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, 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