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.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Arizona Centennial Overture - Pioneer Section

Today, I will be discussing the "pioneer" of this overture. Audio and visual examples will be provided to illustrate my discussion . Since blogspot does not have the capability of including audio examples, a link is provided that will navigate you away from this blog. To return, use your browser's back button or click on the Composing Insights link on the audio page. You will have two choices to hear the audio examples. The first uses a free Scorch plug-in that will enable you to see a scrolling score as you listen to the audio example. The second is an mp3 file of the audio only. The score is in concert pitch.

The "pioneer" section pays tribute to the early settlers (ranchers, farmers, miners, and merchants) who paved the way for Arizona to become a state. I tried to create a rustic feel to this section. I did that through the use of open harmony (chords in thirds, fourths, and fifths), sparse orchestration, and the use of wood block in the percussion to imitate horses' hooves.

The phrasing of the basic idea of this section can be called a contrasting double period. There are four short phrases. The first two ask a question (antecedent phrases) and the last two answer it (consequent phrases). The first and third phrases are different, therefore it is contrasting. Each phrase is interrupted by the downbeat/upbeat accompaniment figure that also uses the wood block horse-hooves sound. Also notice the shifting meters to create variety.

The next eight measures uses the same thematic idea, but this time it is harmonized. The accompaniment figure is also varied to create contrast and interest.

Beginning at M. 39, a new, lyrical melody in a constant 4/4 meter is introduced in the oboe over the downbeat/upbeat accompaniment. When the oboe line sustains, other instruments play a phrase from the basic idea of the last 16 measures. The lyrical melody is a three-phrase group. It is similar to a blues melody in that it has three phrases and is 12 measures long, but that is the only similarity. The sustained lyrical melody contrasts nicely with the shorter, interrupted phrases that precede it. At M. 50, the melody is now in the clarinets and is it harmonized and embellished. At M. 61, the lyrical melody incorporates the rhythm of the shorter, interrupted phrases to give this section more jauntiness. This section is more thickly scored and contrapuntal as fragments of the short melody are used when the main melody has a longish note. At M. 71, this section begins to wind down by fragmenting the melody and using the accompaniment alone for several measures. It cadences in G minor to set up the next section that will pay tribute to the Native Americans of our state.

I worked very carefully on the orchestration of this section. Having played tuba in an orchestra where counting rests is the main activity instead of playing notes, I try to give everyone in the group something interesting to play. I am also thinking ahead to the versions I need to create so that bands and orchestras from high school level on up can participate in the celebration. The third goal was to create interesting colors using the available instruments. Listen carefully to the orchestration of this section. Very rarely does the full band play together. 

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/aco_blog.html. If you would like to receive notifications of new blog posts, sign up to follow this blog.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Arizona Centennial Overture - Fanfare Section

I will be discussing the first minute of this overture which contains the "fanfare of celebration" section and the transition to the beginning of the "pioneer section". Audio and visual examples will be provided to illustrate my discussion . Since blogspot does not have the capability of including audio examples, a link is provided that will navigate you away from this blog. To return, use your browser's back button or click on the Composing Insights link on the audio page. You will have two choices to hear the audio examples. The first uses a free Scorch plug-in that will enable you to see a scrolling score as you listen to the audio example. The second is an mp3 file of the audio only.

First, let me have you listen to measures 1-28 before the discussion. Go to http://www.cooppress.net/aco_blog.html

My compositional style can best be described as conservative 21st century. This means that melody, harmony, counterpoint, and form, etc. are treated as an extension of what has come before, rather than a rejection of tradition. For example, my harmonic language tends to avoid extreme dissonance and while it is non-functional ( avoiding traditional chord progressions), harmonic rhythm and concern regarding the movement of chord to chord are important. My chords are mostly triadic with a strong preference for modes that have a lot of minor triads. I tend to avoid major triads mainly because of there strong connections with a sound often associated with earlier styles. But minor triads do not suit well for a celebratory piece. To solve this problem, I found myself using a lot of three-part chords built in perfect fourths. This sound added the necessary brightness for the celebration. Measures 2, 4, 8 and 9 have chords built in 4ths.
After the opening horn and trombone fanfares that are answered by trumpets, woodwinds, low brass and woodwinds, and percussion, the excitement builds with short scale-wise passages, first in the clarinets and flutes, then in the lower instruments, and finally throughout the band.
The transition to the pioneer section involves down and off beats augmented by the use of wood block or temple blocks in the percussion to represent horse's hooves. This accompaniment idea then alternates with a "Coplandesque" melodic/rhythmic figure in the solo trumpet and flute. The melody is later harmonized with the same harmonic language discussed earlier using piccolo, flutes and trumpets. The accompaniment idea also uses the triads and chords in fourths. Notice the variation in rhythm and phrase length during this section. Composers try hard to have there music sound unified yet at the same time not become too predictable. I feel that this section achieves that balance.

