Piece #8: Sonata 2 for Viola, Marimba, Piano

This is a fun little ditty!

Evelyn Glennie pioneered solo percussion playing in the Western World, especially the marimba

Another stab at the traditional Sonata Form, this piece is for a trio of performers: viola, marimba and piano. To my thinking, there is not enough marimba included in the standard instrumentation these days, (click it to tweet it) yet like the saxophone or bass clarinet, it has a great many experts and has become a common option thanks to folk like Evelyn Glennie.

Sonata Form Structure

This piece is based on Psalm 102 and although it does not follow a similar structure (the focus of this piece was the structure called “Sonata Form“) I did use the content of the psalm to influence the music.

For example, there seem to be two primary themes running throughout the psalm:

  • “Is” and “Is not”
  • “Meaning” and “Meaninglessness”
  • “Metaphor” and “Cause”
  • “Tangible” (skin, bones, heart) and “Fleeting” (shadows, smoke)

These contrasting ideas helped me create the main and secondary themes: A bustling, fun, busy, strong, emphatic, semi-tangible tune followed by a melody that seems to be a little hidden, unsure, and somewhat unsettling.

Sonata Form Development

Both themes of the sonata repeat in order to establish them in the your mind, and then the development takes off using both themes as the material. However, towards the end there appears to be the appearance of a third more melancholic theme, but in fact it is just a slight variation of part of one of the main themes… can you tell which one?


Click here to get your copy of the score and parts (free for one week only!)

Please share this post, especially with any string players, pianists and percussionists you know – it’s an exciting combination, not too difficult to prepare, and will serve as a very appealing addition to someone’s recital. Thanks.

Piece #5: Rescue Me! for choir

USFchoirThe fifth piece in my composition quest was quite an adventure. Definitely surprising.

Rescue Me, Recover Me” is based on Psalm 130, and the title stems from the term “redeem” which this psalm seems to be all about. It has a simple ABAB structure, so knowing that I wanted to write a choral work I began playing with the translated poem (I don’t read Hebraic) and converting the meaningful words into my own poem with rhyme and meter.

Wonderful!

Except that it looked a lot like the verses and chorus of a song.

Never mind. Onwards.

Well, the piece began and I created a simple progression of chords. I had intended the style to be along the lines of a nice scrunchy choral work similar to those of the contemporary American School such as Eric Whitacre and Randall Thompson, so I spent a lot of time studying 9th & 13th chords which made their way into the third verse and chorus.

As the piece developed, a vocal soloist took the opening verse and by the time I was done, I had written a verse-chorus song for vocalist, 3-part choir (soprano, alto and baritone), piano and bass. In addition, the verses and each time the chorus appeared the harmonies were slightly expanded and therefore the melodies slightly altered, too.

So much for my traditional English Choral work!

I don’t have a choir living in my basement, so the audio recording is actually a computer generated “AH” that represents the vocal parts. Of course, if you happen to have access to a choir and a digital recorder, please feel free to have a go and send me the results!

Have a listen here to get the gist of the piece:

[ca_audio url_mp3=”https://www.stephenpbrown.com/audio/130_RescueMeRecoverMe.mp3″ url_ogg=”” skin=”regular” align=”none”]

Click here to get your copy of the score and lead sheet.

Please pass this blog post around so that others can access the music this week – not only might they enjoy the music, but they may be able to get a choir to record it, too. Thank you. You can use the social media buttons below, or just copy and paste the link above. Emails work just as well.

Add a comment below letting me know what you think of this piece – it will help me determine whether or not to stick with the verse-chorus format or have a go at the more traditional style.

How I compose: Step 1

dna structure musical composition stephen p brown spb

The structure of DNA forms the foundation of physical life. Music also needs a structural foundation.

I am now working on the 6th piece in my composition quest. This is not the first time I’ve composed music but in the past I have approached pieces from a variety of angles: systematically using someone else’s process, systematically using someone else’s process that I adapted slightly, systematically using a process I developed myself (which begs the real question: is there anything brand new, or is everything an adaptation of what we’ve already experienced?) and there were even pieces that I approached system- and process-free; meaning, I just sat and wrote something.

However, in order to accomplish my current task it makes sense to stick with a systematic approach, and each of the 6 pieces that exist in this project so far have been put together starting with its “source structure.”

Step 1: Structure.

You may be aware by now that for a variety of reasons I chose the poems in the Book of Psalms as my inspiration to compose music that will improve my skills. (“Psalm” in English means “Song” so think of the Book of Psalms as an anthology of song lyrics! However, when translating into English most Bibles rightfully focus on the content and meaning of the text and ignore the temptation to maintain any of the original Hebraic meter or rhyme.)

