Sunday, 9 December 2012

Final thoughts?

At what might be just in time for these to be done, I'd like to post my final blog entry for the semester.

Excellent recital everyone!

Everyone's pieces came through and there were some really amazing progress made from the first piece to the second. It felt like people got really serious this time around and produced a whole lot of great stuff.

What I especially appreciate from this course has been comfort in myself that I'm not the only one going through this process. I have no problems that are completely out of anyone else's perspective. Someone always has some insight for me. Everyone learns from everyone. And I managed to produce two pieces that I'm extremely happy with!

See you all next semester!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Writing a piece... fast!

Today we had our first rehearsal for my piece, and I was happy to find that it was barely any effort to get it together. It was so easy that I was immediately able to talk about what articulations I wanted them to use. So my thoughts tonight are based mostly on how I managed to write a piece I'm happy with that could be put together quickly.

1. Know your instruments!

Going into this composition, we did not have very much time to waste, so I opted to pick instruments I was very familiar with (wind instruments - I've written for band before), and didn't wait until rehearsals to ask the players about things in the music that might be questionable. When I wrote for piano and cello, this was a concern, and we spent a good bit of time talking about things that I had written for either instrument that were awkward or sounded bad. Also, knowing your instruments means that you can can pick easier keys for more technical passages if you want them. For wind instruments, some keys fit better under the fingers than others.

2. Beat 1?

I know we were discouraged from this in the last composition, but there is barely any rehearsal time for players to be repeatedly missing entries, so I opted not to obscure the downbeat. In my current piece, if one person misses something or gets lost, the downbeat is very clear almost always. This sort of relates to the genre I intended to recontextualize, but I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing outside this context.

3. Know your players!

I also specifically chose people who I knew would work well together and be productive during rehearsals. Two of these people are graduates and one is a graduating performance major, so it is always great to go into the first rehearsal feeling confident about the musicians you asked. We could almost perform on one rehearsal, which is a great feeling, especially knowing that we will be having another rehearsal.

These are just some of the things I had in mind when I was writing this piece. It was a rush to write and even more of a rush to rehearse, for some of us. I don't intend to act as if I have some kind of superior knowledge, but this is a good way for me to get out my thoughts in case this situation every happens again, and I am sure it will, if my future is going to be how I wish.

Sunday, 25 November 2012


I'm going to take a couple minutes to write about the composition projects I want to do in the near future.

1. Flute Choir piece.

How on Earth have I never done this yet?!! Who knows, but I've already gotten a start on it. It's on hold for now, but in February, the MUN Flute Studio will be playing my piece in the Kiwanis Music Festival. I will be playing the alto flute, so I've already made sure to torture myself by making a super-hard alto flute part.

2. Concert Band piece.

I'm different from most people in that most of the music I've written has been for band. It's something I feel comfortable with. Why, then, has it been so long since I've done it? Don't ask me! Not even I can answer that. What I do know is that I will be writing more for band in the future. I aspire to win the competitions that Dr. Caslor and the Gower Band hold annually. Word on the street (or in the lounge...) is that Dr. Staniland is structuring the seminar course differently next semester, and maybe I could choose this as a project...

3. Saxophone Quartet piece.

... or I could write for saxes. Upon delving further into how next semester is going to pan out for us, I learned that since Electronic Music II is the slot right after Composition, those of us taking both might get all this time to work on composing and using the lab. A project I've cooked up in my head is a piece for saxophone quartet and electronics. This has potential to be a huge undertaking and also one of the most rewarding pieces of work.

4. Cello Choir piece???

A cellist mentioned to me that the low strings studio was thinking about starting a cello choir. He then proceeded to say that I should compose for them and gave me a whole bunch of ideas of images to depict. I would write something reminiscent of the sea. Unfortunate this is my lowest priority. It feels so awful to have to rank ideas, because I love all my ideas like precious offspring but sometimes you have to kill off the runts. It's the biggest tragedy of the life of an aspiring artist.

Oh yeah... I'm already in the middle of a piece. Stand by.

Saturday, 24 November 2012


If I could commit myself to being as focused and productive as I am when I compose when I set out to do other tasks, I would be a super-human.

Though I don't compose as often as I should be (where's the time?), when I do compose, realizing that I need to have a significant amount of work done for people to see and comment on, I can get so much done. I do compose pretty quickly. During these times, my cellphone stops existing, Facebook stops exists, there are no other people, it's just me and my old companions - my computer and Sibeluis 6 (not 7) - and it's time to get some work done. This is something that until now was mostly absent from my life. Other people seem to be able to free themselves from distraction and get their work done. There is no such thing for me, when it comes to all the things I've had to do up to this point. Music History, no. Music Theory, no. Aural Skills, no. Flute, no.

