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, November 25, 2011

Interplay Movement 3

I was recently sent a link to a story about a music prodigy, Jay Greenburg, who has the ability to hear an entire composition in his head completely scored and all he needs to do is to notate it. That process can take him around two hours. I compare this to how I compose, especially during the composition of Interplay, and we are not even in the same league. My process involves getting an idea, seeing where it wants to go, wondering where it is going to lead me, writing a measure or two at a time, filling in other parts, reviewing what I have written often, and making changes to what I have written earlier based upon what has come after it. When the composition is completed, I'm amazed at its balance, direction, craftmanship, cohesiveness, and variety, because it certainly doesn't feel that way during the composing process.

I mention all this because while I am pleased with the results of Interplay, it felt like a struggle almost the entire time. In fact, once the third movement was completed, I made a few minor changes to the other two movements.

The third movement actually came a little easier than the previous two because of my approach to the interplay. Instead of relying heavily on counterpoint between the instruments, this movement is more of an interplay between sections of the piece and its instrumental color. I set out to write a Rondo and wanted the movement to be lighter in nature to contrast the more serious nature of the first two movements. The movement is sort of a Rondo, but took on a life of its own.

The movement begins with a two-measure bassoon introduction that establishes the meter changes and uneven meter feel that will be used as the basis of humor in the movement. It is answered by a four-measure tuba and piano section that changes between 2/4 and 3/8. These measures continue to alternate with the bassoon melody establishing the A section (measures 7-34). At measure 21, the piano and bassoon play the idea in imitation.

The B section goes from measure 35 - 54 and also has an uneven meter feel but in a different pattern. The tuba has the B theme first and then it goes to the bassoon.

The A section returns in measures 55 - 83 with a different scoring; piano first then bassoon.

Measure 84 ushers in the C section mostly in 3/8 but with occasional different meters inserted. It is more lyrical than the other two previous sections and the melody is a three-phrase group. The melody and harmony contain both 4ths and 3rds. The three-phrase group repeats two more times, each time with instrumentation changes, increasing counterpoint, and more intensity of dynamics. It climaxes at measure 147 before transitioning back to the B section instead of the expected A section of the Rondo. It is followed by A, therefore creating almost an arch form (ABACBA). At measure 200, the C section returns with even more counterpoint than its original statement. The Coda gives us a hint of the A section before fading away into silence that is broken by a loud final chord.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/interplay_blog.html. You can view and hear the score if Scorch is downloaded on your computer and/or listen to the mp3 file.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Monday, November 14, 2011

Interplay Movement 2

While I am please with the second movement, it was once again a piece that did not flow easily from beginning to end. While the ideas came easily enough, the needed a lot of editing to help the movement flow.

This movement is in three sections creating an ABA' form. The B section is divided into an A A' A'' A.

The opening A begins slowly and expansively, utilizing melodic intervals of mainly 4ths and harmonic intervals of 4ths and 5ths. The interweaving or interplay of the tuba and bassoon begins at measure 9, while the piano continues the open harmony. A three-measure chromatic adventure contrasts the openness of the earlier material and leads to a new tonality at measure 19 where some of the earlier material is repeated in this new tonality. The piano takes over the interweaving before going to the chromatic wandering, slightly extended.

A plaintive bassoon ostinato begins the B section. The tuba states the main melodic idea that will be transformed in this section. It is interrupted by a staccato arpeggio figure that will continue that role throughout this section. The bassoon takes over the next statement of the thematic idea and then the bassoon and tuba play it in harmony. This statement transforms the 6/8 meter to 7/8. A climax is reached at the end of this section before returning to a quieter, rhythmically altered version with the ostinato in the piano left hand and the melody in the bassoon.

A recapitulation of the opening A occurs with subtle transformations. The movement ends quietly with some lush chords that move to a more open sound in the piano.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/interplay_blog.html. You can view and hear the score if Scorch is downloaded on your computer and/or listen to the mp3 file.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Interplay Movement 1

Hello Readers,

I am in the process of composing a composition for the Maxwell Trio to take to the International Double Reed Society Conference in 2012. The Maxwell Trio consists of Susan Maxwell, bassoon, Steve Maxwell, tuba and Amanda Arrington, piano. All are professors at Kansas State University.

This instrumental combination has inherent challenges stemming from the abundance of overtones present in the bassoon and tuba sound. I know from my experience in writing for tuba ensemble that dissonances sound muddy on instruments with a lot of overtones, so my harmonic style for this piece is quite conservative. So my challenge was to create an interesting piece within that restriction.

As I was composing the piece, the title "Interplay" came to me as there is a lot of counterpoint between all three instruments. I usually try to post sections of a piece while I am composing it, but with this composition I was very unsure of where things were going, and even if it was of value. I struggled because I could not find any direction or form out of what I was composing. I felt that the ideas were good and some sections were better than others, but it just did not make any sense. After stepping back for a while, I realized that I needed to add more to the opening section and after doing that, it became clearer that I was writing a sonata form of sorts.

I say "of sorts" because all the thematic material seems somewhat related so I feel that it is more monothematic than having two themes. The contrast between the themes is created more by treatment, with the first theme being staccato and the second theme being lyrical, rather than by new thematic material. Here is my analysis of the form:

1-4 - Introduction
5-27 - 1st theme
28-34 - transition
35-48 - 2nd theme
49-57 - closing theme
58-113 - development
114-168 - recapitulation
169-end coda

I think that gives you enough to go on without my analyzing the treatment of the various motifs. There is a lot of interplay that you will be able to hear and that, and the form is enough to concentrate on.

I think you will see what I mean by overtone rich instruments causing problems if you listen to the scorch version. You can see the score, but the sounds of the bassoon and tuba are horrible. I remember about 10 years ago purchasing Smart Music for my wife and myself. Smart Music is suppose to follow the soloist adjusting the speed of the accompaniment when the soloist plays into a microphone. But it never did. When I called the company, they said that oboe (my wife's instrument) and tuba (my instrument) are the most difficult for the microphone to recognize because there are so many overtones, the mic doesn't know what note you are playing. So I gather that the MIDI instruments playing the scorch file are inadequate because of the amount of memory needed to accurately contain all the overtones of a bassoon or tuba. The mp3 is a more realistic audio experience since it uses sampled instruments.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/interplay_blog.html. You can view and hear the score if Scorch is downloaded on your computer and/or listen to the mp3 file.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Peace and Joy for cello and piano

My best friend for over 55 years is Bob Feinberg, a chiropractor who lives in Columbus, GA. He was a professional trumpet player for many years and has been teaching himself piano and now cello. A few weeks ago, he asked me if I had written anything for cello and I told him that cello is one of the few instruments I haven't composed a solo for and that I may get inspired to write him something. Peace and Joy is a result of that inspiration and is dedicated to Bob Feinberg.

