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I have created this site in order to provide performers, listeners and composers with a description of a composer's experiences with the creative process. The posts will provide discussions of the inspirations, challenges, and successes of a composer from the inception of the piece to the culmination in performance. I will provide a link to where you can see and hear the works in progress. Comments and questions are always welcomed. They will not posted unless you grant me permission.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Modal Suite Movement 1

I am very honored to be composing a composition for the Tucumcari Rattlers Xylophone and Recorder Ensemble. I am in awe of the accomplishments of this rural elementary school in New Mexico in bringing the arts to the students and the community. Many thanks to music teacher Andrew Kesten for his vision, dedication, and hard work. I also wish to thank Andrew for his guidance in writing for Orff Instruments. I have never written for these instruments and after a Skype session and a few emails, I am feeling more comfortable with the possibilities of the instruments and the ensemble.

My comments in this blog post are written for the students in the ensemble as well as other readers. I hope that I can get my ideas across so that what I am doing as a composer is clear to all my readers. 

The title of the composition came about because I like composing in modes and I thought that using them would give a little different sound to my composition. The modes are eight note scales that like major and minor, consist of a pattern of whole steps and half steps. The difference is that the half steps occur between different scale degrees than major and minor and the result is an entirely different flavor. The modes that I am using are E Phrygian (EFGABCDE), F Lydian (FGABCDEF), and D Mixolydian (DEF#GABCD). There will be three movements: Phrygian Polka, Lydian Lament, and Mixolydian Mambo.

Before I get started discussing the first movement, I would like to mention three things that composers try to do when they compose music.

1) Control unity and variety. Unity are the things in music that hold the composition together and most often occurs as repetition. Variety is obtained by doing something different. If a composition has too much unity, it becomes booooring. If it has too much variety, it is difficult to make sense of the music. Since music has so many different elements like rhythm, melody, harmony, dynamics, instrumentation, etc., unity and variety occurs on many different levels. For example, unity (repetition) of rhythm may have variety in the melody. This brings us to the 2nd item.

2) One of the fun things that composers like to do is varied repetition. Varied repetition is when a musical idea is the same, but different. All art has some form of varied repetition. Because it is both the same and different, it is up to the person listening to or viewing the work to decide which is more important. This is what makes art open to interpretation and as a result, integrates both sides of the brain, the scientific side and the intuitive side. I use a lot of varied repetition in my music.

3) Symmetry - Symmetry creates balance. As symmetrical human beings, we expect things to be in pairs. We have two eyes, two ears, two arms, two legs, etc. Twos or multiples of two feel normal to us. As a composer, when I use symmetry, the music proceeds logically. But too much logic can make a composition boring, so using asymmetry can add interest to a composition.

Let me explain how each of these are used in this composition.

Measures 1-24 serve as an introduction before the tune itself starts at measure 25. The introduction can be divided into three parts. Measures 1-9 consists of a 5 measure phrase followed by a 4 measure phrase which creates asymmetry. At first glance, it seems like measures 6-9 is a repeat of measures 1-4 (unity) and it mostly is, but if you compare the glockenspiel part in measures 4 and 8, you will see the melodic pattern reverses itself (varied repetition). Measures 10-20 consists of a 6 measure phrase followed by a 5 measure phrase (some more asymmetry). This material sounds new therefore creating variety, but there are some things that are similar to the first section. In measure 15, the S.D., W.B., and C.B. does the same idea that is used in measures 2 and 5. The xylophone parts starting at measure 10 are a rising version of the downward scale the xylophone did in measure 3 (varied repetition). So is this section the same or different?  It sounds different on the surface but is related at a subconscious level. By the way, I did not plan this. My ears told me what to do while I was composing, but the unifying factors exist naturally because of my years of studying and composing music. The third section of the introduction is a vamp (short repeated ideas) the set up the polka rhythm (moderate tempo with 2 beats per measure and frequent use of eighth note two sixteenth notes or two sixteenth notes and an eighth note rhythm).

I'm not going to go through the entire movement in this manner, but similar relationships exist in the remaining musical material. I'll just describe the overall structure. The main musical theme (A) enters at measure 25 in the woods and is a symmetrical 4 measure phrase. It is followed by a 7 measure phrase in the metals and the S.D., W.B., and C.B. This material repeats at measures 36 - 46. Measures 47 - 54 offers a contrasting section (B). This section repeats at measures 55-63. The A section returns at measures 64-74. Measure 75 begins like another A, but this time it is extended by repeating and overlapping the last measures of the phrase to build in intensity until the end.

I export my Sibelius Music Notation file as a movie (new to version 7.5). I also use Noteperformer software for the sounds. These are sample sounds, but the software also includes an algorithm that reads ahead in the music and phrases the music according to context, therefore making the realization closer to live performance. I  upload these videos to youtube and embed the video for each movement. I hope that this technology allows the reader to have an easier experience and a more realistic performance. To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/Modal_Suite_blog.html

As always, your comments are appreciated.
Dr. B

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