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.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Words and Music

And ever against eating cares
Lap me in soft Lydian airs.
Married to immortal verse
such as melting souls may pierce
untwisting the chains that tie
the hidden soul of harmony.

Several things are occurring simultaneously that prompts me to write this post. First of all, I am adding pages to my website for my vocal compositions where I provide the poetry that I used as the text. As I am doing this, I am reminded once again about the power of words to express ideas and emotions. Words are all around us, and I am hard pressed think of anything else that influences our lives more. But as Milton suggests in the above poem, when words are combined with music, their power is exponentially increased. This is one of three quotes from a book I found at a used book sale called “A Musician’s Yearbook, 1895”. I set three of these sayings to music in 1979 and I am providing a link to the setting of the Milton poem for you to hear. The Millersville University Choir under the direction of Walter Blackburn performs it. See if you think the music enhances the meaning of the words.

However, words by themselves can certainly communicate ideas very effectively. Since I moved to the Sedona area of Arizona, I am in the process of re-reading J. A. Jance’s Ali Reynolds mysteries that are set in our area. I had read them a few years ago, but that was before I moved here. Now all the places that are describe are very familiar and my enjoyment is increased. They also reminded me of why I started this blog. In the first of the series, “The Edge of Evil”, Ali Reynolds starts a blog called cutlooseblog.com. In it, she addresses and number of things that were going on in her life and her readers responded with comments, therefore making the posts more meaningful. I thought that I might have something to contribute to the music world by writing my blog. I am hoping I am providing a useful service to composers, performers and appreciators of music. I can tell from looking at Feedjit, that my blog receives many visitors, but I get very few comments.

After re-reading the Jance book, I added a statement to by blog’s description that says “comments and questions will not posted unless you grant me permission.”
I would not have posted without your permission anyway, but maybe this statement would make you feel more comfortable with communicating with me. Here is a list of items you may wish to share your opinions on:

My composing process
If you are a composer, do you experience the same things? Do you do things differently? My readers and I would like to know what works for you.

If you are a performer and/or an appreciator, do my comments aid you in interpreting music in general? Do they help you understand the subtleties of music?

About my music
Do you like or dislike what I have composed? Are the examples helpful? Do you understand what I am saying? Is there anyway I can improve the blog to serve your needs?

About the subjects
Are there things that you would like me to address that I’m not already addressing?

Let’s all use the power of words to grow in our understanding of music through this blog. I know that it helps me understand what and why I did what I did when I compose. I hope that it has the same impact on you. The blog exists so that we can all learn from each other. Please join in the experience.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Challenges for the Future

I have included this article in my free Co-op Press Monthly Email Newsletter and I thought I'd post it here for those of you not receiving the newsletter. If you would like to receive the newsletter, you can sign-up here.

Challenges for the Future

Someone on the TPIN Newsgroup recently referred readers to an article by Dyske Suematsu called "Why Americans Don't Like Jazz". The article raised a number of interesting observations regarding how people listen to music that can be applied to classical music as well as jazz. To read the entire article, go to http://dyske.com/paper/778. Here is a summary of the articles salient points:

1) Most people listen to music for the lyrics rather than the music.
2) Appreciating and enjoying instrumental music requires abstract thinking.
3) Abstract thinking takes effort on the part of the listener.
4) Music videos have relegated music to a background role.
5) For young people, music has become mostly a visual experience.
6) As a result, most people cannot turn off their own thoughts and allow abstract art to affect their emotions.
7) Because instrumental music is abstract, listeners cannot understand its intricacies. They need lyrics to tell them what and how to think.
8) If a song has any musical substance, it can be played on a piano and still deliver its message. Consider today's rap music regarding this statement.
9) To reverse this trend, instrumental music should be the dominant teaching in our schools for both the classroom experience and performing groups.

It is my opinion, it is the responsibility of all of us to do whatever we can to see that the art of music survives. We must be active in preserving music in our schools and communities, especially in an economic downturn. Classroom music, vocal and instrumental music programs should be encouraged not to water down our art by emphasizing whatever is already popular in order to achieve recognition. At the same time, David Cutler, in his book "The Savvy Musician", suggests that classical and jazz artists need to rethink the way they present their art to their audiences. In other words, can we as artists do something different that will reach our audiences where they are and bring them to where we want them to be? The future of music may depend on it.

Additional Resources On This Subject

Cutler, David. The Savvy Musician - This book contains great ideas on how to market and present music in order to reach a larger and more diverse audience.

Brandon, Sy. A Composer's Guide To Understanding Music - This book has activities that can help non-musicians gain ability and understanding to more actively listen to music.

