Wednesday, 1 April 2015

"A Fearsome Flight"

Less than a week remains until the submission deadline for the Gower Band Terra Nova competition, and it seems that the more work I do on my piece, the more I realize needs to be done...
I was fortunate that last Wednesday we were able to spend the entire seminar class on my piece, so I left with a big list of suggestions.
Some of these suggestions I have yet to get to, such as creating a part for electric/double bass, creating a percussion ID chart and upping the size of expressive text so that they can be read more easily. These will come within the next few days, but first I occupied myself with continuing to fill out the score, creating more "tutti" moments as suggested by a couple of people in the class, and attempting to ensure all (or at least most) parts have more notes than rests. 

It was also suggested that I attempt to go too far in the chaos of my ending instead of stopping short of what could be something incredible for fear of over doing it. I didn't add in length to my current ending, but I'm still open to doing so. Instead I added more moving lines, dissonance, and instruments to the texture which I found to make it much more effective!

A couple of weeks ago it was suggested that I add an introduction to my piece to ramp up the energy and build anticipation before the explosive first theme. I used a few small ideas that are repeated in each voice building from the lowest voices of the band to the highest, taking us from a quiet and mysteriously low rumbling, to a barrage of dissonance. I'm not entirely satisfied with how it sounds, but the general idea works well for me. I will continue to tweak it over the next few days and see how it goes. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Home stretch

Well, somehow two weeks have passed since I last posted... and it only felt like a couple of days... oops! The last couple of weeks have certainly been busy as the semester draws to a close. Since my last post I've had a couple of opportunities to show my piece to the class to get some feedback. I have continued to fill out the piece, developing further on ideas and rethinking some ones that I had early on. One suggestion that keeps coming up pertains to a grace note figure that occurs quite frequently in the beginning and end sections. The complaint is that it occurs too frequently without change or development. I have since introduced some counter melodies and accompaniment figures that were based on the motive as well as adding some colour to the initial iterations of the motive through some re-orchestration and added harmonies/dissonances.

Another matter that was discussed was what I should title my piece. Currently it is still undecided, but it was suggested in class that it sounded like a "dogfight" (of the aerial variety), which I think is very accurate! So I am now in the process of choosing a title that would encourage this image. It was also suggested that I begin the piece with a measure or two of build so that the opening is less abrupt. I am planning to use this space to depict the engines starting up, or something along those lines.

Finally, I am still not happy with the way in which the piece ends. The class suggested that I reintroduce more of the chaos from earlier in the piece and have it build to an abrupt halt. I very much like this suggestion and am working on finding ways to achieve a chaos that out does what occurs in the opening without resorting to writing something that exceeds the technical limitations of the ensemble (which I have already pushed throughout the piece).

Only two more weeks remain until my submission is due! Its hard to believe the semester has flown by already! I hope to have the score finished within the next couple of days so that I can begin to edit. Ideally I will be editing parts by the next time I post, so stay tuned!

Monday, 9 March 2015

The Refinery

Today was my first chance to present to the composition seminar class in a month! Its hard to believe, but between midterm break and Kiwanis, a whole month has flown by in which my piece in progress has only been heard by myself and Dr. Ross. Needless to say, I was quite excited to finally have some feedback from the class on my concert band piece after all this time.

I now have the piece roughly finished and it is 5 minutes and 4 seconds in duration, just barely fitting the regulations. I've approached working on this piece in a sort of headlong charge to the finish to prevent myself from second guessing too much, seeing as I'm working so far out of my comfort zone... but now it is time to begin refining and expanding on the material that has already been written. Most of the comments I received today were suggestions on some ways I could go about doing that, as well as some things to take in consideration as I proceed.
As far as percussion is concerned, I have at this point only written parts where I saw them absolutely necessary to the development of the piece, and these parts were all battery percussion and timpani. I was given lots of great ideas for other percussion parts that I could use to fill out the texture, such as doubling flute lines in the glockenspiel in sections where they are somewhat buried, and using vibraphone in the quieter development section to help establish the mood.

The other big suggestion to help with my expansion came from Dr. Ross. He felt that throughout the piece there were a lot of great gestures, but that they were always cut short and rarely developed to their full potential. I can certainly see what he means by this, and I think developing some of these lines further will do a great deal to maintain interest and enrich the texture of the work.

Over all the class seemed to be enjoy what I had to offer today, which served both as a relief and as inspiration to keep at it. Hopefully by next week I will have the score filled out so that I can begin working on parts... but I did say that last week too, so I guess we'll see!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

March: the beginning of the end...

