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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Animales for Flute and Piano

This is a composition that I am writing for Venezuelan flautist Nicaulis Alliey based on Venezuelan animals. The five movements are Caimán del Orinoco (Orinoco Crocodile), Escarlata Ibis (Scarlet Ibis), Pereza (Sloth), Guacamaya Tricolor (Scarlet Macaw), and Jaguar. The movements will be posted here as they are completed.

The first movement represents the Caimán del Orinoco (Orinoco Crocodile) and has menacing characteristics. The large chords at the beginning set the mood and also becomes one of the major unifying factors of the movement. The chords are augmented triads with an occasional added note and they suggest a lot of the musical material that follows. The second unifying factor is the jagged staccato eighth notes that appear in the flute in measure 2. This motif is also built on the intervals from the augmented triad and represents the jagged teeth of the crocodile. At measure 7, the jagged teeth motif is treated canonically and develops through measure 17. At measure 18, the music transitions into the crocodile at rest. At measure 33, the teeth motif appears again as the crocodile is waking up. At measure 38, the crocodile is swimming after prey and this music is also based on the augmented triad. He captures his prey at measure 45. At measure 47, the section built on the teeth motif returns before the coda at 57 recaps some of the ideas of the movement.

The graceful second movement represents the Escarlata Ibis (Scarlet Ibis). The movement is slightly polymodal which adds color to the harmony. It also has frequent tonality shifts. The form is ABCB'C'A'. The texture is harmophonic as the piano serves mainly to accompany the flute. There are a few places where imitation is used for variety. All this adds up to a movement that describes a beautiful and graceful bird.

 The third movement is my impression of the Guacamaya Tricolor (Tricolor Macaw). After watching several videos of these beautiful birds, I was inspired by their beautiful color combination and their antics when interacting with people. This movement is in an ABA form with a short coda. The A sections are somewhat humorous and awkward. There is a lot of chromaticism and polyrhythm. While the piano accompaniment is mainly 6/8, the flute melody is mainly a 9/8 superimposed over the 6/8. This creates phrases that are seven dotted quarter note beats long and results in two 14 measure phrases. This basic idea repeats and develops through modulation and melodic variation. The B section represents the bird in flight and has long lyrical phrases and rich harmony. The coda is my attempt to imitate the bird's voice. Sometimes it makes short chirping sounds hence the grace note figures. At other times, it makes a low dissonant rumbling sound and I used diminished 7th chord tremolos for this. The ending is in contrast to the rest of the movement and hints that there are more movements following it.

Perezosa (Sloth) is the subject of fourth movement. The sloth is the slowest moving mammal and likes to hang upside from trees. This was the inspiration for the first section of this piece.  A Lento 5/4 meter is used to represent the slow movement of the sloth. Most of the melodic figures start high and use downward intervals to represent the sloth hanging from trees. One of the more interesting characteristics of the sloth is that they must descend from the tree tops once per week to poop. This is the time when the sloth is most vulnerable to attack by predators. The middle section of this movement reflects both the descent with a downward melodic line and the danger with more dissonant harmony. The sloth safely returns to the tree tops to complete this movement.

The last movement is El Jaguar (Jaguar). When I think of a jaguar, I think of three things, speed, grace, and danger.  All three of these are present in the music of this movement. The vivace tempo is used for speed as well as the proliferation of eight and sixteenth notes. The meter is a combination of beats divided into two parts and beats divided into 3 parts such as 7/8 and 5/8. These create an edginess to the rhythm and drives the movement forward. Even when the meter is 4/4 and 3/4, the underlying rhythm in the accompaniment is still a varied combination of 2 eighth notes and three eighth notes. The form is an introduction (1-4) A (5-9) B (10-19) C (20-29) B' (30-39) introduction serving as an interlude (40-43) A' (44-48) B'' (49-62) C' (63-end).

Your comments are always appreciated.

Dr. B

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Allegories for Flute, Euphonium, and Piano or Flute, Euphonium, and Percussion

“Allegories” is a five movement composition for flute, euphonium, and piano or flute, euphonium and percussion based upon Aesop’s Fables. The percussion version was created after the version with piano was completed. It was commissioned by and dedicated to Frank Meredith.A video of each movement was posted after it was created and I discussed each movement as well. The version with percussion appears at the end of this blog post.