When I think of my friend Bob, the first two words that come to mind are "peace" and "joy". Bob has devoted his adult years to healing the mind, body and soul. He is a caring and loving person and through his work and his personal life, he shares his love unconditionally. I believe that unconditional love is the key to peace and that is the feeling I get whenever I am around him. Bob also exudes joy. All one needs to do is to listen to him play piano and joy comes through immediately. Being a professional musician most of my life, joy is often lacking in a lot of things I do. Whenever I start feeling that way, I think of Bob playing piano and it immediately changes my outlook.

Because Bob is a beginner regarding cello technique, I limited myself to notes only playable in first position and kept most of the cello part diatonic in either the key of G (e minor) and C. My challenge was to make the piece interesting within the limitations.

I chose a triple meter of 6/8 for the first part of "Peace" and the harmony has some 7th chords, non-chord tones, and borrowed chords. At M. 11, the piano takes over the melody and the cello plays an obbligato line. At M. 19, the meter changes to 2/4 with the eighth note remaining constant. This section becomes more intense through chromaticism. M 27 contains a four measure canon between the piano left hand and the cello. The ending returns to the 6/8 with the insertion of one 4/4 measure near the end.

The second movement begins in e minor and moves to G major at M 17. The dance-like theme goes through several transformations with the most interesting being the use of syncopated stop-time to break up the steady rhythm. At M 45, a lyrical theme is introduced while the piano continues the syncopation and staccato dance style. The lyrical theme is interrupted by the syncopated stop-time section once more before bringing the movement and the piece to a rousing close.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/Peace_and_Joy_blog.html. You can view and hear the score if Scorch is downloaded on your computer and/or listen to the mp3 file.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Monday, September 12, 2011

Songs of Youth for Baritone Voice and Guitar

I was commissioned to compose a composition for Baritone Voice and Guitar by David Asbury, guitar and Bruce Cain, baritone voice, both of Southwestern University. When this opportunity came along, I immediately thought of one of my favorite compositions that was composed in 2000 for baritone voice and piano and has yet to be performed. I asked David and Bruce whether they would be okay with my rewriting the piano part for guitar and taking the baritone piano version out of circulation so that they could premiere the composition and they responded enthusiastically.

The poems for Songs of Youth were written by my best friend for over 55 years. Bob Feinberg is a chiropractor who lives in Columbus, GA. He was a professional trumpet player for many years and has many other talents including poetry.

The first poem, Loneliness, deals with going away to college and being unhappy. The setting of this poem includes blues-like sections alternating with more happy sections reflecting his thoughts when returning home. The song plays out like a mini-opera with its dramatic imagery.

The second poem, Jazz Heaven, is quite short. It reflects the joys of spending weekend evenings listening to the jazz greats on recordings. A bluesy triple meter is used for this movement.

The last poem, Carmine, reflects the excitement and joy of taking a trumpet lesson with Carmine Caruso. As the text reflects, Carmine was an extraordinary teacher who could draw the best out of everyone. In many ways, the poem honors all the great teachers who have influenced our lives.

In addition to writing the piano part for guitar, I changed the tempo of the last movement to make it less frantic. I will make that change in the piano version as well.

I found writing for guitar quite challenging. I have written for guitar before, but I do not play it and have never studied it. I have learned a few things by hearing my other guitar compositions rehearsed and performed and I hopefully carried that over into this composition. For instance, in voicing chords, I had a fingering chart in front of me and I tried to replicate the finger positions. I used a lot of wide spacing of chords as this seemed to make the fingering easier. I also have some concern regarding some of the contrapuntal lines regarding playability. I hope that David will make suggestions as he works on the piece.

Regarding the voice part, that remained the same as when I composed the piece in 2000. It is quite tonal so finding pitches should not be a challenge. There are some long phrases so deciding where to breathe will be important. There are also spots where the notes go by rapidly so diction will become a challenge. The voice will sound almost percussive in sections instead of sustaining lots of vowel sounds. I an anxious to hear Bruce's comments and performance to see if what I was hearing works.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/Songs_of_Youth_blog.html. You can view and hear the score if Scorch is downloaded on your computer and/or listen to the mp3 file.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Phantasie on Singaporean Folk Songs Mvt. 3 now Mvt. 1

Last week I received some brief comments from May Phang regarding the first two movements and I found them useful in formulating a style and treatment for this last movement. Upon completion of this movement, I realized that this would be a better first movement and my previous first movement, a better ending movement. The only thing I felt I needed to change was the ending, as it wasn't strong enough for a final movement.

After inquiring how many movements would there be, May's comments were as follows : "Would it be possible for some movements to be less angular in style, and more fantasie-like? (e.g. fluidity of line, blend of harmonies and colors)." I felt that the second movement accomplishes a lot of this and I believe that she was mainly referring to the fast movement that was the former first movement.

My original intent for the last movement was to not reveal the folksong "Munnaeru Vaalibaa" in its entirety until the end of the movement, using motives from the song in a developmental fashion leading up to it. But that intent changed after reading May's comments and I created my own extended melodies out of parts of the folksong. By the way, you can hear what these folksongs sound like by searching for them on youtube. I did use the fragments for the introduction (m. 1-12) that has sustained arpeggios with different motives occurring as an answer to the arpeggios.

M. 13 begins my original melody based upon the first two measures of the chorus of the song. It is accompanied by triplet arpeggios and modulates from G major to the mediant key of B major after 8 measures. At M. 30-45, some of the motives of the verse of the song are used as the basis of my second theme. This theme is accompanied by 16th note scales and arpeggios. This section modulates to remote keys almost every four measures. It winds down to an interlude beginning at M. 46 than is thinner in texture and uses 4/4 alternating with 3/8.

M. 61 begins an intense development section that uses a motive from the introduction to the song. At first the motive is accompanied by triplet arpeggios, then two-part and three-part imitation of the motive occurs. The modulations to remote keys occur almost every two measures at times.

At M. 86, the 4/4 3/8 interlude returns but incorporates the three note motive from the previous section and expands it at M. 93. M. 100 brings back the material from M. 13-60 in a slightly varied form. M. 134-155 serves as a second development section, once again using similar material as the first development. M. 156 begins a presto coda using the syncopated figure from the verse section interspersed with swooping arpeggios.