Please share your comments and questions. They are always welcomed.

Dr. B

Monday, January 18, 2010

Arizona Centennial Overture Preparation

I have planned my sections for my "Arizona Centennial Overture" which is being composed as a result of a commission from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. This 5-7 minute overture begins with a fanfare section that is celebratory. It then transitions into a section representing the pioneer days before Arizona became a state. The next section honors the Native Americans who were and are still a vibrant part of Arizona's culture. The Hispanic influence will be represented in the next section. The piece will close with a celebratory section acknowledging the coming together of various cultures.

I have begun composing the piece and it is going well as I am very excited about this work. I have completed the opening fanfare section and I am now working on the "pioneer" section. I will be discussing what I have written in future posts, but now I'd like to address some practical matters regarding setting up the score.

Part of the commission requirements is to create a work that is playable by high school, community, college/university, semi-professional, and professional bands. As you can see, there are different ability levels and instrumentation within these groups, so I really need at least two versions of the piece, one to challenge the higher levels, and one playable by groups with instrumentation gaps and players of lesser ability. I would also like to create a version of the piece playable by orchestras with their different levels of ability and instrumentation so that orchestras can participate in the celebration as well. For composing purposes, I have set up the score so that each instrument has its own line. I have 16 woodwind parts, 12 brass parts, and 4 percussion parts resulting in 32 staves. Some of the instruments are optional to accommodate groups with one oboe instead of two, one bassoon instead of two, no alto clarinet, and two Horns instead of four. I need to be careful when scoring to make sure that these optional parts do not contain anything not covered by another instrument. I also need to be concerned about balance so that the piece sounds good by groups with and without these optional instruments. I will also be inserting a lot of cues so that parts can be covered by other instruments if necessary.

The piece will be made available as a free download at the Arizona Commission on the Arts website to anyone who wishes to perform it. I am using an 11X17 score size for composing purposes, but this size is impractical for downloading as most printers do not handle 11x17 paper. In addition, I need to create some ossia versions of technical passages which will require extra staves. To solve the downloading problem, I have decided to have my final score size be legal size (8 1/2X14) and to put several instruments together on the same staff like 2 flutes on one staff, etc. The parts will still be separated for the musicians, as reading parts with two instruments on the same staff can be challenging. I should be able to reduce the score down from 32 staves to around 20 and it should be readable on legal size paper. I also plan to have at least 4 different scores and parts available to accommodate the various levels and instrumentation. With technology, this is not too difficult to do, but I am planning for it now so it will be easier.

Since I am composing on a score size of 11x17 and will not make the reductions until after the work is complete, I need to find a practical way of sharing on this blog what I have written while I am composing the piece. It is an impractical size for viewing here as everything would be too small (about a half inch per stave) and one would need to scroll a lot to see the full score. I am thinking about using pdf files of sections of the score to illustrate what I am discussing along with embedded mp3 files for listening. Please let me know if this works.

Dr. B.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year and 60X60

I wish all my readers a very Happy New Year! May 2010 bring you all that you wish for.

I was inspired during the second half of December to compose a piece to enter in the Orchestra 60X60 Composition Competition. This unique project selects 60 one minute or less compositions and combines them into one large piece that will be played by several orchestras around the world and broadcast on many radio stations. The idea of creating a one-minute piece intrigued me because there is not much time for development of ideas. I came up with the title "Vortex" after doing a crossword puzzle where this was the answer to the clue "eddy". A trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is what came to mind immediately. The danger and excitement of the opening measures give way to a playful woodwind canonic section. The mood changes often reflecting the fickleness of the river, but the overall tension of a hidden vortex is always present.

I was pleased with the result. To my surprise, the piece is cohesive yet interesting. It was challenge to limit myself to less than a minute and I think it is a worthwhile activity for all composers to do.

Since I am entering the work in a competition, I am not providing a link for you to see and hear the piece. Once the competition is over, I will provide the link.

Dr. B