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.

 

What kind of choral music do you like?

So, composition #3 is complete – a piece for solo piano. It is most charming and my wife Melissa loves it. I’ll publish it next week as there are some administrative details to wrap up first.

Composition #4 is already underway and called “Wind Quintet 2” (how imaginative is that?), and I was thinking about where composition #5 might take us on our journey: I’d like to do a piece for unaccompanied (“a cappella”) choir but am undecided whether to write for soprano, alto and baritone voices, or the more traditional soprano, alto, tenor and bass.

But my biggest quandary is the style. Can you help me?

Princeton Community Chorus Jersey Transit

Princeton-based “Jersey Transit” is an “a cappella” vocal choir

The vocal piece will be based on psalm 130, a Pilgrim Song, and is basically the sorrowful author’s crying out to God for mercy, but s/he uses the prayer as an example for others to keep hold of hope for themselves.

What do you think?

 

(Click this link if you don’t see a poll question above: http://poll.fm/49tgx)
.

Tried something new recently?

Brasso Profundo - definitely something new.

This new routine is tough!

Getting up an hour earlier every morning isn’t like an on/off switch – it is taking lots of discipline but you know what? I’m getting a lot of work and reading done.

But that’s just one new outcome of this Psalm Setting Quest.

Another one is being adventurous.

If you look through my list of compositions they are mostly for percussion (including piano) and wind instruments. There are a handful of string pieces and one or two that include brass instruments. For some reason, ever since writing a tacky piece for brass quintet, percussion and narrator in college, I’ve avoided composing for brass instruments.

So, I decided to switch things around a little bit and tackle brass instruments head-on!

My buddy Jim Stretton (of Orichalcum and Brasso Profundo) shared some wonderful advice, and to start with I’ll be writing for just horn, trombone and tuba. Once I have some increased familiarity with these instruments, then I can add a couple of trumpets.

Therefore, my next psalm, number 143, will be for a brass trio. This is definitely something new for me.

  • What have you done recently that is new to you?
  • And how has it transformed your life (or not!)?

Let me know in the comments below:

 

Exclusive “Schmooze with Stephen”

Let’s take a break from seeing how a composition is created for a moment, because here’s something really exciting for you.

Hand-painted artwork from Malawi

Over the next couple of months I have three pretty important events (amongst many others) taking place around the USA. All three are featuring new pieces of mine, including the Sonata for Chamber Orchestra we’ve been exploring in this blog, a brand new marimba concerto (in which I’ll attempt to play the solo part – should’ve been a bit kinder, methinks!), my string quartet, my wind quintet, and a cute little ditty called Green Painting based on one of three pictures I bought from a legless (literally) street vendor in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi (You can hear the piece on my Reverbnation page)

Lots going on, right?

Well, here’s the really exciting part:

My composition Wind Quintet 1 just won a Global Music Award and will be premiered at the Madison Arts Festival in New Jersey on Friday, November 23 at 7:30pm. That’s Thanksgiving weekend, and I’m going to be in town 🙂 Let’s celebrate the Award together!

So, if you are an SPB email subscriber or SPB blog reader then here’s something exclusive for you: meet me at 6pm and lets hang out before the concert at 54 Main St (that’s the name of the bar/ restaurant). And be sure to ask the bar staff for a Schmooze! (It’s a non-alcoholic drink – recipe here). We can then convoy up the street a couple of blocks to the concert venue.

Oh, and there’s a reception after the concert, too, for everyone who attends.

If you’re in NJ that weekend, I look forward to seeing you at the concert. If you’re not in NJ that weekend – hurry up & get your plane tickets! 🙂

Click it to tweet it:

@Stephen_P_Brown invited me to an exclusive pre-concert “Schmooze with Stephen” hangout. Yey!

 

.