#PsalmQuest 10 – Mirror 2 for solo harp

Writing this piece of music was probably one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve ever done. Perhaps that’s why it turned out to be a good one.

The harp can be a daunting instrument: it is large yet delicate, piano-like but not a piano, strings plucked with four fingers per hand not hammers hit by five fingers.

However, the learning process about harp technique was made considerably easier by Jacqueline Pollauf, who has kindly posted a list of guidelines online.

Anna Kate Mackle, Florida Orchestra

Anna Kate Mackle, Principal Harpist of the Florida Orchestra

But I must admit, I also cheated a little – I asked Anna Kate Mackle, Principal Harpist of the Florida Orchestra, for some input. Back in the mid 80s, Anna Kate and I were both in the New Jersey Youth Symphony and also attended the same summer camp in North Carolina, the Eastern Music Festival. It was such a terrific six weeks of intense music activity that we hardly saw each other, and when I moved back to the UK a few years later we lost touch until I moved to Tampa Bay some 20 years later. (EMF was so good, Anna Kate now teaches there every Summer).

Anyway, Anna Kate enthusiastically shared her perspective on a couple of corners during the creation of Mirror 2 and so I couldn’t resist but dedicate the piece to both her and Jacqueline. I do hope they’ll both find occasions to play the piece at some point (Maybe during next year’s Festival of Psalms).

Perhaps another reason this piece turned out so well is that I have a kind of fondness for the harp. Whilst in college in London I dated a harpist and spent a lot of time carrying and transporting her harp all over London and Kent. She attended the Royal College of Music and I attended Trinity College of Music, but we didn’t let that rivalry get in the way as we were both members of the Kent County Youth Orchestra (upper age limit 21), and my mom & her dad worked together at Kent Music School!

(Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure being a percussionist very used to carting about large and heavy instruments came in pretty handy during that relationship!)

Stephen P Brown has a history with the harpAnyway, in the past month or so I’ve learned a great deal more about the harp than I already knew (such as multiple note harmonics per hand) and tackled this composition with a different kind of energy. As one independent industry reviewer commented, the piece is “beautifully haunting.”

Mirror 2 is based on psalm 38 which is structured in 5 sections, namely A, B, C, then B again and finally A again. To me, that’s a mirror image. I don’t know if there’s a formal musical structure out there that imitates a mirror, but I’m not bothered about that – I’m calling it a Mirror in the same way that many pieces are called Sonata or Rondo based on the music’s structure.

By now you know that my compositions, although currently rooted in a more traditional Russian Romantic idiom, are far from normal. Typically we associate the harp with angels, prettiness, light cotton candy, beautiful sweeps and whooshes, and happy weddings.

So this piece is dark, low, deeply emotional and far from angelic! Each of the five sections of Psalm 38 are about Prayer or Pain. See Longman & Garland’s commentary for more details.

Use the Reverbnation player below to listen to the piece (it starts quietly) and then see if you agree with George’s assessment below. Let me know in the comments what you think.

I’m giving the sheet music for this piece away for free for an entire week, so if you know any harp players, be sure to send them this post using the share buttons below so they can download it and try it out. Both you and I would love to know what they think of it, right?!

Listen here:

Click here to get your copy of the sheet music.

So, do you agree with George?

George Algozzina likes Mirror 2 by Stephen P Brown

George Algozzina is, amongst other things, a tenor in the Clearwater Chorus

“My life has been truly affected and enriched this morning when listening to Stephen’s new song, ‘Mirror 2.’ It was wonderful to awaken and experience an entire day’s worth of feelings and emotions in just a few minutes through a truly amazing and beautiful musical composition. I do not know the emotional reaches or spiritual intentions Stephen has for his piece, but it took me from an ominous (almost hopeless) place…to one of acceptance…and then to one of self-awakening and the chance of peace, tranquility, and hopefulness. Thank you, Stephen, for making a difference in this moment and in my life!”

– George Algozzina

 

Add your own thoughts below…

 

New psalm composition #6: Warrior Peace

Well, this was an unexpected mammoth!

(If you are not aware of my current composition quest, click here to read the introduction.)

