Sunday, December 9, 2012

Final Recital of the Final Piece

So this may be one of the few of these posts to be written relatively close to the events contained in the post. What a thought! I guess I'm a true procrastinator! To cap off these blog posts about an excellent semester of composing and what I think was definitely a big step in compositional growth for myself, I have some thoughts on the final recital and end result of the last piece.

This piece, as previously mentioned, seemed to really flow composition wise. Now thinking back to the final performance and completion of the piece, this also may be due to the fact that it is a setting of text. When setting text, the idea is to make the music serve the text. This may be a big reason why the music seemed to be guided ahead constantly. The text served as an inspiration for the mood and musical themes of each section while a phrase was being sung. It also contributed to the rhythmic motion of the piece. During points of high tension in the text, it was clearly a time to make things musical tense. Similarly, when the text transitioned from the lighter poem to it's darker counterpart, it was time to create some darker textures and make some out of the ordinary sounds with extended techniques. I also think using the speak-singing technique during the darker was definitely effective as it blended in with the uneasy feel of the text. Overall, setting a text proved to be a very positive composing experience for myself. I think it's something that I will continue to especially pursue with composing.

The performance also went extremely well. I believe it's difficult to compare the previous performance to this one as they were both very different pieces and required different steps to effectively put together. This piece was also allowed much more rehearsal time. I believe though that the piece did go quite smoothly with only minor timing errors. After the last performance experience, I began to really put the major focus of these quick recitals on making sure the piece sounds effective and it's main concepts come across. I mostly hope that even with some note or timing errors, the emotion I hope to display with the piece is felt. I think this was achieved with the performance of this piece. The intense sections felt especially intense, and the calmness I hoped to portray in others worked great as well. Once again I was supported by some incredibly talented and professional musicians. In general, I couldn't of asked for a better group of composers and musicians to work with this term and I look forward to many more terms just like this one!

Setting Text for the First Time with a Different Ensemble!

After the recital I took a bit of time before fully deciding what direction the next full piece would be. I eventually decided to go with the setting text with a small ensemble option and went with an ensemble I had in mind to write for for some time. When deciding between two texts I was considering, one from a set of poems in one of my favourite novels and another some work by William Blake, I decided to go with the William Blake. I was thinking of two poems from "Songs of Innocence and Experience" and the decision to use these was influenced by not only possible copyright issues from the newer novel, but also because the Blake poems' themes were reflected already by the instrumentation.

My instrumentation was soprano solo, electric guitar, wooden flute and tuba. The soprano vocalist and tuba were two things I had never written for before, as well as this strange wooden flute with a limited range that I had strangely acquired recently. The electric guitar, by contrast, is an instrument that I was all too familiar writing for. This sense of contrast between familiarity and unfamiliarity related to the themes of innocence and experience from the Blake poems, so I thought it would be a great fit.

Upon presenting the text, there was some possible controversial issues with some words in the poem. These terms were no doubt something considered to be more commonly accepted in the time the poet wrote them, as oppose to today. I decided to omit the segments using these terms or reference to them after all, as the concepts I was hoping to embody would be the contrast of innocence and experience, not racial and belief acceptance (another theme of these specific poems).

Writing for this ensemble proved to be both difficult and easy. Though I struggled with hoping what I had written for certain instruments was achievable, the musical ideas seemed to naturally flow. I almost immediately had an idea of how sections would be structured and their eventual transitions, as well as each instruments roles in each sections. In short, I ended up feeling particularly inspired to compose this piece. I also made a point to rehearse with my group section by section, almost as I wrote the piece. That way it was a gradual step by step process to perform and learn the piece instead of a final crunch before the recital. It just so happened after finishing the piece, that for the most part, all the parts were playable, the text setting was all possible, and the instruments sounded interesting together but fit well!

Thoughts After The First Recital

After all of our pieces were finished being written (just in time I should add!) and our performers had rehearsed (with very little time!) it was time for the first recital. I think everyone was quite worried leading up to this recital as our performers had not rehearsed much, or at least enough that it seems was necessary in order to perform these pieces. But regardless, I believe everyone made it work the best they could, composers and performers alike.

My piece proved to be slightly tricky for the performers due to some rhythmic challenges in the first and third movements. The second movement was actually fairly easy despite it's possible uncertainties that could arise due to the notation. I guess it proves that many of the suggestions made on the piece's score were very useful and contributed to it being easier to read by a performer. The problems that arose in both the first and third movements were due to rhythmic motives, as there were quite a few shifting meters and polyrhythms found in some of the important sections of the two pieces. It was especially hard for the third movement as it is pretty quick. Due to time constraints, and since it had been a busy time for everyone, we had to slow the pieces down and make a note of important cues played by each member during a certain complicated section.

Though it allowed the pieces to be playable from start to finish in time for the performance, I feel as if slowing down the third movement took away a lot of energy and therefore hindered it from allowing it's concept to come across. It was also noticeable for the first movement, as in it's conclusion it slows to a slower tempo and at the speed they had started with, it was difficult to find somewhere noticeably slower to go.