The first movement “The Trumpeter Taken Captive” is a fable about how one’s actions affect the outcome. The trumpeter, who incites others to do battle, is as guilty as those who slay the enemy. After a brief introduction, the euphonium represents the trumpeter by playing battle tunes that are clearly tonal but have meter changes from 5/8 to 6/8. The flute and piano add to the excitement of the battle. The battle intensifies beginning at measure 19. The 5/8 meter, alternation between diminished and augmented chords, and flute trills add uncertainty to the outcome. The piano chord at 36 followed by the descending euphonium line indicate the capture of the trumpeter. The slower tempo at 39 leads the listener into the music at 51 where the trumpeter (euphonium) pleads his case to no avail. Motifs from the trumpet tune are recalled but at a slower tempo. Measures 69-71 represents the execution of the trumpeter. Measure 72 to the end is the moral of the story.

“The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is the basis for the second movement. The allegory is that nobody believes a liar. The flute plays a shepherd’s tune three times to represent the bored shepherd boy. Each time, the tune ends chromatically downward therefore showing his boredom. The tune also has slight variations each time. The ensemble plays excited music three times as the boy cries wolf, the first two times just to amuse himself and the section ends with chromatic laughter. After the third time when nobody responds to his cries, the flute plays a minor version of the tunes as a lament lament to end the movement.

The third movement reflects the story of “The Goose And The Golden Egg.” A golden euphonium melody accompanied by rich harmony that migrates to other instruments represents the golden eggs laid by the goose and the riches the farmer gained. The ensemble then plays greedy music beginning at measure 19. The music sounds greedy because of the contrapuntal texture. This represents the farmer scheming to try to get richer. At measure 28, the farmer finalizes his plan and kills the goose with one swift chop to the neck. The minor key lament that follows represents the disappointment in finding no more golden eggs and he has killed his rich source of income because of his greed.

A sweet dancing flute solo begins movement four appropriately named “The Fisherman and His Flute.” This short fable has the allegory of “timing is everything.” The poor fisherman expected the fish to jump out of the sea in response to his flute playing. He tries three times with no results. The silences at the end of his tune indicate that no fish have jumped out of the sea. Each time he plays the melody it has slight variations and his frustration, represented by the stronger cadences, becomes very evident. When the other instruments play a similar tune at measure 62, it represents his success when he uses his net. Measure 78 combines the successful catch (euphonium and piano) and the fisherman's frustration (flute). The fisherman says “you bloody fish, when I played the flute you wouldn’t dance, but as soon I stopped, you started up.”

The race between the “Tortoise and the Hare” is the subject of the last movement. The plodding euphonium and piano accompaniment represents the tortoise and the fast, agile flute represents the hare. The flute takes a nap in the middle of the movement and by the time the flute wakes up, it is too late to catch up with the slow and steady tortoise. The race is not always to the swift. The Lento introduction introduces the tortoise theme and the flute (hare) interjects mocking and laughing figures. At measure 9, the race begins. There are slight variations of the euphonium melody and piano accompaniment for musical reasons but the repetitiveness of the the euphonium and piano is intended to illustrate the determination of the tortoise. By the time the music reaches measure 25, the hare is well ahead and stops for a snack after which, he becomes very sleepy. At measure 33, the hare begins to yawn and is fully asleep at measure 44. He abruptly awakens at measure 63 and makes a mad dash to  the finish but arrives at the finish line a fraction after the tortoise at measure 66. The ending confirms the triumph of the tortoise.

It was somewhat challenging to create the version with percussion from the version with the piano because the piano serves both a harmonic and melodic function. The obvious choice would be to use a keyboard percussion instrument as a substitute for the piano and I did that in some of the movements, but in other movements I elected to use indefinite pitch percussion instruments. As a result of this choice, some of the harmonic and melodic functions of the piano were added to the flute and euphonium parts. I feel that both versions are equally effective. The video below is the percussion version in its entirety.

Comments are always appreciated.

Dr. B

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Character Pieces On The Seven Dwarfs for Bassoon and Piano

This composition is commissioned by and dedicated to Dr. Susan Gustavson Maxwell. There will be seven movements that musically suggest the character of the seven dwarfs. There are times where programmatic elements may appear but for the most part, the composition is designed to suggest the nature of each dwarf rather than tell a specific story. My outline for this work is as follows:
1. Doc - Maestoso and contrapuntal to reflects Doc's leadership and careful thinking
2. Bashful - Slow and romantic (flirty)
3. Grumpy - Slow and dissonant
4. Dopey - Fast and playful with surprises
5. Sleepy - Slow and lethargic
6. Sneezy - Allegretto with powerful sneeze-like figures
7. Happy - 6/8 fast and humorous

Videos and further descriptions of the movements will be posted as they are composed.

