Composing E: The Final Product

What a journey this has been! I do hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Well, our piece of music Sonata for Chamber Orchestra is complete. Probably. Like most things in life, there’s always room for a little change here and there but at the moment, I don’t forsee any such needs. OH! Tweetable ūüôā

Click it to tweet it:
What we create is rarely fully complete – there’s always room for little changes! @Stephen_P_Brown¬†

I wrote the introduction and added a fun little coda (remember Dudley Moore’s numerous types of Endings?), and just tweaked a couple of passages here and there.

So, we have a result. Five and a half minutes of music that took over a month and four blog posts to create (see below). If you’d like to hear the piece live, it will be played by the Patel Conservatory Composers Orchestra on Monday, December 10 at 7pm in Tampa’s TECO Theatre (hope to see you there!)

But until then, this video will have to do.

(I love technology: you get to follow along the score as it plays)
(Even if you don’t read music!)

“Sonata for Chamber Orchestra” by Stephen P Brown

 

In conclusion, here are the posts that explore the piece as it is birthed. It’s probably best if you read them in this order:

Composing A: Foundation

Composing B: And So It Begins…

Composing C: The Main Event

Composing D: Development

 

Thanks for taking this journey with me. Please add your comments below – what do you think of this piece? What did you like about these posts? Should I do this again with another piece in the future? Who do you think would like to read this series – friends, colleagues, neighbors, or anyone else you know?

 

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Composing D: Development

In Sonta Form there are usually two¬†themes (see last week’s post for the¬†Main¬†Theme of our new piece). This past week that theme and the complimentary Secondary Theme were added to the score, twice each, and spread amongst all the instruments. When these two themes are presented for the first time in their entirety, it is usually in a section called¬†the “Exposition” and this is what it sounds like in our “Sonata for Chamber Orchestra”:

[ca_audio url=”https://www.stephenpbrown.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Sonata-for-Chamber-Orch-Expo.mp3″ width=”500″ height=”27″ css_class=”codeart-google-mp3-player”]

 

Now¬†it’s time to move on to the “Development” section. This is usually the longest section of a piece in Sonata Form as the composer can take snippets of both themes and twist, turn and combine them. They could also be played backwards, upside-down and of course, backwards AND upside-down! These compositional techniques serve to add variety, interest and keep the attentive listener¬†guessing or trying to figure out what’s happening to the music.

Tweetable!
Add variety to your work – can you do something in reverse, upside-down, or another zany way? via @Stephen_P_Brown

 

As an¬†example, let’s take these four notes:

 

Now let’s place those notes in reverse, like a mirror image. You don’t have to be able to read music to see the “Retrograde” pattern:¬†

 

Ok, now it gets a little tricker. Notice the way the original notes move up (higher) first, and then jump down at the end. Then look at the second bar and see the opposite – the notes move down (lower) first, and then jump up at the end. The melody has been¬†“Inverted“:

 

Finally, let’s try and combine these two elements together. In this example, we first inverted the melody and then took its mirror image. See how the first note of the original (E, in between the top two lines) is also the last note in the Inversion Retrograde variation:

 

There was a time when audiences didn’t have the kind of soundbite distractions we do today, and many could actually HEAR these variations as the music was being played. What a skill! Nowadays we’d consider someone who could do that a genius, in the same way anyone under 18 would call someone who can legibly write cursive/ joined-up text must be a genuis (since public schools in the USA stopped teaching it).

For our new piece “Sonata for Chamber Orchestra” here are¬†some of the snippets from the main themes¬†that appear throughout the Development section:

 

 

 

 

And you’ll just have to wait to hear the complete Development section, I’m afraid!

Tell me below one thing you found fascinating about today’s post. Next week we should have the introduction and Coda (ending) completed, which means the entire composition will be ready! This is your last chance to have an influence on our new piece of music!

Composing B: And so it begins…

Following last week’s post about how to start a composition, well… how I am starting this composition…¬†a few decisions have been made.

