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.

Why the next 20 years of classical music will smash the last 20

OPINION. That’s all this is. Totally unmerited, unfounded, unresearched, unverified 🙂

I’m in the UK right now, where I spent my childhood and early professional career. My teens and current professional career were/are in the USA. My college life was mostly spent up & down the UK, throughout East & West Europe, and later a sojourn in a couple of countries in the Southern parts of Africa. Next stop? Ah well, wouldn’t you like to know!

Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown grew up and lived in both the USA and the UKBut as I’m sitting here for a few moments, pondering the extraordinary life I’ve lived split primarily between two continents, cultures and languages (yes, I’m bilingual: I speak English and American), I find it remarkable how much our environment has changed but our enterprise has not. For example, in the late 1980s I predicted that orchestras would start dying out in 20 years or so if they didn’t radically change, and I was correct.

So what about 20 years from now? Hmmm…

“Keep classical music live!”

First, I still believe that acoustic/ unplugged performance affects us in so many more ways than anything reproduced through loudspeakers (click it to tweet it) if only we can be bothered to listen & allow ourselves to fully engage in it, and it cannot be replaced.

From that perspective, I wonder what was I doing 20 years ago that I’m still doing now? Am I doing it differently? How will I be doing it in the future?

Classical Music

  • “Classical music” was an art form studied by many, performed by a few, and enjoyed by a multitude.
  • No-one wants to call “Classical Music” Classical Music anymore. It has a stuffy reputation and technically only refers to the period in history in which Mozart and Haydn lived. We are confused.
  • “Contemporary Music” will be only a [major] part of intimate and huge all-encompassing events that remind us there’s a form of communication that isn’t verbal or visual, but emotional.

 

The Towaco Story by Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown

Composing

  • Manuscript paper could be bought or drawn, and music was created & shared by using a pencil, ruler and eraser/ rubber (see? I told you I’m bilingual).
  • Computer software is readily available, both audio-based used primarily for output such as films, and visual-based used primarily to print music for live performers to read.
  • Even without Steve Jobs around, composition technology will continue to grow and astound those of us born before 2009.

Music Theory

London Sinfonietta Postcard Score Event

The music score of “One for Vonnegut”

  • Musical rules and regulations developed over 400 years were studied and followed rigorously prior to being broken and expanded upon.
  • Sometimes musical rules and regulations are followed, sometimes not, sometimes they don’t even apply, especially in graphical scores.
  • People will like music that affects them, whether it is disturbing, pleasing or in-between, and the rules and regulations of multiple cultures’ musical traditions will be meshed together to create new musical theories.

Commercialization

  • Specific performers were adopted by a benefactor such as the aristocracy, a publisher or a record label, who paid the performer to perform or the composer to compose in order to entertain themselves & their staff, or make money.The Three Tenors became a commercial goldmine
  • Anyone can self-publish, self-record, and self-promote. Many consumers are getting fed up of hearing the same financially viable repertoire pumped into their ears time and time again.
  • Private enterprise will promote performers and composers through hosting or advertising at large live events and online, kind of like Pepsi and Verizon have been doing with (currently-commercialized) female pop stars. Consumers will favor living composers but still occasionally wallow in the music of Dead White Men.

Funding

  • As above, musicians struggled or were adopted by a benefactor. In the Olden Dayes of Classical Music, there was no public government funding.
  • Musicians still struggle, but many are supporting themselves handsomely through ‘entrepreneur-like’ activities such as teaching, producing (live & recording), publishing, retail, and performing all combined. Some governments still spend as much as 0.5% of their nonviable budgets on all the arts.
  • Musicians will still struggle and many will be a part of larger organizations and co-ops. But, administrators will support not direct, and Boards will over-see not make decisions. Public funding will still be a hot topic but far less influential.

 

One thing I can assure you about classical music in 20 years’ time: it will still be here. It is not dying. There will always be someone scraping a wooden violin, someone tooting down a metal tube, and someone banging on an array of so-called ‘instruments’ (aka Percussion). It may morph, shrink and grow, expand and minimalise itself to 1 note (or nothing, in the case of John Cage’s 4’33”), but it will still exist.

After all, the community and youth orchestra scenes are enjoying unprecedented success and are clearly still on the upswing (if not just reaching their height).

What YOU think “Classical Music” will be like in 20 years…

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How I compose 3 – Chords

Guitar chords

How to play a chord on a 6-string guitar

“A chord in music is any harmonic set of three or more notes that is heard as if sounding simultaneously.” (Wikipedia, accessed August 7, 2013)

To me, chords form the shell of a piece of music – the walls and roof of a house, so to speak. For me, this is the most difficult part of composing and always has been. Possibly because I’m a percussionist and therefore spent a lot of time focusing on rhythmic patterns and combinations rather than harmonic.