Movement one "Doc" is mostly diatonic with some chromaticism. In order to add variety to the mostly step-wise bassoon line, wide interval leaps have been added. Meter changes add variety to the rhythm hints at Doc's nervousness. At measure 24, imitation is added to suggest Doc's intellectual prowess. The strong parts of this movement reflect upon Doc's being the leader of the dwarfs.

The second movement is "Bashful." The slow tempo and soft dynamics reflect his shyness and his infatuation with Snow White. At measure 13, a slow to fast trill represents Bashful twisting his beard and fluttering his eyelashes as he attempts to flirt with Snow White.

The third movement represents Grumpy and is in a slow tempo. The dissonant cluster chords in the piano represents Grumpy's disagreeable nature. The bassoon's low register, frequent descending lines and multiphonic serve that purpose as well. The more flowing middle section shows another side of Grumpy. While he is disagreeable, he is always first to rescue his friends should the need arise. The repeated piano left hand grows in intensity and the syncopated piano right hand and bassoon part also add to the intensity as Grumpy comes to the rescue. The multiphonic at the end is more dissonant than the sound in this video.

Dopey really isn't dopey. He just likes having fun and playing tricks and often looks silly. Therefore this fourth movement is full of fun and surprises. The musical materials for this movement consist of leaping major 7ths, chromatic lines, and part of a whole tone scale. It is in a rondo form: Introduction, ABACA. Meter changes and different ranges and instrumentation contribute to the surprises.

The fifth movement, Sleepy, begins with the bassoon playing a slow descending line unaccompanied. Measure 4 hints at a slow yawn, but the actual yawn motif is a sextuplet that first appears in the piano at measure 6 and then in the bassoon in the next two measures. Motifs from the opening bassoon line then used to create the remaining musical material that is in free form. The yawn motif interrupts frequently throughout. Rallentandos and soft dynamics add to the sleepy atmosphere.

A big sneeze by Sneezy begins movement 6. The rising motif followed by a bassoon trill and piano tremolo that resolves to a low note represents the sneeze. After the sneeze, a faster tempo section represents Sneezy trying not to sneeze by sniffling. However, he is unsuccessful and a big sneeze occurs at the end of his attempt to control it. This sniffling and sneeze section occurs twice, although each time it is slightly different. At measure 40, an imitative section in duple meter once again represents Sneezy trying not to sneeze, but by the end of this section he thinks he is successful only to be surprised with four big sneezes in a row before admitting defeat.

The last movement portrays Happy. A lilting theme in 15/8 opens the movement and becomes the A section of a rondo (ABACA) form. The B and C sections represent Happy's fondness for jokes. The wide interval leaps at measure 9 which begins the B section is suggestive of laughter. This section is contrapuntal and modulates through several keys before ending in an outburst of laughter. The C section is very playful with its use of odd meter (5/8).

As always, comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

The New Colossus for Clarinet and Prerecorded Sounds

This composition was commissioned by and dedicated to Vanessa Davis. It was inspired by the ongoing controversy regarding immigration policies of the Trump administration and serves as a reminder of how immigrants helped the United States became a world leader and were once welcomed with open arms. The poem "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus served as both an inspiration for the clarinet solo line and also as material for the prerecorded sounds.

The prerecorded sounds consist of a ship's horn, clarinet key clicks, ocean waves, drumming, and various readings of the poem. The readings have been segmented into fragments and interspersed between the clarinet playing. Male, female, and children's voices have been used and in one section, both English and Spanish occur. Some manipulation of the voices was done to create interest and there are times where more than one voice are speaking simultaneously.

The clarinet line both reflects and anticipates the text. The piece is through-composed although repeated and developed motives add structure to the free form line. At one point multiphonics are used as a duet to the ship's horn. The piece ends triumphantly with the hope that past American values will triumph over prejudice.

The video below contains both the clarinet part and prerecorded sounds.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Monday, August 12, 2019

Hope Collage for Saxophone Ensemble

This is a four movement composition that I am writing for the Hope College Saxophone Ensemble. The piece is called "Hope Collage" and it consists of movements that represent hope. The movements are "Castles In The Sky", "A Light at the End of the Tunnel", "Knock on Wood", and "Promised Land."

I chose the meter of 6/8 for the first movement but some of the syncopated rhythmic figures pit 3/4 against the 6/8. The major tonality is disguised by chromaticism either in the melody or the counterpoint and harmony An example would be the ascending thematic material at measure 7 that spans a major 7th encompassing a chromatic line near the end. The form is basically AB with a Coda. The first movement transposed score and playback appears below.