Whilst looking around for a compositional structure I came across several main elements:

Each have their own special qualities and after a little thought, I thought it would be nice to try Sonata form. I don’t remember the last time I wrote something in Sonata form (and stuck to it) so here’s an opportunity.

At the moment, Sonata form will form the dominating format, although during the creative process unexpected twists and turns can often lead compositions into completely unplanned territory.

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The creative process can take unexpected twists and turns that lead into completely unknown territory. via @Stephen_P_Brown

Sonata form structure:

  • Introduction
  • Exposition: A main theme (usually a melody)¬†followed by a second theme in a different key*
  • Development: Both themes mixed together¬†through wildly changing audio experiences, although still always related to the exposition somehow
  • Recapitulation: The main theme revisted plus the secondary theme in the ‘home key’
  • Coda: An ending unlike any other. Or, probably like every other.

Beethoven had a really hard time ending his music, so pieces like his famous Fifth Symphony could actually end many, many times but none of them actually do end the piece. Until there are no more chords left.

Dudley Moore had a similar problem:

Dudley Moore doesn’t stop…

So, quite imaginatively, let’s call our piece after its structure, “Sonata.” But who is it for? Well, it’s for a chamber orchestra of sorts. Not piano, nor violin or any other solo instrument. So¬†we can expand¬†the title of our new piece of music to: Sonata for Chamber Orchestra. Like it? I do. Don’t like it? Are there any other options? Yes. Lots. Think of a title and put it in the comments below.

(*)
I also chose to go with the key signature of G Major. The KEY of a piece of music tells the players what tonality to focus on. In the Western world we have developed a system using 12 different tones that repeat (on a piano, play¬†every consecutive¬†note starting with the left of the three black keys, F sharp(#). You’ll end up hearing ‘another’ F# 13 keys later). From those 12 notes, 8 of them form the basis of tonality – major (happy) scales and minor (sad) scales.

Again on a piano, find ‘C’. It’s the white key immediately to the left of the two black keys. Play that C plus only the¬†6 white notes¬†to the right, and then finish with the 8th key which is actually another C. Repeat. And repeat. Start with any C and play the scale – they all sound the same only higher or lower. The combination of tones forms the scale, in this case a major scale.

Copy that combination of tones but start on G (G is 5 notes up from C, including C. It’s the white¬†key immediately to the RIGHT of the LEFT-MOST of the THREE black keys. Got it?!). Only this time, instead of playing all the white keys, when you get to the 7th key, don’t play it. Instead, play the black key immediately to the right – that’s right, F#.

This major scale is what will form the tonal foundation of our new piece.

G Major scale on a keyboard

G Major scale

 

Next week, lets look at the melody, or the ‘Main Theme’

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…

 

Notes are not enough!

With so much classical music online it’s a joy to hear it live (unplugged) and even explained! Sometimes a composer is required to add descriptors to their music, just to make sure performers are clear of the intent. Take for example the over-played, over-familiar Four Seasons¬†by Antonio Vivaldi. Because the opening of the first movement could be interpreted with a variety of intentions, Discovery Orchestra Conductor George Marriner Maull shares with us the composer’s actual intent.

Check out the first in a series of chats:

Discovery Chats with George Marriner Maull

Discovery Orchestra Chat: Vivialdi

Of course, performers are completely at whim to ignore what the composer wanted, and do it their way anyway!

Oh, and here’s a thought: anyone who’s been ‘into’ classical music for more than five years will be extremely familiar with these four violin concertos, to the extent that some may think “Ugh. Not again!” Suffice it to say that there are actually many more folk in the world who have never heard them – let’s encourage them to discover their beauty, joy, darkness and sheer brilliance!

What will you do this weekend to share a piece of music very familiar to you with someone who may never have heard it before? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Churches and Arts

How many artists does it take to change a light bulb?

How many churches can you fit into one square mile?

It didn’t take long to get overwhelmed by both the sheer number of churches in Tampa Bay as well as the incredible arts scene. There are artists everywhere, from muralists to house sculptures, street musicians to ballet, four opera companies to symphony orchestras, three regional performing arts centers and seven local ones.