Indicating pedaling became very important in this movement and I reviewed the other two movements for pedaling as well. Any changes I made now appear in the scores that are posted. There were times where pedaling wouldn't work because of needing clarity of line in one of the hands. In those instances, I used ties to indicate sustaining. My only concern is that all the ties make reading the notation more difficult, but I couldn't see any way around it.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/Phantasie_on_Singaporean_Folksongs_blog.html. You can view and hear the score if Scorch is downloaded on your computer and/or listen to the mp3 file.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Phantasie on Singaporean Folk Songs Mvt. 2

For movement 2, I chose Di Tanjung Katong for the basis of this movement. I heard two different versions on youtube, one was slow and the other fast and I preferred the slower performance as it was hauntingly beautiful. Once again, the beauty of the music lies in its simplicity of melody and harmony and I wanted to preserve that quality, yet put my own individual stamp on it.

The first thing I did was to change the meter from 4/4 to 7/8 to give it a slight "lilt" quality. In addition, the opening is rubato, which further disguises the strictness of tempo. This becomes the opening A (m. 1-17) of an ABA form.

The B section is a passacaglia (m. 18- 49). I created passacaglia theme from the melody of the first eight measures by taking only the most essential notes (creating an outline of the melody) and changing the meter to 6/8. I then build a set of four variations on top of the passacaglia theme. A concern arose after I completed this section regarding the regularity of the rhythm. I went back and put more dotted notes in and that help solve the problem. The climax of this section and the movement is the minor/chromatic passacaglia variation at m. 42-49.

The final A section elaborates the 7/8 treatment of the theme with flourishes and triplets before ending with a slower version in a lower register.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/Phantasie_on_Singaporean_Folksongs_blog.html. You can view and hear the score if Scorch is downloaded on your computer and/or listen to the mp3 file.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Phantasie on Singaporean Folk Songs Mvt. 1 now Mvt. 3

Hello readers,

It has been two months since I have posted and during that time I was taking a break and also working on several arrangements. I am excited to be back composing again and especially excited about composing a piece for the wonderful pianist, May Phang. Dr. Phang was born in Singapore so the idea of using Singaporean folk songs as the basis of this composition appealed to both of us.

The first movement uses the Malay children's song "Chan Mali Chan" that has become a Singaporean national song. This song is quite simple in structure and harmony, yet there has plenty of material for me to create with. The song's structure is simply AB. The first part has two phrases, each beginning with repeated notes followed by step-wise motion. The first phrase ends on the dominant and the second phrase on the tonic. The B section begins on the subdominant and has three measures of repeated notes followed by step-wise motion. This phrase then repeats.

I begin the composition with a chromatic flourish and then proceed into a rhythmic ostinato. Both are used throughout the movement. The first statement of Chan Mali Chan maintains the formal integrity but interrupts the phrases with both the chromatic flourish and the ostiniato. The harmony is very nontraditional. I once had my "Dance Etudes" for euphonium reviewed in a journal and the reviewer said the etudes are quite traditional tonally but every once in a while there are things that sound like wrong notes. I would not have used the word "wrong" if I was writing the review. The notes were mainly unexpected by the ear as they were often borrowed from other tonalities and modalities. I mention this because I used a similar technique in the first appearances of Chan Mali Chan (m. 4-36). I'd be interested to see whether you feel the notes sound "wrong." What follows is a set of transformations of the material as described below:

m. 36 - 63 - Canonic treatment of both A and B with ostinato interruptions. The canon moves from two beats apart to one beat apart on the last phrase.
m. 63 - 93 - Scherzando treatment of repeated motif and change to triple meter for the step-wise motif. Chromaticism is introduced as the transformation progresses, taking over in the B section of the song.
m. 93-115 - The scherzando continues but departs even more from the song by changing the repeated motif into a trill-like figure and alternating 5/8 and 6/8 meter. In this transformation, only the A section is used.
m. 115 - 131 - This section is a minor variant and is marked appassionata with an arpeggiated accompaniment. It is quite traditional in terms of chord progression.
m. 132 - 147 - I mark this transformation giocoso as it is quite playful. It uses a lot of octave and rhythmic displacement of the A part of the theme.
m. 148 - 163 - This sections varies the B section of the theme and uses mainly 6/8 meter. The two 16th note two 8th note figure becomes a second ostinato and will play an important role in the next section as well.
m. 164 - 190 - Canonic treatment similar to m. 36 - 63 but the new ostinato interrupts the phrases. Once we arrive at the B part of the theme, the tempo starts to gradually increase.
m. 191 - 207 - This transformation begins with a syncopated figure that will grow in importance until the end. The folk song is stated in octaves accompanied by technical flourishes and the syncopated figure.
m. 208 - end - This transformation serves as a coda. It is in a faster tempo, uses the syncopated idea, and lots of chromaticism.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/Phantasie_on_Singaporean_Folksongs_blog.html. You can view and hear the score if Scorch is downloaded on your computer and/or listen to the mp3 file.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cycle of the Spheres Movement 3

The third movement came together very easily. In order to prepare myself for writing this movement, I listened to some youtube performances of taiko drumming and read about its history. In many cultures including Japan, drumming seems to have a spiritual connection and since this movement is called "Resiliency of the Spirit", I decided to build the movement around the characteristics of taiko drumming.

I used tom-toms with heavy sticks in order to come close to the taiko drum sound and if the percussionist has access to a taiko drum, that would be even better.

The movement is divided into three sections. The first is an introduction for drums alone where the "leader" sets the mood for the fast drumming to follow by starting slowly and accelerating. The accelerando is written out by increasing the number of notes per measure until the tremolo in measure 9.

The Vivace begins the second section. This section is an interplay between the three instruments and the saxophone and piano are treated percussively by their notes being repetitive and staccato while still suggesting a primitive melodic line. This section is canonic for the most part, but every time it comes back, there is a slight variation by either varying the lead voice or the distance between entrances. To break up the countrapuntal sections, I use a short call and response idea at measure 29 and later at Measure 76. The saxophone does the call and the piano and percussion the response.