So, I look at my listed of psalms sorted by type and calculated for even distribution, and read the next psalm on the list. For piece #6 it is psalm #144. After a couple of readings I usually sort of get what its about, but to make sure I also read an old narrative text by R.E.O. White (A Christian Handbook to the Psalms) that summarizes the poem and puts it into context alongside other psalms and stories in the Bible.

Next, I carefully look at the overview and detailed analysis as prepared by Longman and Garland in their edition of  the revised (2008) “Expositor’s Bible Commentary” Volume 5, a massive and heavy volume that contains detailed topical, language, structural and historical contexts of every psalm – all 150.

So far I have used the Longman and Garland structural analysis as the foundation for the structure of my compositions. For piece #6 psalm #144 the structure has three main parts with poetic meter and rhyme (in the original Hebrew language) divided up as follows:

  • Section A (Hymn of Praise)
  • Section B (Human Need)
  • Section C (Prayer for God’s involvement)
  • Section A’ (Hymn of Praise)
  • Section B’ (Prayer for God’s involvement)
  • Section C’ (Prayer for Blessing on God’s people.)

Well, I like to keep things consistent only to make my life easier, so based on the section titles above I’m restructuring the structure to: A B C A C D. This will tell me to use the same theme/ melody/ style/ for both sections called “A – Hymn of Praise” and “C – Prayer for God’s Involvement.” Sometimes this is sufficient but these section titles don’t really tell me what the psalm is saying, so I keep a note of what the author is expressing, such as:

  • A – Bold praise
  • B – Fleetingness of life
  • C – Lead the battle
  • A – Promise of wild abandon praise (a new song will be composed!)
  • C – Re-request for deliverance
  • D – The peace and results of winning

And now I have the structure of my musical inspiration.

Next week: either composition #5 will be published (the piece that started out as a traditional choral work but didn’t end up that way) or I’ll share step 2 of how I compose… which would you prefer?

Next Piece: A Brass Mirror

According to the countdown clock on this page there are now LESS than seven years for me to complete the whole project (click here to find out what the project is all about). All is well, though – I seem to be on track. Already I’ve completed two compositions in this massively huge project, and here’s the latest one:

 

This piece is based on Psalm 143, which is one of the many Lament psalms (58 in all). It has a clear structure, thanks to Longman & Garland’s commentary, and that made constructing the piece very simple. It starts with an introduction, then to a conversational Prayer requesting righteous thinking and behavior (let’s call that Section A), followed by an actual hymn-like Lament (B) – a time when the author recognized his own mistakes and sinfulness. Then the psalmist petitions for help (a variation of Section B) and finally returns to another prayer for righteousness (a slight variation of Section A again). I then closed the piece with a shortened reprise of the introduction.

Conductor Composer Maestro Stephen P Brown composes a piece for brass trio based on psalm 143 with an ABBA structureSeveral times I toyed with the idea of writing in the style of a disco beat, purely based on the structure above (A, B, B, A) but decided against it 😉 Instead, the piece is traditionally harmonic with a few Russian romantic twists and turns, but nothing harmful and not quite Stravinskian or minimalist.

What I do find interesting is the instrumentation. I wanted to tackle the brass section of the orchestra as it’s something I’ve not done since college. My friend James Stretton shared some thoughts and advice, and I wrote the piece for brass trio: horn, trombone and tuba. I think it’s a wonderful combination and with the right players, instruments and tonal quality, will sound mellow yet weighty. Love it. Thanks, Jim!

I dedicated the piece to him, but also wanted to acknowledge those folk in my life who helped me understand the horn, trombone and tuba (whether they know it or not), so I listed their names in the score, too. Thank you, folks. Perhaps you had a bigger impact on me than I’ve let on to date.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this piece. If you’d like a copy of the score and parts, you can get it for free for one week only at the link below. Be sure to share this post around, especially if you have any brass players following/friending you!

https://www.stephenpbrown.com/compositions/a-brass-mirror/

 

Do you ‘wing it’?

Setting up a plan of action really does seem to work, wouldn’t you agree?

As the Psalm Setting Quest was formulating, for fun I figured out a way to determine in which order I would use the psalms to compose music to. A few columns, sorts and ranking formulas were added to a spreadsheet and “voilà!” an evenly mixed distribution of each psalm type. There’s actually one psalm type (Prophetic) that has just one psalm in it and I know this ranking system works when that psalm (#50) appears right in the middle of the list, as the 75th piece of music I will write.

An added benefit of using a spreadsheet to create the order, is that due dates could be easily scheduled, and even completion tracking could be setup to be very user-friendly (just check out the stats on the right →). If this all sounds computer-geeky-like to you, just remember that there’s some truth to the old cliché that “music and mathematics” go well together 😉

Well, the crux of it is that I started composing early, and have actually now finished my first piece.