The month of March has arrived, meaning I have only a few weeks left to have my band piece ready for submission to the Terra Nova Band Competition.
I feel as though I'm in a good position right now, but there is still a lot to be done before the end of the month. My piece unfolded to loosely follow Sonata form and I have finished writing the exposition and development sections and am now working to finish the recap. I currently have 4 minutes of material that has been roughly orchestrated (some parts still need revisiting), and I think that upon the completion of the recap I will have at least 5 minutes, which is the desired minimum length to meet the competition's standards. I plan to have this done by the time my lesson on Thursday arrives so that Dr. Ross can give me suggestions on how the details of the orchestration and flow of the piece can be improved. I hope that by doing this I will have a completed work with more detail by the following week, leaving two weeks for part editing and refining.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015


The mid-term break provided some additional time for me to work on my compositional projects, of which only a couple are for this course. I spent a lot of the break working on the string quartet part for my piece for string quartet and electronics that I am writing as a final project for Mus 4104. I have been playing in string quartets for a long time, but writing for one is a very different experience, especially when the final product will ideally be seamlessly integrated with samples and signal processing. Most of my work so far has been on developing the harmonic tools that will be the basis of the work. I found it easier to work backwards for this piece, first composing the end (for which  I had a clear programmatic concept), and then using those sonorities to aid in my development of the preceding material.

I also took some time to clean up and submit "Brutus" for grading. Having left the score for a couple of weeks after a month or so of working on it, I found it much easier to make some definitive adjustments that brought it to a more polished and presentable state. For instance, the length of silences in the opening of the piece had been the topic of much discussion and questioning in class and I wasn't fully satisfied with any of the directions I had given, but when I approached it again after a break, I knew exactly how long I wanted them and how to best notate it.

As for my concert band piece, I continued to work away at developing the middle section of the work, as well as making some mild orchestrational adjustments to what I had written already. I am looking forward to receiving more comments in the coming week, as the response I received when I last presented was very encouraging! Hopefully within the next couple of weeks I will have the piece written from start to finish and I can begin to work out the finer details.

Monday, 9 February 2015


Since my last post, not only did I have the opportunity to present my short score for band to the class, but we were also visited by a delegation from the Gower Community band, for which my piece is intended. They led a very informative class on what to keep in mind when writing for a band of their level, and things to consider if you want your work to be played by an average high school band. 
The next class I presented what I had so far of my piece. Most of the feedback was concerning things that had been mentioned in our class with the people from Gower band. There were a couple of runs and rhythms that looked a bit too complex, but I plan to orchestrate them in a way that will make it as easy as possible for the band to execute. I had expected more comments on my content, but the general consensus seemed to be that what I had so far was ample material to begin orchestrating with, so over this past week I got to work bringing the short score into its full form.
I found this extremely challenging for a variety of reasons. The first, and most trivial, being the teeny tiny size of my laptop screen and its inability to show hardly any of the score at one time. Switching back and forth between the piano reduction and the full score didn't help with the already cluttered space either. I need to devise a more intelligent strategy for my work flow. 
My second, and probably most significant challenge: transposition. While I had played in a concert band for 6 years, two of those were on French Horn, and the rest were in the percussion section. I have a very very limited understanding of wind instruments, their capabilities, and most of all their ranges/transpositions. This is especially frustrating when working from a short score that is in concert pitch. The process was slow going at first, but by the third hour I finally began to remember which instruments did what, somewhat. 
My final frustration with writing for this medium is the specificity of each instrument. This is something that I hope to learn to use to my advantage, but at the moment it feels like the band is just begging me to write a generic band piece. I'm beginning to understand why so much of the repertoire sounds so similar. But this is a challenge that I accepted in choosing to write for band, so I will put my head down and push on.

Although the process is slow going and quite trying on my patience, I'm glad I decided to do it. In the very least it will be a great learning experience!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

... and band

I presented the same piece this week as I had the last two weeks, "Brutus" for cello and piano. I felt as though it was near completion, and the class agreed. Most of the comments that I received were in regards to some final polishing that would be needed before showing the piece to a performer, such as spacing of glissandi, placement of dynamics, and consistent use of articulations. There were some specific notes in measure 70 that were suggested as an alternative for one of the chords that I was using, and I very much liked them, so I will change them to the suggested ones!
Another helpful suggestion was to do a structural analysis of the work to see if I unknowingly followed any formal structures that I could then use in my favour to make the piece flow better. This was suggested in part due to an issue that has still yet to be resolved pertaining to the abrupt loss of energy towards the end of the piece. The middle, development section flows nicely, but the beginning and end seem somewhat disjunct.

I chose to not address these comments right away, but to let the piece sit for a bit as I had been plugging away at it for three weeks consistently. This week I began to sketch out a short score for a wind band composition. I wasn't initially interested in composing for band, but after discussing it with Dr. Ross it seemed like the perfect challenge to get me out of my comfort zone. The piece will be submitted to the Gower community band competition in April, so I got started right away to make sure I had lots of time to deal with this unfamiliar venture. Since the band is an amateur ensemble it requires me to write something playable, and enjoyable, that is still me and not just another band piece. This is everything I don't know how to do, and for a whole band of instruments I don't know how to write for... so I guess we'll see how it goes. I am presenting the first few systems of material to the class tomorrow, so I'm hoping I'll get lots of feedback that will set me on the right path.