Harmony?

“Harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches (tones, notes), or chords. The study of harmony involves chords and their construction and chord progressions and the principles of connection that govern them. Harmony is often said to refer to the ‘vertical’ aspect of music, as distinguished from melodic line, or the ‘horizontal’ aspect.” (Good old Wikipedia again, accessed August 7, 2013)

Many composers, particularly song-writers such as Lady Gaga [despite her marketing style she really is a very good song-writer. My friend in NYC who knew her on the circuits before the fame will attest to that as well] start with a melody and work from there. I’ve done that sometimes, but as I know harmony is a weakness of mine I’m focusing on that first.

Chords are like a building's frame

Chords form the musical walls within the predetermined structure.

So, when composing a piece of music, I need to establish what the walls and roof are made of. This is the harmony, which is made up of chords. The content of the psalm or story always influences the harmony, particularly if the piece is to be in a minor key (sad-like) or a major key (happier than minor).

Outside my composition, administration, booked activity time, I’m studying various harmony books to build on what I learned many years ago. Over the past few years I revisited the ABRSM music theory guides (awesome material, by the way) and looked through many of my high school and college notes and texts, including Walter Piston‘s mammoth treatise. Now I’m fascinated by Tchaikovsky‘s guide and Rimsky-Korsakov‘s manual.

Next I’ll be delving into Schoenberg‘s “Fundamentals” and after that, will take a more serious approach to Walter Piston’s and dive into Persichetti‘s 20th Century Harmony. The plan is that by the end of Year 2 of this project I’ll have a pretty firm grasp on traditional harmony.

Enough context – how do I actually compose? Once I’ve got my ‘mood’ (happy or sad) I then consider the instrumentation. Some instruments are more sonorous in some keys rather than other. In addition, the keys themselves have characteristics, even colour (a form of synesthesia).

Once the key is established, I play around with various chord progressions: “Does chord I sound better after chord V (we use Roman Numerals a lot in Western music)? Or would chord II sound better? Hmm. But if I follow it with chord III, II doesn’t sound that great in this key. I’d better stick to chord I.”

“Unless I go to chord V again…”

This way I could end up with a pattern of chords that last 4, 8, 12, 16, 20 or any other number of ‘bars’ or ‘measures’. How do I know what a bar or measure is? That works in tandem with choosing the chords:

This is a medley/mixture of waltzes (3 beats) and marches (2 or 4 beats), as well as a rather talented trombonist @ 7mins

A happy dance might be grouped in 3 little beats (think of a waltz by Strauss) whereas a march would definitely be grouped in 4 steady beats. Sometimes the story is not that obvious and 4, 5 or even 2 beats grouped together sound better. At what speed? Again, depends on both the story and the chord progression.

I’m exhausted. You?! Next article in this series will demonstrate how I get a tune (or melody) out of the chord progression. To me, melodies are like a journey through the house, moving from room to room or dancing/ sitting in one spot.

Highest Chart Position Yet!

Well, I was going to write another “How I compose” post, but this topic topped the chart – literally.

Reverbnation is an online outlet for all unsigned/ independent musicians – any style, any genre, any age, any stage of life. There are currently 2.5m (that’s 2,500,000) performers active on Reverbnation promoting their wares, and guess what…

The Charts

Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown is #3 in the Reverbnation US Classical Music ChartI’m #1 in the Tampa Bay Classical Music Chart!

But,

I’m also #3 in the US Classical Music Chart!!!

AND

I’m #10 in the GLOBAL Classical Music Chart!!!!!!!!!!

Yes, that deserves 10 exclamation marks.

Because of YOU!

This is incredible news, and it’s all down to YOU. Thank you. Thank you for listening to my music, especially at the outset of this huge composition quest.

And if you want to see me get to #1 in the US, or even globally, please do use the social media buttons below to share this great news! Especially on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Reddit, SumbleUpon, Google+ and LinkedIn. Go on – be generous and SHARE THIS POST!

Or, click it to tweet it:
See latest #classicalmusic chart positions for unsigned independent musician @Stephen_P_Brown 

Thanks, again.

Lots more wonderful original music on its way…

Global chart position

By the way, if your read the chart table above, you’ll notice I’m #1421 globally in ALL GENRES – that means, every style of music. Out of all 2.5m musicians on Reverbnation, this classical musician is #1421! Cool, huh? (Just did a quick calculation: that puts me in the top 0.06% of all independent performers globally!)

You may also be interested to know who is the #1 independent Classical Musician in the US? Well, it’s Jarrod Radnich:

Do you think it might help if I arrange some movie music as opposed to compose original traditional classical? Hmm…

(Or is it the hair?)