It is Psalm 19.

I gathered several sources together to help me determine the content and perspective of each psalm, and according to a Wikipedia entry, the first few verses of this “Song of Praise”

present the heavenly bodies and their movement as a universal witness to the glory of God that is understood by people of every language. The language connects day and night as a continuous presentation. The words suggest energy, strength, joy, and light.

So I zeroed-in on that last sentence, and used it as the composition’s title: “Energy, Strength, Joy & Light.” I created four verses in this piece, one for each of those characteristics, and interjected a chorus using the meditative prayer in the last verse of the psalm. There are moments of ‘clumsiness’ particularly in the Strength verse and the chorus (a rising pattern on the vowel ‘o’ as in “of” – not an easy task to sing well!) which are hints at the psalm’s admittance of man’s presumptuousness when compared alongside God’s creations.

The instrumentation of this piece was determined with a very close outcome, by you. Click here to check out the poll results.

I started composing, wary of contrary motion, harmonic sequencing and melodic interest for all the performers. Below is the computer-generated audio (never an attractive proposition, especially when it comes to representing human voices), and I am making the sheet music available for free for one week only – go and print it now and give it to someone!

“Energy, Strength, Joy & Light”

[ca_audio url=”https://www.stephenpbrown.com/audio/019_EnergyStrengthJoyLight_DEMO.mp3″ width=”500″ height=”27″ css_class=”codeart-google-mp3-player” autoplay=”false”]

Having a plan in place, complete with 7 years’ worth of due dates, has created a great foundation for this massive project. Even though I am now ahead of schedule (I wasn’t even planning to start writing until my birthday this year, but couldn’t wait) there is some sort of sense of accomplishment in checking off a task.

Do you use project plans for your hobby or craft? Or do you just ‘wing it’ and see where it takes you? Let me know in the comments below.

Fire the musicians!

RLPO Courtesy of ClassicFM.com

Yet another terrific #OrchChat last week! Thank you to all who participated in the lively discussion.

For one hour several people from around the world gradually joined in as schedules permitted, and there was much intense and passionate discussion among the group. Based on feedback, we kept the format to three topics and as usual, they bled into and over each other. It was actually fun (no, really) keeping up.

The topics we explored were:

  1. Free Flashmobs. Although a great marketing tool, when orchestras perform for free do they devalue what they do?
  2. Liven it up! How do we overcome performer’s lethargism due to the repetitive nature of the job? Fascinating responses, including “Fire them!” (unfortunately it was a very well known critic who has since closed his Twitter account 🙁 ) as well as changing the shape of the concert hall (or getting rid of the “stage” altogether!)
  3. Who’s in charge? Again, opposing viewpoints on who calls the shots – the money (i.e. the Board) or the Artistic Director? (Almost no-one supported the CEO or other administrator.)

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

Some stats for the hashtag #OrchChat (some people keep forgetting to add it to their tweets – sorry!):

Click this link to read the transcript:

orchchat_tweets_2013_03_12

THANK YOU to the following participants who I hope will join you and me next time on Tuesday, April 9 at 6pm Eastern Time:

AudienceDevSpec
CStarek
CatchMaullaria
AzuriteEnigma
LaceyH
pscanling
RichardBratby
BrianKUSC
CarmenBound

A most valuable resource

I wanted to share with you one of my most valuable resources for the past seven years. I’m pretty sure most people have heard of Vistaprint, but maybe you don’t know what they offer.

First, a disclaimer: although Vistaprint has an affiliate program I am not a member – they require a banner ad and only pay commission from that banner. I get no commission from Vistaprint nor do I get any discounts or special offers for referring them. This is simply a valuable resource that you may one day be grateful for!

Now that’s out of the way, down to business:

Vistaprint offer lots of services but their primary core function is a simple printing firm. They constantly give away 250 free business cards, or you can design your own stationary and marketing materials. If you’ve ever been to one of my concerts, you’ve seen posters, programs, vouchers, cards, pens, and even the occasional t-shirt, all from vistaprint.

Once you buy something, they’ll try to reign you in by offering extra stuff after checking out. Sometimes it’s worth it but you must pay attention.

The really cool thing about Vistaprint are their promotional emails. The more you buy, the bigger discounts you get. If you can, wait until they make an offer of ‘free’ stuff or ‘100% discount’. Then buy and pay just for shipping. Sometimes I’ll double up so effecitvely that’s two for the price of one, etc.

So, there it is. There are plenty of other printers out there vying for your dollars including overnightprints.com, uprinting.com and of course, Staples and Office Depot. But seeing that seven years’ worth of designs and materials are all stored for free at Vistaprint, I’m gonna stick with them. Try them out!

What creative uses can you think of for a business card sized piece of paper? Tell me in the comments below.