Dr. B

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Arizona Centennial Overture Completed

Last week I finished creating pdf files of all the scores and parts, made mp3 files of the audio playback of each version, and exported the Sibelius files for hearing the music played with MIDI instruments while the music scrolls across the screen. I put all this on a CD along with notes about the different versions and program notes and mailed it to the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Therefore, I have officially completed the terms of the commission.

I have also contacted the AZ Commission on the Arts asking whether they have thought about offering the premiere rights to a specific organization and whether they plan on tracking performances. I have not heard back from them yet regarding this. I would like to attend as many performances as possible and would also be interested in conducting the work. The time frame is that the music would be made available for free beginning July 2010 and performances will be scheduled between September 2011 and September 2012. The actual Arizona Centennial is February 14, 2012. So even though the creation of the piece is completed, my involvement in the project is just beginning.

I am including the program notes below so that my readers can have a summary of what I attempted to do to represent the culture and history of Arizona in this seven minute composition. It was a pleasure to have created this piece and I look forward to my future involvement in the project.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/aco_blog.html.

Dr. B

Arizona Centennial Overture

Sy Brandon

Program Notes

Arizona Centennial Overture was commissioned by the Arizona Commission on the Arts to help celebrate Arizona’s centennial. The overture pays tribute to the unique blend of the various cultures that had a part in shaping Arizona into what it is today. This six and a half minute composition is divided into three main sections.

The first section begins with fanfares that announce the celebration. After thirty seconds, the introduction fades into music that pays tribute to the pioneers that migrated to Arizona. The music has a rustic quality reflecting the pioneering spirit of the ranchers, farmers, miners, and merchants who came to Arizona seeking a better way of life. This section is intended to be inclusive as it is impossible to represent each culture individually in a short musical composition.

The second section pays tribute to the various Native American cultures that are a large part of Arizona’s history and its present way of life. Flutes and percussion instruments are used in the beginning of this section to represent the Native American respect for nature. This quiet section evolves into a ceremonial dance that increases in intensity. Towards the end of this section one hears fragments of the “pioneer” melody as these culture come together.

The third section is influenced by Mariachi music to recognize the Hispanic influence in Arizona. The first part uses an original rollicking tune with four beats to the measure over syncopation. The second part contains a lyrical melody with three beats to the measure accompanied by instruments playing accents that create the Hispanic sounding grouping of six notes into three groups of two alternating with two groups of three. A brief ending using the fanfares of celebration interspersed with figures from the Native American and pioneer sections brings the work to a rousing close.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Arizona Centennial Overture - Chamber Orchestra Version

Today, I completed the last of the four versions of Arizona Centennial Overture. This version is for a reduced orchestra of 2 each of the woodwinds, 2 Horns, 2 trumpets, one percussion and strings.

Compared to the full orchestra version, there is no separate piccolo part, so I had flute 2 doubling on piccolo. The piccolo is essential in the Hispanic section, so I revoiced some of the upper woodwind parts to balance better without the flute 2 part that has been replaced by the piccolo. Flute 2 plays piccolo from the Hispanic section beginning at measure 125 to the end. When essential lines were scored for just piccolo and two flutes, I used two flutes and an oboe instead.

The Horns were not affected much by the reduction of 4 to 2 Horns as Horns 3 & 4 were already optional in the full orchestra version. Losing the three trombones and tuba had a much greater impact. Since a lot of the lines were in three part harmony like the opening fanfares in the Horns and trombones, I needed to find another instrument to join the two Horns that remained. In most instances, it was the first bassoon that filled this role. Some of the tuba lines went into the string basses. Other essential trombone parts were already doubled by other instruments.

The loss of a third trumpet was mostly accommodated by putting the 2nd trumpet part in the 2nd oboe and having the second trumpet play the third trumpet line. The third trumpet line was often too low for the oboe and this was my solution. I think trumpets and oboe blend well. In fact, I often use a muted trumpet to play an oboe line if an oboe is not present, as the timbre is similar.

Losing three percussionists also had a big impact. I combined some of the essential percussion parts into the timpani part. The timpanist plays timpani at the beginning through measure 13, then switches to the cover the wood block/temple blocks in the Pioneer section. During the Native American section, the timpanists plays tom-toms and the rattle is covered by muted trumpets flutter-tonguing. The musician returns to timpani from 107 to the end.

When I was bemoaning to my wife about the loss of some of the percussion color, especially in the Hispanic section, my wife suggested adding optional percussion parts that could perhaps be played by orchestra board members or community leaders who read music, but don't play a chamber orchestra instrument. So I added two optional percussion parts that take minimal technique, but require counting ability. This way the rattle, claves, tambourine, bass drum, and guiro could be included in the chamber orchestra version. It still works without them, but they add a nice color.

My next task is preparing the score and parts for download and working with the Arizona Commission on the Arts regarding performances. I'll share more on this in my next post.

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.