I knew that composing for larger ensembles would take time, and was sort of risking things a little when I decided to write for a larger-than-normal ensemble but I didn’t plan for this piece to take a full month. Think of a chamber orchestra that plays Mozart and Haydn symphonies. Then take away all the string players. That’s what this composition is for! It’s not a standard combination of instruments, so I decided to call it a “Chamber Orchestra Non-Strings” ensemble. Says what it is, right?!

Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown completes composition #6 in his 7 year questThe actual difficulties were not the size of the ensemble, or the tone colours I was exploring. It was not even hard to distribute voices or create strong or interesting textures. Actually, the hardest part was the harmony – the chord progression.

It seems like I would have had as much trouble with this composition if it was for solo cello as for a large ensemble.

This piece is based on Psalm 144. It’s structure (as explained previously) is in six sections with two of them repeated: A B C, A C D. In summary, the story starts out with “bold praise” followed by a reflection on how fleeting life is in the scheme of things. Then there’s a request that God lead the battle and if the pray-er’s side prevails, then the author will sing another song of [bold] praise. Finally, the nerves settle in as there’s another prayerful request that God get involved but the author begins to dream about future possibilities, especially the peaceful joy of living that soothes the people after a warrior (in this case, God) has won a victory.

Stephen P Brown Composition Warrior Peace

Psalm 144 reflects on the peace that follows a warrior’s victory in battle.

I started writing (I’ll explain what that means in my next “How I compose” post) but didn’t like it, so deleted it and started again. And again. And again. Six iterations of section A before I got into a groove. Section B, the fleetingness of life, is hardly fleeting but was very satisfying to write and contains some of my favourite parts of this composition. Section C was fun and as a timpanist, I could not resist basing it on a drum-based warrior-like call-to-arms song (even though the word “drum” does not appear anywhere in the entire Bible! Check out opposing responses to that here and here.)

Section A repeats, then Section C repeats.

The last section, D, also went through several iterations before it eventually settled as a chorale. Chorales are a form of four-part harmony that Bach used a great deal to explore (define and break) some basic rules of composition, including harmony and voice-leading (making each part tuneful, singable, and likable). Most composition students study and experiment using the chorale form but it can also be a beautiful entity unto itself. So the last section begins with solo flute, moves into the chorale proper, and ends with a joyful upbeat melody (that reminds me of the March at the maze scene in Harry Potter IV:)

Anyway, I like this composition. It passed the ‘run-through’ test (forcing my wife to sit through it and give feedback) and so here it is for your listening pleasure:

Click here to get your copy of the score and parts (and give a copy to your local orchestra if you’d like to hear it live!)

Please let me know in the comments below what you think – your feedback is important, helpful, and usually quite fun to read. Thank you!

Nostalgic Chatty Conductors in Beautiful Penguin Suits

Can you believe it’s already been a month since the last chat about orchestras on Twitter? It was another FABULOUS discussion amongst some passionate orchestra enthusiasts, and we’re on a role with three under our belt.

twitter#OrchChat was scheduled for one hour and this time people from around the world were prepped and keen to get started. I’m thrilled so many people participated and the conversations got so meaty we even added an additional topic! One piece of feedback was along the lines of having only one topic per chat. It’s certainly a good idea, but my thought is that these monthly Twitter chats should prompt and promote further discussion all over the web-o-sphere – certainly lasting longer than an hour. What do you think? Would it be better to have one topic per chat, or three?

The topics we explored were:

  1. Keep the penguin suits? Should orchestras still be wearing white-tie and tails to perform in. MOST interesting feedback!
  2. Nostalgia: Are performers and audiences stuck with music they like from 100, 200, 300 years ago?
    2a. This actually prompted a new topic: Should conductors talk from the stage? Wow – opposite answers from performers and audiences!
  3. Beauty: What makes music beautiful? A tough one as music is totally subjective, but there were a few responses. Actually, the previous three topics were still dominating the chat well past the closing hour.

What are your thoughts about these topics, and what topics would you like to discuss? Add your comments below this post.

