It didn’t used to be this hard…

Warning – this is a stream of consciousness babbling about various aspects of getting back into the field of music composition. So if that’s your thing, read on. If that’s not your thing, read it anyway, please. You might find it amusing or informative or perhaps even poetic at times. So, I’m just sayin’….

In the early 1980s I lived, ate, drank, breathed and lived music. I was working on my BA in music theory and composition, I was a church organist (ironic for an atheist), a ballet pianist, a composer (I was producing a score for the ballet), and a conductor. I played piano, organ and harpsichord, and wrote music for all three. Music infused my life at that time to an extent that nothing else had before nor has since.

Writing music was a joy! There are hundreds of ways to spark the structure of a work – from melodies or harmony, or rhythm, or small motifs, to perhaps geometry, to visual patterns and even the toss of a die. Deciding on that structure and (usually, at least for me) ensuring the music doesn’t wander off into places you do not intend it to manifest while you’re ensuring that it moves logically to the result that the spirit of your creative vision or concept or construct or sudden revelation tells you it must possess – that was my favorite part. The drudgery was keeping the pencils sharp and getting the notes down on the paper.

I’ve been writing for the last few days, working on a new arrangement for unaccompanied SATB of the hymn tune “All Praise To Thee” – again, huge irony! It’s a lovely tune and the astounding drivel / propaganda comprising the lyrics lends itself beautifully to expression in that particular musical ensemble. I’ve completed the first verse! It’s all very straight-forward (mostly) diatonic but very close harmony, and I worked hard to make it work, and work correctly. I’m rather satisfied with the result. There are four phrases of eight impulses each, and I think I’ve succeeded in giving each one of the phrases its musical due while expressing my concept.  And, more importantly, I’ve searched and searched and can find not one single voice leading error!

Technical aspects of composing four-part harmony in traditional four-part  harmony are quite simple – but I’ve not had occasion to remember them in the last 25 years – so it was important for me to get it right. I remembered the rules easily enough, but getting the music to do what I wanted while following those rules was hard work.

It used to be so easy! Now I’m not complaining, in fact, I’m quite excited! I’m proud of my accomplishment, and have proved to myself that I can do this.

The General Plan is to finish my BA this semester, retake a couple of music courses in the Spring while working on my portfolio, and then applying for the Grad program. And I think I can do that!

I figure I could have – 25 years ago – knocked out the four part harmonization an afternoon, but this took about 12 hours. I was very concerned about that until I realized I’m just ”out of practice.”I’m getting more and more familiar with Sibelius First, and used it this morning to write the beginning of a new piece utilizing the tune fragment over an ostinato. It didn’t turn out badly, but it highlighted the fact that I have to start listening to more choral music than previously. There are techniques that I know from having sung (oh so many years!) in various choirs and choruses, but I’m certain I don’t know as much as I should and only listening can fix that.

Of course once one listens, one has to discern how the music was scored! Listening to, for example, Rachmaninoff’s first piano concerto and then looking at the score are two quite different experiences: what you hear sounds far less complex than what is in the score. It’s an interesting idea that some composers seem to make things more complex on the page than they really need to be, but it’s the composer’s call to get as much clarity for the performance of the composition as s/he deems important.

I just sent in my order for a copy of Sibelius First software. It should arrive on Monday… as too should my new messenger bag.

That’s enough for now – back to scanning Liber Usualis for whatever gold I might find there – or dross that can be transmuted into gold! I suppose music composition can be likened in some aspects to alchemy. :)


About fester60613

Evangelical Antireligionist.
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