The third section begins at  measure 50 and is a lyrical, hymn/folk-like melody over the contrapuntal "drumming". This section builds in intensity by changing tonal centers but still uses the pentatonic scale.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/cycle_of_the_spheres_blog.html. You will be viewing the playback file which is a transposed score, but has notation inaccuracies to accomplish a more realistic playback.The playback also uses MIDI instruments on your computer that has a different balance and playback than the sampled sounds of the software. For the most accurate playback, listen to the mp3 file.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cycle of the Spheres Movement 2

For the second movement, "Ashes to Ashes", I used the same two pentatonic scales for consistency of harmonic language, but I did not use these scales in a polytonal manner like in the first movement. Since I was looking for a much more mellow sound, there is a larger emphasis on harmony in this movement.  To create the tonal interest, I would often slide step from one pentatonic scale to the other. I also was looking for other ways to create tonal interest and found myself attracted to a transposition of the CDEAG pentatonic scale to the FAGCD pentatonic scale. This simple transposition created one new note, F instead of E, and when these scales are used in close juxtaposition, new harmony results as in measures 30 and 31. I  intend to explore this transposition and others further in the third movement.

The percussion colors I chose are ocean drum, triangle and tom-toms. The tom-toms are only used in measures 26 and 28, at the climax of this movement. They serve as a prelude to the last movement where they will play a larger role. My intent is to have them sound like Haiku drums.

I also found myself attracted to passages of even eighth notes in this movement. The evenness of the rhythms give the movement a meditative quality.

The form of this movement is ABCC'A' and the sections correspond with the rehearsal numbers. The opening and ending sections are mournful with the B and C sections expressing hope.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/cycle_of_the_spheres_blog.html. You will be viewing the playback file which is a transposed score, but has notation inaccuracies to accomplish a more realistic playback.The playback also uses MIDI instruments on your computer that has a different balance and playback than the sampled sounds of the software. For the most accurate playback, listen to the mp3 file.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cycle of the Spheres Movement I

This was an intense movement to compose and I had to work at it in short spurts as I found it mentally and emotionally draining. However, I am pleased with the results and I feel that it conveys the horror of living through an earthquake and a tsunami.

I was also dealing with several playback issues that needed to be resolved. The Sibelius software's playback is quite good for traditional notation, but lacking for special effects. There may be solutions that I am not aware of, but I'd rather spend my time composing than researching these solutions. I rely on my inner hearing and I hope my readers can do the same.

In order to have the playback somewhat realistic, the notation needed to be inaccurate. I plan to create two files, one for playback and the other for notation. The Scorch playback file you will be viewing is the playback file. In this movement, I want to use a thin book laid across the lower strings to try to produce a plucked sound of a koto. The only way I could get Sibelius to play this sound back was to change the piano left hand to the koto, which in turn put the piano left hand into treble clef and wrote the notes an octave higher than where they sound. I want the one percussionist to start out on wind chimes and had to use a separate staff in order to have this sound played back. Lastly, I have the saxophonist bending pitches like a shakuhachi would do, but Sibelius does not play these pitch bends.

My harmonic and melodic material for this movement is derived mainly from a pentatonic scale. There is the black key version of Db,Eb,Gb,Ab,Bb and the white key version of C,D,E,G,A. The other material used derives from the saxophone multiphonic that first occurs at measure 24. The characteristic augmented 4th and minor 9th are used for both harmonic and melodic material later on.

Measures 1-20 is the serene section with only hints of the earthquake to come with the bass drum rolls. Measure 21&22 reflects startled cries of horror as people begin to feel the earthquake. Measures 23-29 is the actually earthquake. Both pentatonic scales are used simultaneously creating a polytonal dissonance. Added to that is the saxophone multiphonic that creates yet a third tonality. The piano echoes the saxophone multiphonic in the left hand. Measure 30 begins an Allegro section that first depicts the scurrying for survival (m. 30-40) and then the Tsunami with its tidal swells (m. 41-48). The dynamics, rising and falling triplet figures, and suspended cymbal roles help create the effect of the powerful rising waters. At measures 49-57, the water recedes leaving behind the massive destruction and loss of life. Measures 58 to the end serves as an epilog to the earthquake and tsunami reminding us that the survivors must still go on and rebuild their lives.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/cycle_of_the_spheres_blog.html. You will be viewing the playback file which is a transposed score, but has notation inaccuracies to accomplish a more realistic playback.The playback also uses MIDI instruments on your computer that has a different balance and playback than the sampled sounds of the software. For the most accurate playback, listen to the mp3 file.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cycle of the Spheres

            Saxophonist, James Barger commissioned me to write a composition for saxophone, piano, and percussion to honor those who lost loved ones in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The title. “Cycle of the Spheres”, reflects both the living earth upon which we live and the fortitude of humanity.
            Mr. Barger suggested a three-movement composition with the first movement depicting serenity interrupted by bombastic resemblances of earthquakes and tsunamis. I recently attended a presentation on earthquakes and tsunamis and learned that Japan is situated directly above a subduction, where the earth’s crust underneath the sea is constantly recycled downward below a continental landmass. These areas are particularly prone to strong earthquakes and their resultant tsunamis. I decided to title this movement “The Living Earth” as our planet is still evolving by constantly building up pressure and releasing that pressure in the form of earthquakes and volcanoes. I remember reading Harold Kushner’s “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” and recall him saying that if we challenge natural forces, it can result in dire consequences. When our species builds civilizations on top of naturally occurring active faults, disaster is bound to occur.
            Mr. Barger’s suggestion for the second movement was a hymn song for the souls of the dead. My title for this movement is “Ashes to Ashes” as it fits with the composition title by representing a different cycle, one of death and rebirth.  The souls of the departed live on in the memories of the living.
            A song of redemption and hope for the survivors was Mr. Barger’s request for the third and final movement. I decided to title this movement “Resiliency of the Spirit”. One of the things that impresses me the most about human beings is their ability to go on in spite of adversity. I see this constantly with my loved ones, friends, and my brothers and sisters throughout the world. I never cease to be amazed by the strength of the human spirit and it is the cycle of joy growing out of sorrow that creates another sphere that gives us all hope for the future.
            I do not usually write descriptive notes for a composition before composing a piece, however this plan and its titles will hopefully enable me to write a composition worthy of the tragedy, sorrow, and idealism that has been felt throughout the world from this colossal event.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Revisions to Meditation and Festive Celebration and American Vignettes

It has been a while since I have posted because I have been busy creating some compositions to enter into competitions. Since these are being judged anonymously, I do not feel comfortable posting anything about them here.

I also have been following through on several recording projects and doing refinements regarding compositions recently composed. I like to share comments from the artists and my solutions as it illustrates the collaborative nature of commissions and one of the benefits of having a piece composed especially for you. It also illustrates how composers can learn from artists and how the same artistic intent can be achieved without complicating the performers life more than necessary.