 The slow second movement has the tenor and baritone saxophones representing the darkness of the tunnel using minor and slightly dissonant harmony. The light at the end of the tunnel is represented by the alto and soprano saxophones. Even though they are still in minor, their brightness and rising arpeggios represent a glimmer of hope. By the time the movement reaches measure 26, optimism has taken over and the entire ensemble is in shifting major tonalities leading up to the quiet, yet, prayerful end in B major.

The third movement "Knock On Wood" has a Scherzo quality and is at an allegro tempo. The opening theme sets the tone of optimism with its combination of quartal, quintal, and triadic harmony along with staccato articulation. It is answered by the saxophones doing rhythmic slap tongue in a pyramid formation that represents knocking on wood. The theme and its variations alternate with the slap tongue throughout most of the movement. At measure 21 and 63, the theme and slap tongue appears in canon. At measure 80, the theme becomes fragmented and the slap tongue dominates. The fragments become pieced together leading to a final outburst of 16th note joy before the last chord. The movement ends with foot stomps that rhythmically "knock on wood."

The last movement "Promised Land" is in two parts. The first is meditative and prayer-like in a moderate tempo. It has a passacaglia bass line and contrapuntal lines are added above it. It also grows in intensity until it reaches the Allegro, which is the second part and is celebratory. The Allegro begins with a sixteenth note motif that plays an accompaniment role in many places throughout the last section to the slower moving declarative lines. From measure 58 to the end, motifs from the Moderato section are transformed in the Allegro, therefore linking the two sections.

Your comments are always appreciated.

Dr. B

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Craters of the Moon

This composition is being composed for Trio De Bois (Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon) and Piano. This is the first movement of three that are inspired by Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. It is especially appropriate during this 50th anniversary of the moon walk as the astronauts trained at this location. This movement is called Violent Past.

Much of this movement is built around the dissonant intervals of a half step and the tritone. These  intervals are used both melodically and harmonically. The movement begins with a half step trill that is answered by chords in fourths where the tritone splits the major seventh interval. The oboe and clarinet then follow with melodic versions of the tritone and half step. This introductory material lasts through measure 12 but presents most of the musical material of the movement that undergo transformations in the various sections.

In measure 13, the texture thins in order to present a melodic development of these intervals, sometimes in short canons. The sixteenth note triplets introduce a new rhythmic element. This section reaches a climax at 21.

Measure 23 brings in a contrasting section in 7/8. A melodically static rhythmic ostinato sets the tone but this idea eventually incorporates the tritone and half step. Variants of the introductory melodic ideas permeate this section. The more sustained and slurred variant is like lava oozing out of the ground. This section builds to a climax at measure 36 before starting again at 37 with even more transformations.

Measure 50 begins a further development of the material. The half step trills dominate but instead of being upward trills they are downward trills. Measure 58 develops the ostinato section. The faster tempo hints at the most violent eruption to come at the conclusion of the movement. On July 25, this movement was revised incorporating suggestions from the commissioners. I like the improvements to this movement. The video bellow incorporates the changes.

The second movement is called "Lunar Landscape" and is more evocative rather than descriptive. It creates a feeling of vastness and openness. This movement is a tribute to the 50th anniversary of landing on the moon that is being celebrated at the same time that this movement was created. The Apollo 14 astronauts trained at Craters of the Moon in 1969 in order to learn more about volcanic geology.

The movement is built around a "walking" passacaglia theme that is in the left hand of the piano. At measure five, it is accompanied by open 4ths and 5ths in the piano that later appear in the oboe and clarinet, and then in imitation between the piano and high winds. At measure 29, the bassoon plays a more melodic variant of the passacaglia theme over the original in the piano. At measure 38, the original drops out while the clarinet plays the bassoon melody and the bassoon plays yet another variant. The earlier starkness returns at measure 46.

Beginning at measure 54, further development takes place using the earlier material in new keys and combinations while gradually building in tempo and intensity. At measure 98, the opening material returns in the original key and tempo and eventually fades into the distance. On July 25, this movement was revised incorporating suggestions from the commissioners. I like the improvements to this movement. The video bellow incorporates the changes.

"Forces of Nature" is the title of the third movement. There are five natural phenomena in the park that I wanted to represent musically, The Great Rift, Lava Flow, Vents, Cinder Cones, and Lava Tubes. Each of these have a motif that is descriptive and the motifs transform and combine as the movement progresses. 

The Great Rift is represented by open dissonant harmony in contrary motion similar to shifting plates. It first appears in the piano and then the woodwinds. A half step repetitive triplet figure represents lava flow. This appears in rhythmic unison and also as overlapping phrases. 

