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.

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