Meditation and Festive Celebration is composed for Clarinet and Organ and it was premiered April 6, 2011 by Andrew Seigel and Jihuyn Woo. I received the recording and decided to make some changes as follows:

I felt that the organ part was too thick and cluttered in some spots during the Festive Celebration. Below are the changes I made to the organ part:

M. 4, 9, 31, & 36 I put the left hand on the beat on beats 1 & 2 to have a stronger down beat in those measures.

M. 14, 15, 20 & 21 - I made beat 4 a quarter note instead of syncopated.

M. 5, 6, 8, 32, 33, 35 - I made the harmony less thick and made the technique smoother so the quarter note can be sustained full value.

M. 10, 11, 37 & 38 - I eliminated the chords on beat 1 & 2.

I think these changes improve the piece.

I did not post these changes, but if you want to hear the work before these changes, go to http://www.cooppress.net/Meditation_and_Festive_Celebration_blog.html. You will be viewing a transposed score. 

The other work I did some revision to was American Vignettes for Brass Quintet being composed for the Lyric Brass Quintet at Pacific Lutheran University. Here are their comments and my solutions:

Gina: My only horn-specific comment is that we found that the horn could be heard much better and sounded more horn-like when I played a few more bars up an octave in the fifth movement.  These parts are the beat before 18 through the third beat of 19 and the last beat of 21 through 25.

Me: Movement 5 - all up the octave at the places you suggested except m. 24, the first 2 1/2 beats. The trumpet has the melody here and keeping the Horn down helps the blend.

Matt: In the 1st trumpet part the problematic bars are 56,58,116, and 118 in the first movement.  The 56 and 58 are doable, but barely, and may require a slower tempo for the whole piece.  The 116 and 117 cannot be executed at a tempo appropriate to the piece.  If they could be made less disjunct the sextuplet rhythm is not a problem.   So many intervals wider than a third at that tempo is beyond my abilities.

The licks as 116 and 117 could be made playable by breaking them up between the two trumpet parts.  If the pattern were 3 sixteenths/dotted eighth in alternation between players then we could play something more disjunct and faster than an individual could play in streams of sixteenths.

Me: Movement 1 - simplified the technique in m. 56 & 58 and divided the line at m. 116-117 between the 2 trumpets but by every beat - I hope this makes it more playable.

Paul: The only issue I have is the overall sharps key of the tuba movement.  One of those passages is really tricky on Eb tuba (which I play).  If Sy doesn't want to mess with it, I can make do.  But if possible, it would be much easier if it lies in a flat key.

Me: I took the entire tuba movement down a step. As a result, some trumpet parts went up an octave as well as a few measures in the trombone.

Once again, I did not post new versions of these revisions. To see and hear the unrevised versions, go to http://www.cooppress.net/american_vignettes_blog.html. You will be viewing a transposed score. 

I hope this dialogue of the process is helpful to my readers.

Dr. B

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Definition of Music

During my tour, I have been lecturing about the future of artistic music in the 21st Century and as part of that lecture, I ask my audience what their definition of music is. The number of music students who haven’t thought deeply about this and generally accept John Cage’s definition of “organized sound” without much questioning surprises me. Cage’s definition is good, as it is very inclusive, but in my mind only addresses the craft aspect of music. In my opinion, a good definition of music needs to include the emotional as well as the intellectual side of the art.

The best definition I have found comes from Jon Winsor. In his book, “Breaking The Sound Barrier: An Argument for Mainstream Literary Music”, he says, “Music is the use of sound to represent biological rhythm”. By this he means that music should have both the tensions and relaxations that are present in life. All elements of music can have these tensions and relaxations and when the elements work together symbiotically, the emotional impact is usually strongest. When composers isolate the musical elements and focus on just one or two, in my opinion, the emotional impact is weakened. For example, a composition that is concerned mainly with timbre and does not concern itself with the biological rhythm of melody, harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, etc., leaves an audience cold regarding the musical expression. The piece may be logically conceived, but other than the changing timbres, there is not much interest.

Leonard Bernstein, in his Norton Lectures at Harvard University in 1973, uses language as a way of explaining music. In one of his experiments, he equates a noun or noun phrase with a musical motif or theme. An adjective would be equated with a chordal modifier and a verb with rhythm. In order for language to make syntactical sense and have semantic communication, at least these three language components must be present. For example, “The long (adjective) hours (noun) drag (verb) on.” If a sentence only has one of these components, for example nouns, the sentence may be colorful, but lacks meaning (example: hours, days, minutes, years, weeks) and certainly a clear emotional impact. The same is true with music if melody, tonality, harmonic progression, counterpoint, are minimized or eliminated in favor of timbre.

I found myself totally mystified by what some academic composers consider music at a recital of 21st century music that was presented at a recent conference. While I appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into these compositions, the emphasis on timbre at the expense of logical development of other elements left me cold. In addition, the heavy use of dissonance and tone clusters also inhibited the listener from feeling humanly connected, as these types of sounds appear only in the upper reaches of the overtone series where they are technically present, but not audible by the human ear.

Robert Ehle in his article “From Sound To Silence: The Classical Tradition and the Avant-Garde” Music Educators Journal, March, 1979, states that “the quest for new ideas without old associations has led to the abandonment of music as sound in favor of music as pure idea.” Roland Nadeau in his article “The Crisis of Tonality: What is the Avant-Garde?” Music Educators Journal, March, 1981, illustrates how composers have systematically eliminated each aspect of music culminating in John Cage’s “4:33” where composed sounds no longer occurred. Perhaps the next step is the elimination of the audience itself? Some food for thought.

Monday, March 21, 2011

American Vignettes for Brass Quintet Movement 6

I finished the final movement of American Vignettes. It is called "Harlem Jump." Once again, I used a movement from previous composition as the basis of this movement. It comes from my "Three Jazzy Pieces" that exists as a mixed trio. I expanded it to a brass quintet by adding harmonies and featuring each musician as a soloist.

The design of the written out solos is to sound like improvised solos. It is interesting how I composed these solos. Normally solos are played over the existing chord changes of the tune. In this instance, the tune is mainly linear (contrapuntal) and not so much vertical (harmonic), therefore the chord progression (if one exists from the sum of the lines) is secondary. When I composed the solo sections, I just composed a line that sounded interesting melodically without any regard to chord progression. I then built a bass line and added riffs to fit with the solo line.

Variations in the texture, instrumentation, tonality, and dynamics of the returning head create interest.

