Sunday, April 5, 2015

March 30th

For my last class presentation this term, I played the orchestrated portion of Selkie Rhapsody. Feedback was positive overall. I was advised to really push the envelope at the climactic panicked section; suggested mechanisms for achieving this were to stagger entries, to involve percussion, and to lengthen the section. Other suggestions included giving greater prominence to the strings, doubling lines to give them more weight, respell awkward accidentals, and placing the euphonium lines in other instruments.

To close off this blog, this has been a fantastic term. Having the opportunity to work so closely with my classmates and instructor, to provide and to receive feedback, and to work on a large orchestral piece has contributed greatly to my growth as a composer. I look forward to continuing this work over the summer and next year.

Thank you, Dr. Ross!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

March 20th

There was not much time for feedback after my presentation this week, but it was suggested that I added in a few pauses/brief silences as well as look at using a more harmonically interesting chord at bar 110.
I have now completed the short score and I hope to present a full draft orchestration next. I still don't completely feel as though I know what I'm doing orchestration-wise, so I'm looking forward to getting feedback!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

March 6th

As I approach the end of my orchestral composition, several suggestions were brought forth. The primary suggestion is that I have calmer, less active sections as "breathing room" to avoid relentlessness. Conversely, I was advised to potentially make the "Panicked" section the point of highest tension, in accordance with the golden mean, and to that end, to conclude it with several chaotic, semi-improvisatory bars. Finally, it was also suggested that, considering the specificity of my program, that I include section titles to help convey it to the performers and audience.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

February 24th

This week, I had a private lesson. We discussed several ways to improve my piece, including using an antiphonal texture in the most recent 16th note passage I wrote, reorchestrating repetitions of material, adding octaves at several locations, and varying metric placement. Other suggestions included letting the two-note oscillation pattern rest, thoroughly planning the remainder of the piece, and creating points of greater climax.

I also want to discuss this week the book "Story", by Robert McKee, which has been very influential on my conception of this piece, and other pieces. Though about screenwriting, the general concepts dealt with in the book can be applied to many arts.
One important concept in the book is the idea of tension and release, and how to pattern it within a work, grouping points of higher tension into larger and larger divisions: "scenes", "acts", and finally the entire work. I attempted to model this piece after the basic narrative structure outlined in "Story", and it has provided me with a very useful creative restriction.
McKee's comments on art more generally have also resonated with me very strongly. Several of my favourite quotations include:

"The principle of Creative Limitation calls for freedom within a circle of obstacles. Talent is like a muscle: without something to push against, it atrophies. So we deliberately put rocks in our path, barriers that inspire."
"Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form."
"When talented people write badly, it's generally for one of two reasons: Either they're blinded by an idea they feel compelled to prove or they're driven by an emotion they must express. When talented people write well, it is generally for this reason: They're moved by a desire to touch the audience."
"Difference for the sake of difference is as empty an achievement as slavishly following the commercial imperative. Write only what you believe."
"This craft is neither mechanics or gimmicks. It is the concert of techniques by which we create a conspiracy of interest between ourselves and the audience. Craft is the sum total of all means used to draw the audience into deep involvement, to hold that involvement, and to ultimately reward it with a moving and meaningful experience."

These are only a selection of the many ideas in "Story" that I found reflected my own compositional goals and philosophies. Of course, there are competing and equally valid artistic philosophies, but I have found that recognizing my own goals in "Story" has helped me better understand the direction in which I hope to move.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

February 20th

After my presentation, there were several suggestions about my orchestration:
1. My use of string is atypical, since they are usually highlighted rather than a sustained pad. Making different use of them is not necessarily bad, but as the piece continues, it would be to my benefit to make full use of their capabilities.
2. Several orchestration texts were suggested to me, including that by Rimsky-Korsakov and that by Sam Adler.
3. I was advised to learn more about harp writing, since I need to be aware of the pedalling requirements for non-diatonic notes. For this purpose, it was suggested I look at the works of John Weinzweig.
4. Percussion writing strategies were brought to my attention. I was advised to write by player rather than by instrument, to write interesting and integral percussion parts, and to write for one timpanist and two percussionists.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

February 2nd

My work this week was quite well-received. Suggestions mainly concerned ideas for variations as the piece develops. Experimenting with rhythmic variation was encouraged, particularly with making rhythms more irregular. Suggestions included occasionally delaying chords to make them less regular, and offsetting the “waves” motif while maintaining the oscillating figure. Such irregularity would mimic the irregularity found in nature. I was advised to plan out the remainder of the composition, using visual diagrams and considering orchestration. Most importantly, the main suggestion was to ensure that the piece holds more surprises.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

January 26

As my work this week was pre-compositional, both the instructor and my classmates' suggestions were based on my explanation of my planned orchestral work. They recommended that, in order to get a better sense of how all the parts are working together, I should compose the piece for one or two pianos (short score) and then orchestrate it. This was a technique used by Ravel, and I was therefore advised to look at his works. It was suggested that I examine Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe in particular, in order to help me find a way for the strings to imitate seabirds; George Crumb's Vox Balaenae was also recommended for this, as the cello's quite successfully imitate seagulls in the piece. One suggestion of a technique to achieve this goal was to have the violins doing a wide vibrato on the upper two strings with their fingers placed as though they were doing harmonics, but not on a node.