Despite these things, the performance was still well done and I was still extremely impressed that the group was able to perform the pieces with merely a weeks work and 3 short rehearsals. They only had the third movement for about 3 days! Being a guitarist who can barely sight read, it always really impresses me when a pianist or string player or percussionist can sight read something so well at a first glance. It's not even as if the music has simple reoccuring motives, basic triads or simple rhythms; this music had essentially no existing diatonic chords, meters that shifted between 9/8-4/4-5/8-10/8 without any preparation, and some strange motives appearing sometimes! Yet still, these three talented performers were able to bring together 7 minutes of music in a few rehearsals and perform it in front of an audience! I was very glad I chose these three players and they agreed to play my piece. This is proof that making good calls on who to perform/record your music is extremely important!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Close to Completing the Three Pieces

After my work on the second piece had come close to finishing, it was a few classes until I presented some work on the third piece. Before then, I had been presenting bit by bit at a weekly rate. When the time came to present the last of the three short pieces, I had essentially finished the third with a bit of detailing missing. Though a lot of the piece's make up was completed when presented, there was still some discussion on a few points.

Firstly, just if some of the techniques and artificial harmonic sliding was audible in the sections they were used. The other point was the second half of the piece, when the left hand of the piano settles into a specific rhythm. The groove here goes on for pretty long, and it was a concern to some that it may actually be going on too long in the same rhythm without changing. Also, the end could of been shortened up slightly. My thoughts on this were just that I had repeated the rhythm for so long because I really wanted that groove to settle and be locked in. I guess I thought while writing the piece that if it changed too quickly the impression of that rhythm really wouldn't be as settled into the listeners minds as much as I hoped. It wasn't a matter of copy and pasting and running out of ideas. Listening now to the performance, I still don't really feel as if it goes on too long and gets boring. Although, it is always going to sound different in the ears of another listener. I did, however, end up implementing the more sudden ending idea as I feel it worked even better than the original ending of the piece.

A Contrasting Second Piece

When the time came to present my second piece, I thought that the work I had, though close to completed, was not something that would take long to comment on. Instead my one page, two systems, and barely any midi playback of a second piece was talked about for half of the class! It seems everyone had lots to say about very little music, but I guess where the score required so much detail, there was a lot to talk about.

The idea of this piece, or movement, was much different than the previous one. As oppose to slow flowing feel that accompanied movement one, I wanted there to be a free feel based around cues from each members to each other and with timed seconds between motives as oppose to the normal beats. This was a style and notational style I had used before, though I never did receive much professional feedback on the score aspect of that previous piece. So, I was looking forward to receiving some feedback on this.

The main point that was emphasized during the discussion was that even though this piece was in more of a free style, it was still important to clarify specific things. For example, don't necessarily say "completely free" as the piece was not actually completely free. Also during certain small rhythmic motives, it would be very helpful to specify a tempo just for these sections.

Now that the performance of this piece has long happened, I see that making these clarifications was very
important for the performers when interpreting the piece. It seems that in general, if you have a specific idea of how something you should sound or feel, you should be as specific as possible!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Nearly Completed First Piece

This week (though more so a few weeks ago), I had the first piece of this three piece set nearly completed. Only the last little bit of the cello was left to be fit in. The general ideas and motives of the piece were present though. Even though the piece wasn't completely finished, having the main motives displayed and the structure finished allowed for further comments on how to develop the motives I had already written. The fact there was some cello missing also allowed everybody to make suggestions on how to fill out what was left.

Most of the suggestions I received this week were all really great and were used afterwards. Some of the suggestions included changing up the main motive in the left hand of the piano and adding octave doublings or changing the register. So, at some points of higher tension I included an octave doubling in the left hand, and during some softer or lighter moments I moved the bass motive up an octave. These little changes actually added so much to the piece in terms of variation and adding interest, but also they were completely appropriate musically. The suggestion was also made to change up some of the roles of the instruments. For example, have the cello play sustaining notes while the vibraphone has short and accented attacks during. This technique however, will be more appropriate for the next movement and will be used there.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Behind on posts already!

It seems I've fallen behind on posting weekly blogs already! Unfortunately, I don't find this completely surprising as I do often forget to do quicker and smaller tasks compared to bigger ones. I did however, have some thoughts jotted down from that week's class that I planned on writing about. 

First of all, I'm sure this is something everyone has discussed, but everybody's pieces really are completely different. Despite the project having a sort of layout and a direction or frame the pieces will follow, each piece has a distinctly different voice. I think this not only shows that each composer in the class has a different style or tastes but also that each person interpreted this project differently in which direction it would take their composing. Upon initially reading the guidelines these pieces would follow, each composer had a different idea of what they would do. Strangely though, almost everybody has included a cello part in their pieces!

For this first presentation of my piece so far, I had finished the entire piano part, but was only just beginning to fill in the cello and vibraphone parts. The general consensus was that no one else composed in this fashion, instead writing everything together as they went along. I decided to compose this way because I had the entire piece planned out, and wanted to almost have the whole thing mapped out before adding the other instruments in.With this piece, it proved to be beneficial because I received some suggestions when presenting the work in progress that gave me further ideas on how to build to certain parts in the piece using other instruments. I do see though, how composing this way could cause a problem. This could especially apply to writing a piece where you would like each instrument to be completely equal in the music that's been written for them. This style I will be pursuing more so with the second and third pieces of this set!