When composing this movement and thinking of its title, I felt a need to change some of the titles of the other movements to make then more geographically inclusive, therefore Hoedown became Barn Dance and Southwest became Fiesta.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/american_vignettes_blog.html. You will be viewing a transposed score.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Saturday, March 12, 2011

American Vignettes for Brass Quintet Movement 5

During my travels, I have been using the first movement of a composition I wrote for tuba and piano to demonstrate unity and variety in music. The piece is called American Fantasy and is based on America the Beautiful. My plan for the fifth movement of American Vignettes was to do a French Horn feature using America the Beautiful and when I sat down to work on this movement, I couldn’t get the tuba and piano piece out of my mind. Maybe that was an omen because I ended up adapting the tuba and piano version for the French Horn feature within the brass quintet.

Since the Horn is the middle voice of the brass quintet, my biggest challenge was to be sure the Horn would be heard over the accompaniment in the other brass instruments. Putting the other brasses in ranges where they could be played soft enough for the Horn to project alleviated most of this concern. The Horn range was also as concern as it plays in the low/middle register a lot where it does not project very strongly. I considered changing key, but decided to leave things where they are, otherwise the upper register Horn parts would get too high.

There was one section that recurs often where I changed from Horn solo to ensemble playing. It is the figure in measure 12 and similar measures. The Horn melody just got lost in the brass harmony so the first trumpet now has the melody.

I also have a concern over whether the trumpets can sound ethereal in measures 6-8, as it is in a high tessitura at a soft dynamic. I believe strong musicians can play with the type of control required to pull this off.

Jazz influences both sections of this movement. The slow section uses jazz harmony constructed of enlarged chords and substitute chords. It also uses syncopation not present in the melody of America the Beautiful. The second section is a jazz waltz. A motif from America the Beautiful becomes the basis for the minor jazz waltz theme. A lot free material follows the motif, but this idea occurs a lot and is used in imitation later in the movement. Longer segments of America the Beautiful also occur throughout the movement.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/american_vignettes_blog.html. You will be viewing a transposed score.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

American Vignettes for Brass Quintet Movement 4

Movement 4 is a trombone feature and represents the Southwest. The Southwestern flavor is accomplished through alternating 6/8 and 3/4 and the bright colors of the muted brass playing staccato eighth note rhythms and "ay" sounding motifs. The tonality and melody are also very traditional and once again I was looking for ways to spice it up a little without destroying the folk nature of the movement. I varied the meter by changing to 4/4 or 5/4 where one expects to hear 3/4. I inserted some chromaticism to add variety to the melody. I even slightly changed the melody when it repeats for some variety and use contrapuntal lines often. Another technique I used was a canon at measure 30. I also used an augmented triad as a substitute for a V7 in some places.

The form of this movement is like a verse-chorus. I think of the 3/4, 6/8 alternation as the verse and the straight 3/4 as the chorus. The chorus contains the more attractive melody and I use that more often than the verse.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/american_vignettes_blog.html. You will be viewing a transposed score.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

American Vignettes for Brass Quintet Movement 3

Movement 3 is the tuba feature and is called "Spirituals". I use three different spirituals in this movement, "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen". "Cotton Needs Picking" and "Every Time I Feel the Spirit." When I work with folk music that is so direct in its communication, I find it difficult to change the music too much because it looses its feel. My tendency then is combine tunes to make something unique.

The movement begins with the solo tuba doing the chorus of "Nobody Knows". The tuba is unaccompanied until measure 4 where the Horn enters with a counter-melody of my own. Measure 4 is stretched into a 5/4 measure for variety. Measure 8 is a 6/4 bar to end the introduction and accommodate the pick-ups of "Every Time." This is now in an Allegro tempo with a double time feel as the trombone plays an eighth note bass line. At M. 17 the Horn then the trumpet plays the verse of "Every Time" with the tuba filling in on long notes. M. 25 is an elaborated version of the tune in the tuba.

At M 33, I alternate phrases between the trumpets and tuba using the verse of "Nobody Knows." I alternate the harmony between major and minor in the trumpets and write a technical flourish for the tuba. M. 41 is similar but up a whole step.

After a two measure vamp at M 49, the tuba plays the chorus of "Cotton" in a call and response manner with the other brass. The roles reverse at M 59 with the tuba shouting in the upper register. This section modulates and incorporates a swing feel. The tuba has the final say in the manner of a cadenza.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/american_vignettes_blog.html. You will be viewing a transposed score.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Saturday, February 26, 2011

American Vignettes for Brass Quintet Movement 2

For the second movement, I wanted to write a blues and feature the other trumpet player on Flugelhorn. As I was working on the movement, the blues seem very mysterious and lonely so I titled the movement 4 A.M. Blues. It reflects someone who can't sleep and is contemplating the deep mysteries of life and feels very alone in the world.

This movement is not a blues in the sense that it uses the twelve bar blues progression. It is actually a traditional song form (AABA) with some subtle variations. It is more of a "Third Stream" kind of blues that is a cross between classical and jazz. The jazz elements are the muted brass (including the tuba), the Flugelhorn, and the use of variants of the blues scale with its lowered third, fifth and seventh degrees.The classical elements are the evenness of the rhythm, counterpoint, and transformation of motivic ideas.

The mood is set with the muted low brass playing a mysterious accompaniment figure. The Flugelhorn then enters with its bluesy melody that is constantly changing in subtle ways while the phrasing remains consistent. At measure 10, the 1st trumpet enters with a bluesy motivic idea that will later have more of a presence. The second A section is from M 11-18.

M 19 begins the B section. The meter shifts to 7/8 although there is no sub pulse, rather just 7 equal eighth notes in each measure just as the 6/8 and 9/8 measures that precede it are mostly equal eighth note beats. I did indicate a stress mark on beats 1 and 4 of the accompaniment in the A sections, but that is to counteract the 3/4 feel created by the harmonic and melodic groupings. M. 19-23 uses the trombone imitating the Flugelhorn and the tuba providing a rhythmic pedal tone effect. The 1st trumpet once again come in with its motif that is imitated in the Horn (M 24 & 25). We then hear a 6/8 version of the B section Flugelhorn melody accompanied by variants of the 1st trumpet motif orchestrated in the remaining brass.

A return of the A section occurs at M 34-43. The ending uses fragments of the A section accompaniment and the 1st trumpet motive to create a quiet end to the movement.

Dynamically, most of the movement is PP, P, and MP. MF is used only a few times therefore creating a sense of the stillness of the wee hours of the morning.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/american_vignettes_blog.html. You will be viewing a transposed score.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

American Vignettes for Brass Quintet Movement 1

Hello readers. I have been silent for a while because I am on a six-week tour doing presentations at colleges, universities, and conferences and hearing premieres of my music. I am managing to compose while traveling and camping in my little van. I have a USB powered one and a half octave keyboard (M-Audio's Oxygen 8) connected to my laptop and I am set to go.