Next Piece #7: Bagatelle for Violin

This was a surprise!

In my 7 year composition quest, piece #6 took a little over a month to write. This one took a day. Yes. One day!

Solo violin

It helped that the piece was being written for just one instrument alone, which is a complete contrast to Warrior Peace. Another contrast is the style: actually, I’m not too sure where this style came from but it is clearly a “contemporary” piece. I followed my usual system for composing music based on the psalms (Steps 1 & 2 I’ve already shared with you, and step 3 is coming soon) and after composing the closing melody, decided the piece was going to be too long for a “Bagatelle.”

Bagatelle for violin by Stephen P Brown

A non-musical “Bagatelle” is the pinball machine’s predecessor

I could change the title, or change the piece. The melody survived but the decision was made that the six sections before it would be shortened. Normally I write one chord per bar. In this piece, sometimes that happens but mostly it is one chord per note. And bearing in mind a solo violin often only plays one note at a time, the harmony progresses pretty rapidly!

Psalm 112

This composition is based on psalm 112, a wisdom psalm. It is short but has seven sections. In the end, though, the first and last sections in my piece were swapped – I’d rather begin with a curse and end with a blessing. So, here’s the structure:

  • A – Curse on the longings of the wicked
  • B – Blessings of righteousness
  • C – Blessings in adversity
  • B – Blessings of being gracious and compassionate
  • C – Blessings in adversity
  • B – Blessings in righteousness
  • A – Blessedness of those who delight in wisdom

One commentary (Longman and Garland) titled this psalm “The Triumph for Faith” and another (White) titled it “The Gain of Godliness.” Make of that what you will, but the piece is intentionally short and therefore I titled it “Bagatelle” – not after the board game, mind, but the musical form.

Listen

Listen to a computer rendition here (I’d much rather hear it live, and maybe we will next year):

Click here to get your copy of the score. Please share this post with violin players you know, and perhaps one of them will record it at home for us to post!

And please add your thoughts about this solo violin piece in the comments below (be sure to sign in to Disqus using Facebook, Twitter or your email). Do you like the style/ genre? Do you think it is short or long enough? Does it disturb you or make you think or calm you down? Do share your thoughts:

17 insane (but probably true) things about music

This is just a fun post. None of these facts have been verified, but I bet at least one of them will put a smile on your face! Have a great week 🙂

Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown - Conductor Arturo Toscanini

Toscanini’s radio programs started the silent orchestra concert revolution in the 1930s

1. There is a law in New Hampshire that prevents you from tapping your feet, nodding your head, or in any other way keep time to music whilst in a tavern (pub), restaurant or cafe.

2. In the 1930s, applause caused Toscanini’s radio concerts to be too long so the audience was asked to be quiet. Until then, classical music concerts were extremely rowdy with people standing, walking around, drinking & eating, and having complete conversations while the musicians performed.

3. No one knows where Mozart is buried.

4. Warner Communications paid $28 million for the copyright to the song Happy Birthday.

5. The Japanese national anthem is expressed in only four lines. The Greek anthem runs 158 verses.

6. In France, between the hours of 8AM and 8PM, 70% of music on the radio must be by French artists. (Maybe not so insane?)

7. James Brown had 99 “Hot 100” Billboard entries, yet never had a number one Hot 100 hit.

8. British leader Oliver Cromwell outlawed Christmas Carols in England from 1647-1660.

9. When rural Pakistani folksinger Zarsanga sings in public, fans routinely mark the choruses of her most popular Peshto-language songs with mass shotgun-firing.

10. Diana Ross appeared on at least one hit single every year between 1964 and 1996, an incredible 33 years.

11. At age 4, Mozart composed a concerto for the clavier (“piano” predecessor).

12. Dvorak’s symphony nicknamed “From The New World” contains music mostly inspired by his native Bohemia (Czech Rep). It’s actually a musical letter he wrote whilst working in the US, often reminiscing about his homeland.

13. The famed “Here Comes the Bride” march is actually from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin and is the transition into the newlyweds’ [dramatic] bedroom scene, after the wedding had taken place.

Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown share an insane fact about music

14. A piece of music written in 1964 by Lamonte Young, is called “The Tortoise Recalling the Drone of the Holy Numbers as They Were Revealed in the Dreams of the Whirlwind and the Obsidian Gang, Illustrated by the Sawmill, the Green Sawtooth Ocelot, and the High-tension Line Stepdown Transformer.”

15. No-one knows how much of Mozart’s Requiem was composed by Mozart, as it was completed by several others after his death. Salieri was not one of them.

