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