Music is a discipline that requires focus, so being able to focus on this one thing reassures me that I have a place in this program.


Hello, it's been such a long time since I made a post, so I want to write a little bit tonight...

Firstly, I want to talk about the progress that this new "recontextualization" composition has taken. It's been a couple steps to get to where I am now, and there's still more left to be written.

1. Finishing my 3 Vignettes, I had not even considered that there was no time to be burnt out from composition. I felt totally exhausted of ideas; this had been the longest and most focused compositional challenge I'd ever put myself to. Even more so than a band piece. I have a few band pieces, but all are written in a very familiar harmonic language. Then all of sudden, yes Mitchell, you do need to compose another piece before the semester is over.

2. Coming up with a new idea. Starting this new piece was so difficult. I had decided that I wanted to recontextualize metal music, as kind of a comment to the amount of metal that I tend to be surrounded to without paying much attention to it. All I knew from the start was that I wanted power chords and a wind quartet, which isn't necessarily the most helpful prompt. Open fifths. What to do there? Anything. I had played around on the pianos at school trying to find an idea, any idea, that I could develop into a piece, but I was really not happy with anything. A couple classes went by where we discussed the project (some people would be composing for voice and others would be recontextualilzing clichés and genres). I mentioned that everything I came up with was garbage, but the advice I was given was that very few ideas are actually as bad as you think. You just have to run with one because there's not enough time to labour over the piano searching for the "perfect idea."

3. Delving into a genre I was very unfamiliar with was interesting. What I had was an idea, and two chords. I would decide that these would form a kind of introduction that I'd heard in some of the progressive metal that I am slightly familiar with. This would get me as far as the "fast section," where I would let loose. The comments I received in this stage of the game were promising. Some would not see how this was metal. Others would be able to see it coming.

4. Last week I finally reached the point in the composition where I would totally exploit the open fifths. Writing this part of the piece was very fun. In two mega-productive spurts of focus, I churned out about 90 seconds of music which seemed to move away from power chords and then back. This seemed solid to me, and the class would tend to agree. But am I "recontextualizing" or am I "copying?" At this point I'm on the fence; it could go either way. A piece that is based on an interval found in every kind of music can barely be said to be copying just one kind, but where am I going with it? I am thinking that at this point if I am not explicitly told I'm missing the point, then it's best not to worry, but at the end of a semester, who is ever caught not worrying about something?

So I am hoping to finish the piece this week. Either the piece is going to end with a bang or it will come back to the original introductory material. I have yet to decide, and I may never make the decision. Sometimes it's the piece that decides when it's time to finish...

Then I have to rehearse it, that should be fun!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Ready to move on.

The recital was today!

After a stressful week, I'd like to say congratulations to everyone for some great work. There were actually some really amazing moments in the music I heard today, and I think everyone should be really happy with the work they've done.

After rehearsing my piece, there were some changes that I did have to make and I'd like to talk about them.
First, a section of my second movement was in the bottom octave of a piccolo, which turned out to be much more effective an octave up. I explored some extended technique in the cello, and figured that a tremolo on a muted bridge was a really cold sound that I used and was also very effective. The performers also took some time with the ending of the movement, and that is something I'd like to mark into the score. In the third movement, I discovered that some of the fast passages in the piano were very awkward and not worth the effort for the very tiny effect they have, so I let my pianist simplify them.

After this week, I am ready to move on from this piece. I could spend more and more tweaking and changing things, but at this point, I find myself ready to start something new. The next assignment looks to be like an interesting one. I'm thinking I will be doing the "recontextualizing a cliché" assignment. Even though I'm not entirely sure what this means (I'm sure it will be clarified),it sounds like a fun idea. Imagine a hardcore death metal style executed by a wind quintet... unless I'm misunderstanding the prompt...

Thursday, 11 October 2012

What next?

Whenever I've written a multi-movement piece before, it's never occurred that my intended trajectory of the piece was not the best choice. For example I have two movements of this set of character pieces now, and they are the first and third movements.

What do I put in the middle?

I guess the trouble I'm having is I can't go back to my familiar ABA or Slow-Fast-Slow type writing like I intended. I have to now write something that isn't too much like the first movement or too much like the third.

I am just posting random reflections here, but maybe if I chose a character and stuck to it rather than just designated the character after the fact, I would successfully write something that isn't too much like what I already have? Or maybe I could just do what I have been doing, I'm obviously not going to write the same thing twice without realizing it.

Or maybe I should stop complaining and just sit down and write.........