Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The almost-finished product and title

After hearing my composition, I'm not sure what to think.  As I said in my last blog, there are some things I like about it and some things that i don't.  The other thing is that I don't have a lot of time to make it perfect... there is a due date after all!  And a concert!  I was happy with how the performance went in the concert.  My piece ended up being kind of hard to put together... there are lots of tricky rhythms, especially in the piano, and the circle of fifths progression touches almost every key.  Despite that, I'm really happy with how my performers played, and they even inspired some changes in my piece.  there was one point in the performance where there was a huge pause.  I think that my pianist got lost... one of the pages was in the wrong order, and it took him a minute to find where he was.  Luckily, all this occurred within a pause which was written, making the long pause even more dramatic.  When he finally found out where he was, the whole group came back together, accompanied by a few chuckles in the audience.

I decided on a title: "Too-Fives".  I think I mentioned earlier that, like an ending of a piece, when you find the perfect title, it just fits.  This title has a sort of double meaning: first, it refers to the "two-five-one" progression the piece is based on, and it also in reference to measures of 5/4 time which are found throughout the piece.  If I had to pick my favorite ideas in the piece, they would be my main melodic thematic melody, the ending of the piece, and the title.  Each one fits perfectly!

Developing my cliche

As I develop my piece, I'm not quite sure where to go with it.  I have a couple of ideas which I think are pretty good, but my composition isn't turning out to be quite what I expected it to be.  First of all, I initially decided to base my cliche on bebop.  I've recently discovered that what I have isn't quite bebop... or its not quite everything that bebop is known for.  It turned out to be more of a swing ii-V-I progression.  More of a standard "jazz-swing" cliche.  Secondly, when we first got this assignment, I envisioned my piece quite differently than it looks now.  Before I even decided my cliche, I thought I would write the music as loosely based on a cliche... more like a "weird" version of whatever the cliche was based on, like an atonal march, for example.  What my piece is actually becoming is a quite typical piece of jazz music which takes unexpected turns in its development.  It starts out almost perfectly in the cliche and then grows outside it.  It is ok, I guess, but isn't what I was planning.

Now, what I piece is actually turning out to be: it seems to be sort of a rondo form... maybe a sort of short sonata rondo, as the theme keeps coming back, but with developments in the 'B' and 'C' sections.  One of the main contrasts in the "development" sections is that it goes from swung eighths to straight eighths.  The first section contrasts rhythmically.  It is less melodic, with a lot of rhythmic calls and answers between instruments.  In the return of the 'A' section, the bass stops walking, making it more unpredictable.  The 'C' section contrasts in key... it shifts to a minor mode, after a double chromatic mediant harmonic shift.  The melody also shifts to the double bass for much of this section, with a countermelody in the saxophone.  In the final return of the 'A' section, the bass starts off with the melody before passing it to the saxophone, and then to the piano for the finish.  

I don't really know how to feel about my composition so far... I kind of like the way it sounds sometimes, and I like the ideas I'm using, but I'm not quite happy with the way its turning out.  Its definitely a learning experience, and I like seeing how ideas sound when they actually get down on paper after being conceived in the head.

Cliche Composition Update

In my previous blog, I was unsure about what instruments I was going to write for.  I've decided on piano, alto sax, and double bass.  I think I will be able to achieve rhythmic interest in my piece without the drums, and the double bass will give me some different interesting ways to expand my composition.  The first thing that I wrote was a circle of fifths progression in the piano.  I've decided to write a brief walking bassline for an introduction, and continue it through most of the piece.  I'm very happy with the melody I've come up with.  It mentioned in my previous blog that I could draw melodic material from existing jazz standards, but the melody that I have isn't drawn from any of that, and I'm happy with it.  

After I performed my piece in class, I received the comment that the piano part in particular needed more rhythm.  I decided to add rests and make the rhythms more interesting.  This set up a contrast with the steady walking bassline, and I like the way it sounds.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cliche assignment

I've started my 2nd assignment: a composition based on a cliche. For my cliche, I'm planning on using a ii - V - I progression (AKA rhythm changes) which is popular in a lot of music, specifically bebop. The first thing I wrote was a complete circle of fifths progression, using a voicing I learned in an introduction to jazz styles and improvisation course. As usual, I'm having trouble getting the ball rolling on this. I have ideas, but none are really specific, and I think that might be the problem. I think this cliche is a good idea, but I'm having trouble turning it into reality.

One of the reasons that this progression is a good cliche is because it really sets up an expectation in the listener. After just a few chords, the audience will be able to anticipate where the next progression will go. This will set me up to change the progression into something unexpected (I'm thinking maybe to a doubly chromatic key), making it really interesting.