You’ll have no problem finding a
church in Tampa Bay

As for churches, there is barely a single block without one. Every denomination is represented and quite a few independent ones, too. And it’s not as though these churches are spread so thinly they’re all empty – far from it. There are two on the same street with 2,000 seat auditoriums as well as schools. They don’t need a volunteer policeman to help with traffic flow, they have a whole brigade!

So when thinking about what piece of music to write, it happened that the most obvious but probably understated thing about Tampa Bay is the proliferation of churches and arts. Active churches and live arts.

So that’s actually¬†where our story begins,¬†with what became movement 5 of my piece “Tapestry Tampa Bay.” It also happens to be my most favorite piece, because it’s well written and it’s pretty.

Think church bells. Think artsy. Combine the two, and you get a high-pitched bouncy theme that is repeated and repeated and echoed and echoed. Tinkling and hymnal at the same time. Religious yet constantly defying normal conventions. It’s all rolled into one little ditty, which to me encompasses all that Tampa Bay is.

On top of that, there’s some thematic material (i.e. a tune) that was initially a pleasant secret that I can hold¬†in no longer: this movement directly reflects the title of the whole piece. Say “Tapestry Tampa Bay” out loud, in a rhythm and with natural inflection. Soon you’ll be singing along with the music!

—–

The World Premiere concert¬†of this piece has been getting some pretty wide press coverage, I’m very happy to say. The Tampa Bay Times, The Palm Harbor Beacon, NBC News, WFLA-TV, and a spectacular article in the Tampa Tribune.

 

Fish for music, not chips

I’m not obsessed with fish. Really!

Of course it’s a favorite dish of mine – I grew up in “Fish & Chip” land (and to be perfectly honest, still have not yet found anything that comes close to it in the USA). On overnight camping¬†trips to Hastings we’d walk the promenade, play on the beach and watch the boats land on the pebbles before unloading their stock, indulge in crazy golf or the indoor amusement center (I once won ¬£130 in pennies!) and then head to the local chippie. You really can’t get fresher fish than that! And, at that time, it was all cod with the occasional haddock or flounder. Yummy stuff.

So white fish has played a big part throughout my consuming life. No surprise, then, that moving to Florida opened up plenty more opportunity for immediate (i.e. fresh) and inexpensive fish dinners.

But what was this thing called Grouper? Eventually I tried it. And really liked it! Big, meaty, fleshy, moist, almost impossible to overcook white fish. It is great in a sandwich, or just plain. Don’t spoil it by deep frying it in less-than-perfect batter, either. I began eating Grouper almost everywhere I could, and eventually came across this video:

Can you believe the size of this fish? Not all species of Grouper are this large. Some are bigger:

No hoax: check here

http://www.hoax-slayer.com/giant-warsaw-grouper.shtml

So, how could I do anything but write a piece of music about this giant in a piece about the place where I discovered it? So, movement three of “Tapestry Tampa Bay” is, in fact, called Grouper!

The movement starts out deep underwater, with some bubbles floating up from a rock-like bulge – actually a fish. The rock slowly¬†turns sideways as more bubbles escape from underneath it. As it opens its mouth to impersonate a yawn, a few more bubbles¬†interrupt and the fish gets annoyed. “Do you mind!” he exclaims. “I’m yawning.”

Again, an attempt at a yawn. More bubbles. Eventually, the fed-up fish doesn’t care and if it could growl, it did so. No more bubbles.

So off he heads, into the warm swirling waters. Being such a large fish means very little disturbs its direction or wake. Smooth and flowing, the gentle giant surveys his domain. Occasionally little spurts of bubbles emerge from his mouth, but all-in-all he is a happy fish. It takes a lot of energy to move such a large body, so eventually King Grouper settles down for a nap.

Is that really a piece of music?

Yes.

You wait ’till you hear it! And now, we are preparing to have the concert broadcast live online, too! Look out for details soon.