The piece I am writing now is a six-movement composition for the Lyric Brass Quintet of Pacific Lutheran University. This faculty ensemble is putting together a CD of American music composed during the 20th and 21st Centuries for a recording project through Emeritus Recordings. They asked me to compose a piece with Americana influences and to feature a different member of the quintet in each movement. I am calling the piece "American Vignettes".

The first movement is a Hoedown and features the first trumpet. I use fragments and elaborations of "Old Chisholm Trail" and "Short'nin Bread" as the melodic material during the movement. Since this is the opening movement, I started with a fanfare section that treats all the brass equally. It contains quartal and tertian harmony as well as syncopation and call and response. From M 11-35, phrases from "Old Chisholm Trail" are broken up by a rhythmic accompaniment and a muted trumpet insert that gets more intrusive during the entire movement, as is it was competing for attention with the solo first trumpet. M 35-60 gets rolling without interruptions (except for the muted 2nd trumpet) with variants of both tunes and frequently modulates. An extended version of the opening re-occurs at M 60-74. More variants follow with modulations occurring more often as the movement builds to the coda that begins a M 112. The Coda recaps earlier material and finishes with a final flourish for the solo trumpet.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/american_vignettes_blog.html. You will be viewing a transposed score.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hep Cats for Flute and Clarinet

Hi readers,

I have been working feverishly on a flute and clarinet duet for The Ardente Duo consisting of Cassandra Rondinelli-Eisenreich, flute and Danielle Woolery, clarinet. Cassandra and Danielle will be producing a CD of my music for flute and clarinet and I adapted my Suite for Two Saxophones for them as well as turning my composition "Hep Cats", that was originally written for solo clarinet, into a duet.

The Suite adaption was a fairly simple process of adjusting ranges as both parts had interesting and melodic material. My biggest challenge was deciding which register to write the clarinet and settled on low register for some of the movements and high register for the others. I think I achieved a nice balance as well as variety. I have not posted the score and sound file because there is not much to illustrate.

Hep Cats was originally composed during 2008 for a clarinetist who was planning a CD of solo clarinet compositions. Since 2008, the clarinetist's plans changed and he withdrew from the project. I thought that this piece could be made into a nice duet. If you would like to read my blog about composing the solo clarinet version, please go to the May 2008 entries. That has a discussion of the musical ideas. In this discussion, I'll focus on the duet adaption.

Here is an excerpt from the program notes. The title is a double entendre first suggesting the jazz influences and second being a musical portrait of felines. The first movement is called “Siamese” and was written in memory of my cat, Siegfried, who was part Siamese. It is an upbeat, swing movement and captures the joy Siegfried brought my wife and myself. “Angora” is the title of the second movement and is moody, bluesy, and mysterious. The last movement, “Tom” is in a rock style and is aggressive.

I added a four measure clarinet introduction to the first movement which then becomes the accompaniment for the flute line. The introduction is actually the only added part to the entire piece. To create a duet part, I looked for motives that came from the existing music to create the duet lines. I was challenged by how to divide the solo material between the two instruments. I tried to find logical places to split the line and then I created the duet line to go with it. There are times where the solo line stands by itself without any accompaniment. Other times the duet part creates a counterpoint and occasionally a canon. Sometimes it moves in rhythmic unison and creates a harmony line. I was pleased with the variety of textures that are used in the duet version.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/Hep_Cats_Duet_blog.html. You will be viewing a transposed score.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Monday, January 31, 2011

Meditation and Festive Celebration Revisions

I am including below parts of an email from Andrew Seigel who relayed Jihyun Woo's comments as well. Inserted are my comments regarding how I dealt with their suggestions. The examples now contain new files with the revisions. I hope that my readers will realize that composers can learn a lot from performers and always be willing to try to incorporate their suggestions. I think my composition is stronger because of it.

Andrew: It is my believe that the piece works as is, but that there are some
things that might be addressed to make it easier to play, and perhaps
more effective musically.  Please take the comments in the helpful
nature that they are offered.

Regarding the first movement, I think this works very well, but JiHyun
and I both thought the ending detracts slightly from the piece.  I've
got two thoughts about this - one, that perhaps the cadence figure is
just a little too drawn out (long).  Perhaps it should simply end at
measure XX, rather then adding another bar?  JiHyun's suggestion was
to include the clarinet in the closing, and I could see that that
might serve to punctuate the ending of your Meditation more
effectively.  The writing in both parts seemed (and sounded)
idiomatic, and there is ample room for emotive affect in the clarinet
part.  It actually reminds me a little of the Copland Clarinet
Concerto in spots...

Me: I agree about the ending. I did shorten the cadence and added the clarinet and I believe that it works much better.

Andrew: The second movement definitely works better with clarinet and organ
than the recording you provided led us to believe - of course you
explained the difficulties in trying to "realize" the organ
sonorities.  So that was a pleasant surprise.  The balance and
projection issues that I mentioned in the previous email didn't seem
to be a problem, either - I think that might have been a function of
my very, very dead sounding practice room.

So, the initial figure is great - I think I've told you that I find it
to be a bit of an "ear worm," and JiHyun said she quite liked the
organ writing there as well.  Both of us felt, I think, that this
movement felt a bit more disjunct than we expected.  Put a different
way, it sort of seemed like the piece might be trying to do too many
different things (sounds? effects?) with the organ.  Is it possible
that there are too many ideas there?  Some specifics:

Me: Upon review, I too felt that it did sound somewhat disjunct, but not because there were too many ideas, but because I needed to make better transitions between the ideas. Once again the problem with getting the Sibelius software to playback what I wanted may have gotten in the way and also my not being an organist. My specific changes follow your specific suggestions.

Andrew: There are some parallel octaves at mm. 14, 20 that JiHyun pointed out
- she suggested that this doesn't work so well with the organ.

Me: I fixed these and the ones later one by sustaining some notes to avoid the parallel octaves and it does improve the sound.
Andrew: The passage work at mm. 26 seemed very awkward to her, and the pedal
work in the following bar doesn't really project in the voicing that's
being used elsewhere in the piece - it ends up sounding quite hollow.

