Crisis of confidence – the curse of the composer?

Following answers to previously raised questions, I still currently find myself feeling lost and at sea with my studies, which urged me to contact my tutor again yesterday.  My email read as follows:

“I’m still very much at sea with this all right now. I’ve made every effort to get on with things but every time I do,  I find myself drawing a complete blank. I don’t seem to have a clue where to start, what to do first.

You’ve asked for a structure with timings yet I’ve only written 9 minutes so far. I’m not sure how to combine what I’ve written into fewer sections and having not written the rest yet, can’t envisage how long other sections will be.
And, of course, the first 9 minutes has been written in short score because that’s how we were taught to start a composition before arranging it last year.
I will change my approach for the second half of the course as you have suggested (melody with chords and sketches for accompanying lines) which will give me something I can reflect on at the end: what style I preferred within the context of writing for orchestra.
Despite it being a piano score I can actually hear other lines alongside this and haven’t been focused on a piano-style composition. I find this gives me a solid basis for different arrangements but we’ll see how the other technique works our, as & when I continue composing.
Distance learning has been a real eye opener for me in terms of discipline, motivation, confidence. I’m currently really feeling the complete isolation from other peers. I can’t chat through things with anyone; I can’t get any perspective on how I’m doing or if I’m on track, etc. There seems to be a very active & healthy writing community with whom I belong but in stark contrast, the musicians seem to hide away in caverns somewhere and don’t want to engage.
I’ve tried to get people involved in the OCA forums but without much success. If you happen to be tutoring any other 3rd year students I’d love to be put in touch with some of them as I think it may help.
And so my next deadline is looming. I’ll be honest; I’m not going to have as much for you as you would like. Until I can get my head around this momentum stall I’m not going to get moving with it all. I haven’t even started orchestrating yet because I don’t know whether what’s written needs changing!
Sorry this isn’t very positive right now. I’m sure things will get better but I really do feel like the hill has developed into a mountain.”

My tutor kindly came back to me promptly with the following clarifications and reassurances:

“Sorry to hear all of this. I understand the sense of isolation – but keep going – it will all be fine!

Short score in itself is not a problem – and if it works more easily for you to write the piece as a whole in a piano version first then perhaps you should take that approach and orchestrate it later. My concern was that in doing it this way it might be harder to edit in the end, but if it means you can get the ideas flowing we can deal with editing issues later. 
The structural plan needs to come before the composing – what the assessors want to see is a map of the piece to show your initial ideas and that you’ve given consideration to how to handle large- scale structure, which is one of the big challenges of this course. As with all of your OCA work so far, they want to see your development and trajectory through the course, and that includes documenting any changes to make to your original plan as you go along – but the original plan needs to be there, clearly mapped out from the beginning. This should include which of the thematic ideas will go into which of the movements (or if you plan to write a through-composed piece you should show the order that things will appear with approximate timings and where themes might come back or be developed further) and how you might develop the themes, as well as the main instrumentation you will use. The hardest part about writing long pieces is the development of the thematic material – there needs to be the right balance between the number of new ideas and the development of these ideas so that there is a strong identity to the piece and also a good sense of contrast. That’s a big part of the challenge here. And of course the way you use the instruments is important too, so having a list of your planned resources is enormously useful, so that in your short score you can write the main instruments over the melodic material – so for example on your piece outline it could say theme 1 – oboe, theme 2 – strings etc. 
There’s a bit of a difference between writing a short score and a piano piece. A short score is a roadmap with suggestions of harmony/instrumentation/thematic material, rather than necessarily a completed piano version of the piece. There can be gaps in short scores, as well as text notes and rhythmic/accompaniment skeletons – but it doesn’t need to be a polished piece in this form.
A structural plan will show the examiners your thought processes and also give you lots to write about when you change your plan – so if you later decide theme 2 should be for trumpet instead you can explain why and show that you’ve been thinking in detail about the instrumental sounds. 
The overview plan should ideally be the first stage of the process – a roadmap for the whole piece – and then you can flesh out the musical material, and make changes, as you compose. 
So I’d suggest this order:
List of instruments you will use
Structural overview of whole piece
Short score (with basic indications of instrumentation)
Of course, if you find a different approach works better for you, that’s fine, but you’ll still need to show your planning stages in the written commentaries that support your work.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s