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.

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