Composing A: Foundation

Sometimes it starts with a title. Sometimes a melody. It could be based on a chord progression. But at the heart of any piece of music I write, there is structure.

This is an exploration of the way I compose. You may think it intriguing, fascinating, incorrect, backwards, exemplary, but none of that matters to be honest. Authors write novels in different ways, and composers are no different. I can’t even say this is my ‘method’. What I can say, is that in this highly productive era of musical output in my life, this is how I’m composing right now. Let’s explore the organic growth of a new piece of music, as it’s being written.

It’s a risk! There are extremely productive weeks, and weeks where other things in life get priority. So, either I’m taking a risk and hoping I’ll have enough material to share with you, or I’m setting myself an unconscious goal of having made sufficient progress on the piece that there’s something worth writing about.

Tweetable:
Project blogging risk: has sufficient progress been made to have something worth blogging about? via @Stephen_P_Brown

Today, we launch the new. A brand new piece of music. Let’s take this creative journey together:

This time, I’m actually starting with the instrumentation. It’s very easy in this case because it is already defined. I am writing for the Patel Conservatory Composer’s Orchestra – one of the ensembles in the Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra program. Why does that make it easy? I already know two things:

  1. What instruments to include in the composition, and
  2. The skill level of each of the players.

When left to my own devices (i.e. not having any specific players in mind), my mind often wanders into the realm of “is it even possible to play like this?” as I’m composing. Not good! So, knowing who the performers are and what they are capable of playing is a huge benefit.

Our new piece is being written for the following instruments:

  • Flutes (2)
  • Oboe
  • Clarinet
  • Bassoon
  • French Horn
  • Bass Trombone
  • Violins (3)
  • Viola
  • Cello
  • Bass (Double Bass/ Contrabass)

That’s it! That’s my first step. In my incredibly useful composing software, Sibelius, I’m going to create a score for just these instruments.

Oh! Here it is! (Click on it to see a larger version)

Score of Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown's new piece

The creation of this music begins with a blank score!

 

What you may notice is some generic stuff I haven’t decided upon yet – like, the title. The time signature is also 4/4, which means four crotchet (quarter note) beats grouped together in each bar, but I might change my mind about that. There’s also no tempo (speed) marking in the top left corner, and no key signature which determines which common group of notes to include (for example – the piano’s white note “B” or the black note next to it “Bb”)

That’ll come next week…

 

Too adventurous for our own good?

There was recently an unscientific poll taken amongst office workers in the USA. Whilst a myriad of issues, concerns, quirks and considerations could be used to undermine the results, I’m not really caring. Instead, I’m choosing to see that classical music not only made it onto the list, but is way, way up there in third place.

 

My favorite relaxation technique is…

  • Walking or jogging – 47%
  • Meditating or deep breathing – 19%
  • Gardening – 12%
  • Doing yoga – 6%
  • Listening to classical music – 15%

Total votes: 1147

Apart from the momentary joy, doesn’t this bear thinking about?

We have lots of Garden Centers and garden sections of superstores, and many small yoga clubs and sports stores that sell yoga equipment (& CDs). Some of the superstores even have music/ entertainment sections. So I wonder why the range of classical music CDs is shrinking so much? According to this survey, we should be seeing more concerts and more options available for purchase! One of the problems (in my humble opinion) is that the classical music recordings available all seem to be the same.

Not to the trained ear, perhaps, but to the vast majority of people who might enjoy classical music, they only need one CD of Beethoven or Mozart, yet the industry DROWNS us with the same material over and over. Not sure there are many other genres that do that… perhaps Opera. One young professional was recently asked why they didn’t attend classical music concerts, to which his reply was “they’re all the same. There’s nothing new I like.”

Woah!

The first family car I remember – a Ford Cortina (UK)

This thought is worth sharing. Click the sentence below to Tweet it, or copy and paste
There are two types of new classical music: that the ticket buyers like and that they don’t. Balance is important! via @Stephen_P_Brown

And ‘new’ doesn’t necessarily have to mean unpalatable Stockhausen or Birtwhistle (warning: link to audio dissonance), either. Think about it: Pop music primarily uses the same chord sequences over and over and over, yet there is still a ton of new music being produced on a daily basis, both by the commercial heavyweights (labels) as well as grass roots. To some of my non-Western friends who don’t get to hear much music at all, they thought Gaga could have been a breakaway soloist from Abba (warning: link to endless audio pleasure). Nice! Lyrics may change, but stories & topics don’t much. Tunes may alter slightly, but the beat and chord patterns don’t much.

So why does the classical music industry not encourage more ‘palatable’ new works, even if they sound similar to previous compositions? Even the experimental, advanced, high-tech, forward-thinking, slightly differing Formula 1 race cars still have four wheels, a couple of mirrors and the need for speed, just like my dad’s old family Ford Cortina of the 1970s.

I’m gonna change that… I’m going to join the rest of the composers who feel no shame in writing music that is ‘likable’ and ‘listenable’ and see what happens – see who attends my concerts and buys my CDs (when I get to make one). Hey, if one of my pieces can attract some 23,000 YouTube views………..!