Instrumentation wise, I think I'm going to use a fairly standard jazz combo. We have to write for 3 instruments, which will be the piano and saxophone and one other instrument. I was initially planning to write for a drum set, but now I'm leaning more toward using a double bass (with a lot of pizzicato and walking bass lines). As for melody, there are a lot of famous tunes based on rhythm changes I can draw from, such as I got Rhythm, Serpent's Tooth, Oleo, Thrivin' from a Riff, and many others.

So with all these ideas, it sounds like composition should be pretty easy. But I'm finding otherwise. My first goal is to get something to work with: just a few bars which I can develop. I've got the harmonic progression, and some melody... maybe what I need is rhythm. (There's a pun in there somewhere... because I don't got rhythm...)

Finishing my first assignment...

I've read a few other blogs in which people exclaim about finishing their assignment, and how good it felt. I agree: finishing the first complete piece for this course does feel good! It was also cool to write program notes and get it bound so that it looks like a real piece of music!

Even though the 1st copy has been submitted, I'm not quite finished with the piece yet. Yesterday, I met with Dr. Ross to discuss my composition, and I have a few things to fix. One of the things we talked a little about was the fact (which I mentioned in my last blog) that my first two pieces in particular didn't quite feel finished; they could have gone on a bit longer and developed a little more. They weren't quite as refined, compared to the third piece. I agree with this 100%. I guess that is one of the things about writing pieces for a deadline (especially when that deadline is only a little over a month). My plan is to continue developing these pieces sometime in the not too distant future, making them at least as polished as my last piece.

Now, speaking of polishing, that's much of what I need to do to finish my assignment. I need to add a few more articulation markings in my pieces, phrase marks, and more specific dynamics. I had a few things wrong, such as the placement of the piano dynamics. As soon as I finish this, my first complete composition should be good to go!

3rd Piece

My last piece turned out to be the strongest of the three we were required to write. I guess even after writing just two pieces you start to learn things which make your compositions better. Something that I noticed about this piece was the inspiration was different. I wrote it after I returned from our midterm break, during which I was out in Lower Island Cove, a small town in which I used to live. It is right on the ocean, and there is a lot of nature out there (as opposed to a city like St. John's). It was this indescribable sensation that inspired me to write this piece. I think the reason that this piece is better than the other two is because of its development; it seems like it actually goes somewhere and says something. I feel that I had some good ideas my other two compositions, but they didn't develop like this one. If I could compare them to sentences, I'd say that this last composition is like a full, complete sentence, where the other two are more like a sentence fragment: one that starts out good but doesn't finish.

One of the things that I'm most proud of in this piece is that I used a minimal amount of compositional material. Everything that I wrote was pretty much based on the same 4 or 5 notes. This helped make my piece more coherent in its development, so that the individual ideas, which are all based on the same material, all flow out of and into one another. I hope the quality I've achieved in this piece will carry into the next pieces I write!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2nd Character Piece

The day my second piece was played in class was certainly an eventful one. Earlier that morning, I met with Dr. Ross to discuss it. I told him that I had trouble with the amount of material I was getting, proportional to the time I was putting in at it (a topic which I've struggled with and addressed in other blogs). We talked about taking previous material and reworking it: stretching your ideas to make more music. Repetition of basic ideas is also important because of its function in setting up expectation in the listener. In order to introduce more repetition, I expanded the beginning section to just chord progressions in the piano in longer note durations. My most significant break through of the day was that when I went to Dr. Ross that morning, I probably only had about 20 seconds or so of music, but when I wento to composition that afternoon (to present my piece) I had almost 2 minutes of music - and only spent 40 minutes or so composing.

What I ended up with wasn't perfect, though. I had to add a transition from some of the new material I added. Other than that, it was pretty good.

On a totally different note, I got the idea for this piece in a very different way than the other pieces. The melodic motive I used actually came from the top voice of the original chord progressions I had to write. I was very excited when I discovered the beautiful melody, however, struggled when I went to actually write it. The problem was that with the melody I heard, I also heard a tonal accompaniment/harmonic progression. What I did to come up with the harmonies I used was go through the chords and pick out a few with a tone color that I liked, and served the function I was looking for (i.e. didn't sound final, but kept the harmonic momentum flowing). One thing I found when searching for the right chord was that the same chord served a totally different function when transposed. I found it was very helpful to have a predetermined harmonic palette (the progression which was our first assignment). It gave me somewhere to start and something to work with, which makes the process of composition a bit easier.