Some stats:

Click this link to read the transcript:

orchchat_tweets_2013_02_12

THANK YOU to the following participants who I hope will join you and me next time on Tuesday, March 12 at 6pm Eastern Time:

afllewellyn
arts_marketing
AudienceDevSpec
AzuriteEnigma
classicpassion
danielyep
DustinNay
ElinSilveous
fdtorres
gilypoz7
londonsymphony
MaestrosLover
playinglesshurt
pmkotla
PracticalWisdom
RichardBratby
ThePeoplesOrch

Hot Topics for Orchestras

(Percussionists: Get “Six by Six” for only $6 or £6 just this weekend, during the McCormick Marimba Festival!)

HotTopics

The orchestra world (particularly in the USA) is currently rife with intrigue, politics, passionate zealots and somewhere in the midst… great music.

Over the past few weeks there have been some interesting observations touching on the borders of three particular topics, and not being one for averting the unpopular or difficult, I shall name them right here, right now:

  1. Keep the penguins?
  2. Nostalgia.
  3. What makes music beautiful?

There we have it. I’m serious. OK, so the titles themselves may not ring any bells with you, but let me explain:

Penguins. As in, penguin suits. As in, those black and white suits with flapping tails that are still so prevalent in concert halls. Should we keep them, or should we dump them, or do audiences really not care? I’d like to know what YOU think.

Nostalgia. Is the orchestra world stuck in a realm of pandering to people’s comfort in the past, or is it genuine interest and emotionally thrilling to enjoy music that is 100, 200 or 300 years old?

Beautiful music? Indeed. Some dear friends tried to help me with this one last week (read the post and comments here) but I thought I’d widen the pool of input.

So, these are the current Hot Topics for Orchestras that are in my world right now, and I’d love to hear what you have to say. Either comment below (nicely, please) or join me and about 15 others for a chat on Twitter. Yes, we’re going to attempt to tackle all three Hot Topics in just one hour on Tuesday night at 6pm Eastern Time.

Mark your calendar, sit down early with a bite to eat (dessert for many, breakfast for some!) and let’s hash it out.

#OrchChat – Tuesday, February 12 at 6pm Eastern Time, on Twitter.

http://tweetchat.com/room/OrchChat

P.S. Keep your eye open for an amazing new website being launched in March. It’s incredible. Especially if you live near or plan to visit Tampa Bay.

How is ‘beautiful’ music defined?

This past week my wife asked me to compose something beautiful, preferably for the cello (as that’s her favourite instrument).

I said “What do you mean?”

“Not ‘intelligent’ or clever or busy, just something… beautiful.”

“Meaning what, exactly?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Like, a song that’s nice.”

“Oh, OK!” I said. “I’m right on it!”

 

Er… can you help me?!

 

What do you think she means? Am I displaying an incredible amount of utter ignorance here? I thought some of my choral music is particularly beautiful (especially “Lucy’s Song” using a text by Charles Dickens), and if you’ve heard “A Mother’s Lament” I’m sure you’ll agree that can be classified as ‘beautiful’ too.

But “beautiful music” seems to be a completely subjective matter (click it to tweet it!)

And apparently, what I’ve composed to date is not enough. I have a challenge here, folks, and I have an inkling as to the kind of thing I should be doing, but what are your thoughts? What makes a piece of music “BEAUTIFUL?” What are the characteristics, styles, intentions, moods, etc.? Help me write this piece by leaving a reply below, and I will most certainly dedicate the piece to you! Seriously.

Here’s an example of a cello piece that I think is beautiful. What do you think makes it so?

 

What makes this music “beautiful?”

I’m sure there are specific characteristics that make music ‘beautiful’ but what are they?

Nick Scott believes it is all to do with pacing. What does that mean?

One response on his post suggest “anything that comes from the heart” and I would add “as opposed to the head.” But again, what does that mean? How does a composer determine what someone else would find beautiful?

In response to a post on the Musica Sacra forum, bjerabek suggests the Golden Ratio is at play in anything beautiful. I can see that. I looked into the Golden Ratio during my sojourn at Cleveland State University some ten years ago, but how sad if that were that’s required to make beautiful music – doesn’t that make it “intelligent” or “clever” music?

Just a simple Google search for the most beautiful music in the world doesn’t really help, nor does Classic FM‘s overuse of the adjective.

