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.

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