16. Apparently, Franz Schubert never owned a piano. He always went to one of his friends house when he needed one.

17. The first conductor to use a baton (Jean-Baptiste Lully, 1632-1687) stabbed himself with it during a concert, and eventually died of gangrene.

Click here to tweet this list!

Do you know of any other strange facts about music? Add them in the comments below.

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How I compose: Step 2 – Instrumentation

A couple of weeks ago I shared how I start composing each of the pieces in my composition quest. It seemed to be a popular post!

So after I’ve read the psalm, understood its meaning through commentary, and established the structure for my piece, the next step in composing music for me is choosing the instrumentation.

Instrumentation.

The purpose of this quest is to improve my composing skills. One of my dream goals is to finish the quest by writing a piece of music based on Psalm 33 for large chorus and full orchestra. That’s a lot of people and parts, and like an Olympic Triathlete or Astronaut, there is a ton of preparation. Knowing the insides and out of every instrument, including the human voice, is imperative before tackling a huge opus.

That’s partly why this quest will take 7 years and 150 pieces – writing for solo and small groups of instruments will teach me a great deal about how those combinations work together and how they don’t. Think of Ravel’s “masterpiece” Bolero. Familiar with it? Very popular nowadays but guess what – it was an exercise. Maurice Ravel wrote the piece to learn what different instrumentation combinations would sound like. He never meant it to be a concert hall piece, or a film score! (10, starring Dudley Moore and Bo Derek). Below is a truly awe-inspiring ensemble Blast! performing Bolero:

 

Therefore, for this first year I am selecting mostly small chamber music ensembles for my instrumentation – a wind quintet, a brass quintet, a string quartet, trios, duets, solos. Piece #6 is a little more ambitious as I’m combining both the winds and brass together. In fact, it’s written for “Chamber Orchestra Non-Strings!” Think of a chamber orchestra that plays Mozart or Haydn, and take away all the violins, violas, cellos and double basses. I’m composing for everyone else.

Conductor Composer Maestro Stephen P Brown / Swedish Chamber Orchestra

Swedish Chamber Orchestra

There is lots of string music out there, but not much just for the winds and brass, so hopefully this instrumentation will work and it will become a part of the normal orchestral repertoire.

But for those of you waiting for a large orchestra piece… Sorry! You’re gonna have to wait awhile. At least another year or two.

Right. Time to get back to the music…

Thanks for reading.

 

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: Wind Quintet 2

Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet

Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet

 

Yes, I’m forging ahead!

Why? Because I know that as I improve my composition skills (the purpose of this entire project) I am learning how instruments sound and work together and I will be wanting to compose for larger combinations of instruments, such as a full orchestra. Writing such a piece will take a lot more time. If I can get ahead in the project now, it will allow some flexibility for taking longer on the bigger pieces.

For example, this next piece is a Wind Quintet. That’s the standard combination of woodwind instruments (plus French Horn) found in most Western ensembles – flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon. However, in this piece the five performers are required to play a total of 11 instruments.

Huh?

There is something in the music world known as ‘doubling’. This is when a performer can play more than one instrument, usually related to their main instrument. For example, a flute player may also play the piccolo, or the alto flute. A bassoon player may also play the deep, funky contrabassoon.

So, in my composition “Wind Quintet 2” each of the woodwind performers are asked to play their most common ‘doubling’ instruments at some point. Only the French Horn is the stabilizing timbre (or, tonal quality).

Now, about the music…

 

Click here to get your copy of the score and parts

It is based on Psalm 91, one of six categorized as a Confession of Trust according to Matt Baker (accessed April 13, 2013).

Again, I’ve structured the music around the structure of the psalm, which provided an engaging framework to work with:

According to the Longman and Garland expository commentary, the structure is as follows:

  • A – Invitation to the Protection of God
  • B – Forms of protection (there are 5)
  • A’ – Another invitation to the Protection of God
  • B’ – More forms of protection (there are 3)
  • C – The oracle of Salvation

Do you know what that means to me? Theme and Variations! Like this:

  • Theme
  • Variation 1
  • Variation 2
  • Variation 3
  • Variation 4
  • Variation 5
  • Theme
  • Variation 6
  • Variation 7
  • Variation 8
  • Embellished Theme

Excellent!

Oh, one more musical point:

Part of verse 2 of the psalm reads:

My refuge and my fortress: my God; in whom I trust

The last verse of the Oracle, or Edict, is this text, which I have altered ever so slightly:

With long life I will satisfy

I’ll show him my salvation.

So the musical theme (or, melody) is actually based on these words combined –  you could almost use them to sing along with the theme!

I’m sure there’s an official Compositional Device or term for doing that, but at this point that doesn’t matter. What matters is the fact that such a technique exists, works, and it is in this piece.