So I’m wondering, what music do YOU find beautiful? And more importantly, WHY?

Another Absolutely Best Of!

I’m working on some project documents and listening to Classic FM’s David Mellor (ex-Member of Parliament and even Cabinet member) enthusiastically share his top 20 classical music recordings of 2012 – both new and re-released. Sometimes it’s quite fascinating, especially Max Richter’s rewriting of Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons violin concertos, two very different versions of Rachmaninoff’s beautiful Symphony No.2 even though the different albums won in different categories, and even Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It” by Alexandre Tharaud. Yes, I’m just as confused as you. (Amazon affiliate links)

Top Ten List EVER?!Well, I’ve never been much of a fan of “Top” or “Best of” lists, even though it is clearly a marketing gem and seems to engage a great many people. (The fact that such programs can be prepared in advance so they can be aired during the holidays with no-one actually present at the radio or TV station isn’t lost on me.)

So, whilst wondering what gives David Mellor the right to pick and choose classical music recordings, and whether or not he’s just presenting someone else’s research/ compiled list (such as EMI, Sony, Virgin Classics, or any of Global Radio‘s other regular bed partners), I wondered what other lists are out there this year. I typed “Best of classical music 2012” into the centrally focused white box on the Google homepage which took a moment (0.44 seconds, to be a little more pedantic) to produce the results below.

And there we have it! These must truly be the absolute best of the best of classical music for 2012. Make of them what you will, and take particular note of the handful of references to live music (such as concerts). In fact, the exact opposite occurred – included in this “Best of” list are notable deaths! Can you and I change that? I think so. Maybe next year we can come up with our own “Best of 2013’s Classical Music” and make them ALL concerts!

My (or, in fact, Google’s) “Best of ‘Best of Classical Music 2012:'”

  1. 54th Annual Grammy Awards Nominees for Classical Music (2012)
  2. The Best Classical Music Recordings of 2012 – NYTimes.com
  3. The best classical music of 2012 | Music | The Guardian
  4. Amazon Hot New Releases: best Classical Music
  5. Classical Music and Opera: The Best of 2012
  6. 2012 in review: Notable deaths in classical music and dance
  7. Remembering the best classical music of 2012 – Times Union
  8. The Best in North Texas Classical Music in 2012 | FrontRow
  9. The Orchestra: The best classical music iPad app
  10. Best of 2012: Classical music | Mark Swed – latimes.com
  11. The Best and Worst of Classical Music in 2012 – WQXR
  12. best classical music songs
  13. best sad classical music
  14. best classical music for studying
  15. best classical guitar music

Do you agree with any of these? Put your own “Best of classical music 2012” list in the comments below. Even one entry will help us focus our efforts!

Really – what music or performer do you think we should look out for in 2013?

.

Feedback for Tapestry Tampa Bay

Watch the whole video below…

Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown presented his brand new composition “Tapestry Tampa Bay” to a new audience in Safety Harbor, Florida, on March 23 2012. Feedback has been amazing and very positive, with requests to orchestrate some of the movements as well as over 5,000 views of the concert video.

Check out why…

“Brilliant composition. Those of you that missed this concert, you missed out on a great night of beautiful and entertaining music.” -Barbara

“Tapestry Tampa Bay” simply amazing.” -Hamby

“Absolutely inspiring.” -Bill

“I’ll be Back for More!” -Mary

“Excellent. Can’t wait for the CD.” -Carlos

“Stephen is fearless in a new adventure, ready for a new challenge with a quiet confidence.” -Dale

“I love the stories, and then the music plays them out.” -Vanessa

“Totally refreshing and enjoyable. Please do it again.” -Ron

“What a wonderful surprise. I hope a tour comes out of this.” -Jill

Check out the video of Tapestry Tampa Bay on YouTube, and remember to LIKE it! (Give it a thumbs up). Also add your comments, similar to those above, to the video site:

Remember: Stephen is on a mission to RECONNECT hard-working, leisure-seeking people with that inexplicable element of music that affects us with laughter, crying and goose bumps. You can help by sharing this post on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even your own blog! Thank you.
.