. The ending climaxes with a trill in the saxophone and technical triplet passages leading to the final cadence. The use of the gypsy scale, the 5/8 meter and unexpected rests creating syncopation, all add to the exotic flavor of this movement.

To see and hear what I've composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/goulashblog.html
The score is transposed.

Dr. B

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

1st Movement of Goulash Continued

I've been working on this movement in short spurts since my last post as I took time away from it to do another transcription for brass quintet of another one of my organ preludes. The middle section is coming along. As I said in my previous post, I wanted a thinner texture to contrast the first section. I also chose to change the meter to 2/4 and the initial tonality to f minor. The tonality doesn't stay there because this section almost serves as a development. There are new ideas, but also new treatments of earlier ideas.

It begins at 39 with an accompaniment figure of widely spaced eighth notes. At 39 & 40, it is split between the marimba and saxophone, but that is the last time this occurs. The saxophone plays two phrases of a new idea while the marimba inserts the accompaniment figure. This accompaniment figure expands and contracts its intervals and occasionally reverses direction. The third and fourth saxophone phrases use material from the opening section.

At 62, the marimba is the solo voice and the sax the accompaniment. Again both 1st and 2nd section material is used for the marimba phrases. At 75-80 a canon is used between marimba and saxophone. At 81, motifs are tossed back and forth between saxophone and marimba before becoming canonic again.

This section is getting ready to transition back to the opening material in a somewhat different order.

To see and hear what I've composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.hostrack.net/goulashblog.html
The score is transposed.

Dr. B

Thursday, February 21, 2008

1st movement of Goulash

I now have about a minute of the 1st movement (Chalga). The movement is starting to take shape as I envision a quieter middle section followed by a return to the opening section. Writing for two instruments is a challenge as it is difficult to vary the texture. It is almost necessary for both instruments to be playing most of the time. I am getting a variety of textures by having the marimba accompany the saxophone, the saxophone accompany the marimba, using both in imitation, and having each play by themselves. I am also trying to create variety by varying the dynamics and articulation, and in the case of the marimba, the number of mallets used simultaneously. As I move to the middle section, a change of tonal center will also create variety.

The first section is basically through-composed. After the opening 4 measure melody in the saxophone accompanied by rhythmic chords in the marimba, the melodic ideas seem to grow by themselves. For example, m. 5 & 6 in the saxophone uses the same motif as m. 1 but instead of sustaining, the idea is extended. Much of what I am doing with the ideas in this section remind me of a party game where one person starts a story and the hands it off to the next person. The next person can build on the ideas of the first person, or take the story in an entirely different direction. M. 8 in the saxophone does some of both. The first 3 beats is an elaborate version of first 3 beats of the movement. The last two beats introduce a new twist, the two sixteenth notes followed by the eighth. This new twist gets used frequently as the movement progresses. In M 9-14, the marimba has the opening idea. In m. 10, the m. 8 saxophone part which was the main melody, is now an accompaniment figure to the marimba. Imitation is used in m. 11-15 with the sax following the marimba.

M. 17 in the sax uses the m. 6 idea but now as the beginning of the phrase, instead of the end of a phrase. Triplet patterns are introduced to extend this idea. M. 20 has the marimba playing what the sax did in m. 17-19. The sax now accompanies the marimba with short notes. Originally I had a note on each beat, but after composing the marimba part at m. 28 which uses rests, I changed the sax part at m. 20 to include rests. It is now easier to realize that the marimba has the melody.

M. 24 to the end of this section uses that 2 sixteenth note eighth pattern first introduced in m. 8 and it becomes a prominent feature of this section. All this is a good example of how music can take on a life of its own. It does just repeat, but seems to morph into a reorganization of ideas or generate new ideas much in the manner of that story telling party game.

To see and hear what I've composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/goulashblog.html
The score is in concert pitch.

Dr. B

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

New Piece for Saxophone and Percussion

It feels good to be composing again! After a break of a few months for vacation, arrangements and performances, I am now working on a piece for Jason Laczkoski, saxophone and Andrea Verdoorn, percussion. Both are at the University of Iowa with Jason working on his doctorate and Andrea completing her Bachelors in percussion performance. They wanted a piece based on Gypsy music, so after some internet searching. I decided on a three movement piece called "Goulash". The movements are called "Chalga", "Flamenco", and "Czardas".