Me: I put the sixteenth notes that were in the organ into the clarinet as it is really more characteristic of the clarinet. I resolved the organ's harmony from measure 25 on the downbeat of measure 26, took what was in the pedal at measure 27 and put it in the left hand of the organ and put a pedal tone in the pedal. Measure 27 is a point of repose before returning to the energetic opening material. I added a small ritard in measure 27 and then back to tempo in measure 28. I think the changes in these measures make this clearer.

Andrew: At mm. 43, things feel very static and simple in comparison to the
harmonic language that you've established earlier in the piece.
Perhaps this is by design, but it struck both of us as rather abrupt.
Perhaps it's the texture of the pedal tune against the melody in
45-46?  JiHyun was asking "Which line is the melody?"  She suggested
that it might work to incorporate some of the rhythmic writing in the
hand parts, rather than the foot?

Me: This section was designed to relax the tension of the previous section before building to a second climax at the end. I took the syncopation out of the pedal and put in all in the clarinet. I put the more sustained pedal parts in the organ left hand so there is no pedal in this section at all. The melody of this section is in the organ. The line is a development of the rhythmic and harmonic idea that first occurs at measure 16. This section has a quiet intensity as the organ phrases are both accompanied by and interspersed by the syncopated clarinet figure and the more sustained organ left hand. Moving this more sustained part to the left hand and out of the pedal should enable a lighter sound so it can contrast the more harmonic organ phrases.

Andrew: There's another abrupt texture change at mm. 55 - landing on the octaves.
Me: I took the pedal out  here and filled in the harmony.
Andrew: The pedal writing in mm. 61 - the short note values at the end of the
bar aren't really heard - the don't project as cleanly as the scoring
might suggest you're looking for?  They're playable, but we thought
not as effective as you might want.
Me: I changed the eighth to a quarter note.
Andrew: The pedal in mm. 65 - are you looking for an extension of the hand
figure?  Again, with the registration, it seemed a little not quite
right.  Perhaps that's a register issue - I'm not sure.  It's similar
in mm. 71 and 72 - there's a sort of disconnect in the sound.
Me: I removed the pedal in both these places and at measures 24 and 25 which had the same problem. I did add two notes in the pedal at 66 to lead into 67. These changes help lighten up the organ part as the clarinet sustains the activity.
Andrew: The ending seemed a bit "out of the blue" to us - again, a sudden
texture change, and material that seemed to us unrelated to what we've
done - it came across as sort of coda-like, and left us wondering
about where the high point of the piece might be, looking for form and
Me: As I alluded to earlier, there are two climaxes in the movement. One is at 26 and the other is at 73 to the end. At measure 73, the return to the open material creates a slight drop off in intensity before building once again to the end. It is a coda and to link it more to what came before, I sustained the organ note on beat 2 of measures 73 and 74 and added a measure at 76. I feel it builds better to the end and links better with what came before it.

Andrew: Only one little issue with the clarinet part - mm 15 - getting from
the high C# to D# is awkward.  Certainly doable, but awkward.  Always
has been, always will be.  I don't know that it needs to be addressed,
but the finger combination is less than kind.
Me: I did address it and changed the B concert to a G# concert.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/Meditation_and_Festive_Celebration_blog.html. You will be viewing a transposed score.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Composing for Composition Competitions

Hi readers,

I have been spending the past few weeks adapting and recreating some of my compositions to enter into some competitions. At this stage of my career, I usually don't enter competitions for several reasons. First is that many are for composers in the early stages of their careers. Second is that many are more geared towards the academic composer and my music tends to be more audience oriented. Third is that I am usually so busy with composing for specific performers, that I don't have time to compose for a competition.

However, there were four competitions that I decided to enter because I feel that I have pieces that are very right for their stated goals, there is no age limit, and I decided to make some time between projects to adapt and create additional music to fit the competition requirements.

I cannot discuss these works here as most of them require anonymous submission, but I'd like to encourage composers to recycle existing works to create new ones. Many of my compositions have only one or a few performances and recycling them can give them new life. In the instance of one of these competitions, I combined two different works into one, re-orchestrated both of them, and gave the piece a new title. I am very pleased with the results and I hope the judges are as well.

I have also learned that winning or not winning a competition is no reflection upon the quality of my work. Having judged competitions many times, it is often more about what suits the organization's needs rather than the fact that one composition is clearly better than another. Judges often narrow the field down to a few entries. This narrow field reflects both quality and suitability. So I encourage composers to read the guidelines carefully to determine if what they have written is right for the competition and then be pleased if you win, but not too disappointed if you don't. Remember, you can't win if you don't enter!

Dr. B

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Meditation and Festive Celebration

Happy New Year to my readers. I am composing this piece for Dr. Andrew Seigel, Professor of Clarinet at SUNY Fredonia and Dr. Jihyun Woo, Professor of Music Theory at SUNY Fredonia. They are producing a CD of clarinet and organ music and this composition, as well as my "Affirmations" for bass clarinet and organ that I wrote over from the double bass and organ version, are adding to the repertoire.

I always find writing for organ a challenge. Writing a piece for organ was my final exam for my A. mus. D in composition at the University of Arizona and I worked closely with a graduate student organists and began to learn about the instrument. Since that time, I have written other pieces for organ and once again, I always asked the organist for assistance. With this piece, I am asking Jihyun for her advice and hope to glean many things to improve the piece. In addition, I was guided by Sondra Soderlund's "A Guide to the Pipe Organ for Composers and Others" and it is an invaluable resource for anyone wishing to compose for the organ.

Andrew and Jihyun were looking for a relatively brief prelude or two that could be used in concert or church setting. I hope that I achieved their goal. One of the challenges in composing for organ is that the software does not play back the registrations. The only sound is full organ. I changed the sound to strings, flutes, and oboe to approximate the organ registration, but these sounds do not have 2',4',8', and 16' stops. I am also relying on Jihyun to make suggestions regarding registration. I included dynamics and some suggestions as each organist will use my suggestions to come up with what works best on the particular instrument they are performing on.

The Meditation uses some mild polytonality, but is very tonal otherwise. Meter changes break up the regularity of rhythm and triplet patterns break up the duple meter feel. The dynamic never rises above a mf. The Festive Celebration again uses triplet patterns within a duple meter. A lot of syncopation is present in the organ part during the A sections and then it becomes more straight-forward in the B sections. The harmony uses a lot of chords in 4ths. Once again, meter changes break up the steady 4/4 meter and the movement freely modulates to different tonalities. The predominant dynamic is f and a full organ sound is appropriate here. Measures 43-60 provide a registration, dynamic and textural change before returning to the Great manual to build to the end.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/Meditation_and_Festive_Celebration_blog.html. You will be viewing a transposed score.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B