Vents makes its first appearance in measure six but does not not get fully developed until the section at measure 74. It is represented by a rising arpeggio that resembles a diminished 7th chord. The figure diminuendos and overlaps similar to steam evaporating into the air.

My favorite motif of this movement is the cinder cone motif because it provides such contrast to the other motifs. It appears at measure 16 and consists of repeated sixteenth notes. The motif is layered from low to high and back down to low so that it creates the image of a mountain of cinder. It has a Minimalism quality and is combined with the Great Rift motif as the section develops.

The last motif to appear is the Lava Tubes motif section at measure 43. It is a stern, accented motif in the left hand of the piano and the bassoon suggesting an underground cave. To enhance the underground aspect, the right hand of the piano and the oboe have high sustained notes. These instruments then start to incorporate the lava flow motif also in the high register.

As the movement develops, the motifs transform and reappear in different orders, meters, instrumentation, and in combinations. The coda at measure 127 brings back all the motifs in close proximity.

Your comments are always appreciated and welcomed.

Dr. B

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Festival Finale for Clarinet Choir

I am composing a piece for the Millikin University Clarinet Choir called Festival Finale. It will be a one movement work in three sections, fast - slow - fast. Dr. David Cook plans to use the work as part of the final concert at Millikin University's Clarinet Day to be held on Saturday, February 22, 2020 and he wants a piece about 8 minutes long.

The excerpt below is the first part of the composition. The fast tempo is reflective of the joy of the day and is written in what is referred to as the other major mode, the Lydian mode. This mode shares characteristics with the major mode but differs by having a raised fourth degree. This gives this first section a slightly exotic flavor.

After a short introduction, the first theme appears in the Eb Clarinet. At measure 14, the theme is now stated in a one measure canon between the 1st Bb Clarinet and Eb Clarinet. At measure 24, a more lyrical theme makes its appearance in the 3rd Clarinet accompanied by the 1st Bass Clarinet. The second part of this theme moves to other instruments not so much for a change of color, but to spread the solo lines among the entire ensemble. At measure 40, the second theme repeats this time with more counterpoint and a tonic pedal in the 2nd Bass Clarinet.

At measure 56, the first theme returns but in a different key.  A sudden shift of tonality at 73 introduces a contrapuntal triplet idea that seems to be a third theme but transforms itself into an accompaniment for another statement of the second theme beginning at measure 87. This section builds in a similar manner as the first appearance of the second theme but with more triplets and other slight variations. Measure 119 is the final appearance of the first theme before it transitions to the slower section.

On June 26, 2019, I completed this composition. I am leaving the above video of the first part in order for the viewer to compare what I thought was the first part in May to what the first part actually became once the other parts were added. The reason for the difference is that when the first part was written, I was anticipating about a 3 minute slow section. However, as the piece progressed, the slow section felt complete at around two minutes. I then composed the last section that also lasted about two minutes so I thought I would recapitulate the opening musical material to round out the piece. When I played it back it felt very anti-climactic. The opening section is light and joyful representing  fun and friendship while the third section has a more intense and serious tone representing excitement. I then decided to enlarged the opening section by essentially repeating the material from measures 6-54 with some slight variations (key change at 55 and noodling line in Eb and 1st Bb clarinets at measures 73-105).

The slow section begins at measure 190 and represents a sadness that the festival is over and saying goodbye to new friends. It hovers between phrygian and aeolian modes. Because of the lack of a leading tone, modality is established more by repetition of pitch and length of notes and that is why the modality is vague. Adding to the vagueness is the alternation of 2/4 and 3/4 meter. The first statement of the theme is at 194 in the 1st Bass Clarinet. It continues at 202 in the 1st Bb clarinet. M. 210 is a contrasting section with 2 and 3 part imitation before returning to the main theme at 218. M 226 begins a written out repeat of the AABA. 258-260 fades into the sudden start of the third section.

I chose the locrian mode for the first part of the last section that is in 6/8 meter. I like its unsettled flavor due to the tritone between 5 and 1. After a brief introduction, the 1st Bb clarinet states the theme unaccompanied at m. 267. 275 is a canon between Eb Clarinet and 1st Bb Clarinet. At 283, the Bass Clarinet has the theme with accompaniment in the upper instruments. 291 is a canon between 2nd and 3rd clarinets. Measure 300 begins a contrasting section that mimics the unevenness of the meters from the 2nd movement. The music is now in the phrygian mode. 324 ushers in a dramatic section that is back in the locrian mode. 346 returns to the phrygian mode material for a final push to the end. The coda leads towards the ending in aeolian mode.

Below is the entire score.

Your comments are always appreciated.

Dr. B