The title is a Hungarian stew but the word is often used to indicate a varied mixture. I discovered that Gypsy music is indeed a varied mixture. There is a wonderful article about Gypsy music at http://people.unt.edu/jw0109/misc/gypsy.htm for anyone interested in finding out about its origins and development. The Chalga is a form of Bulgarian music a mixture of Balkan folk, incorporating a blend of Arabic, Turkish, Greek, and Roma (Gypsy) influences, as well as motifs from Balkan traditional music, even flamenco and klezmer music. It is known for repeating musical themes and dance rhythms and its style of dancing called kyuchek in Bulgarian. Many chalga hits were Greek or Turkish, covered by Bulgarian singers, often in more complex musical arrangements. The word chalga originates in the Turkish word çalgı (pronounced "chal-guh"), which means "playing" or "music". Indeed, the movement is derived from the art of the chalgadzhia (derived from the Turkish çalgıcı meaning "musician"), a type of musician who could play virtually any type of music, but added his own distinctive beat or rhythm to the song. (source - Wikipedia)

I decided to write my Chalga in 5/8. I am using a scale associated with Gypsy music which is in G minor G,A,Bb,C#,D,Eb,F#,G. There also a lot of ornamentation in Gypsy music. I have written about 16 measures using the instrumentation of Soprano Saxophone and Marimba. It will be fun to see where this takes me.

To see and hear what I've composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/goulashblog.html

Dr. B

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Premiere of "Legacy" 2/16/08

Last night was the premiere of my composition "Legacy" by the Washington Sinfonietta, Rufus Jones, Musical Director and Conductor. The premiere was both exhilarating and disappointing. The Washington Sinfonietta is a very fine non-paid orchestra in the DC area. I was very impressed with the quality of the musicianship and the overall sound of the orchestra. It was thrill to have them do "Legacy" and most of came off very well and was well received (standing ovation). My disappointed stems from the fact that all the intricate parts were not always in the right place. Every note of my music has a purpose and when some things are not where they should be, I feel like there are gaps in the overall presentation. I realize that it is very difficult to pull a brand new piece together on 4 or 5 rehearsals. I am pleased with what the orchestra accomplished. But I couldn't help feeling that it could have been even better if they had more time with the piece and knew it better. Some things that worked during the dress rehearsal didn't work in the performance. I imagine nerves of having the composer present contributed.

So this is an example of what I think all composers face. Having high artistic standards is a given for performers and composers. The reality of rehearsal time restrictions and performance pressures create a sense of disappointment when those high artistic goals are not quite achieved. The months of creating the piece and the year of anticipation for that performance are now in the past. Now the task lays before me of finding future performances for what I consider is my best composition to date. Both the rehearsal and concert where recorded and once I get the recordings, I hope to be able put together a decent demo recording in order to entice other orchestras to do the piece.

My sincere thanks goes to the members and conductor of the Washington Sinfonietta for their premiere of my composition. I enjoyed working with them and I hope the opportunity to work together will occur again soon.

Dr. B.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I'm back after a bout with the flu

My composing has taken a back seat again as I have been battling 102 fever for over a week. Before then, however, I did take one of my recent organ compositions "Chorale Prelude on Christ, The Lord, Is Risen Today" and transcribe it for brass quintet. Organ works transcribe fairly easily for brass and this was no exception. All I did was lower the key a whole step to help it fit into a more comfortable brass range. It was fairly clear which parts to give which instruments. I think I had in mind a possible transcription when I wrote the organ prelude.

This particular piece could also be used as a postlude. It goes far beyond an arrangement of a hymn tune. It uses phrases and motives from the hymn in unique ways. I won't say much about how this was composed, but offer it as an example of how a composer can be inventive with traditional material.

To see and hear this composition, go to http://www.cooppress.net/page2/page29/page45/page45.html

On Saturday Feb. 2, I was the narrator for a performance of my "Gettysburg Portrait" by the Lancaster/Lebanon County Orchestra, Duane Botterbusch, Conductor. Duane and the 120 students did a wonderful job! It was one of these festivals where they rehearse all day and perform at night. It took them a little while to become confident with all the independent entrances and the evenings performance was even better than the rehearsals. The piece was also well received by the audience. I really enjoy these opportunities to interact with students and expose both them and the audience to contemporary art music.

I’d like to invite anyone in the D.C. area to the premiere of my composition, “Legacy” by the Washington Sinfonietta, Rufus Jones, Conductor. The concert is Saturday Feb. 16th at 3:00 PM at the National City Christian Church, 5 Thomas Circle NW and also includes works by Copland, Still and Barber.

“Legacy” is a three-movement composition that makes social commentary on the issue of global warming. The three movements are titled:

I. Conflicts
II. Consequences
III. Sacrifice and Compromise

I'll be talking at Georgetown University and at one of the DC Public Schools as part of this project, so it should be and exciting week.

I'm hoping to get back to composing after this premiere.

Dr. B