Assignment 5 – Advanced Music Composition

I have used the Assessment Criteria to help me reflect and evaluate my fifth assignment:

Technical Presentation:
This, my fifth assignment, sees me completing the first draft of my full orchestration:


It sounds like this:

Assignment 5 was a huge undertaking. This was the point by which I needed to transform my short score for piano and arrange it into the first orchestrated draft. Naturally, this required considerable thought as to which instruments I was to write for, which I had already discussed with my tutor, and we both agreed it was wise to scale down the instrumentation from a full symphony score and write instead for a chamber orchestra.

Once this had been agreed, I began adding the instrumentation to the score, the most I have ever written for in one piece. I remained undecided about the inclusion of the Nai, Dulcimer and Santoor throughout the entire score, given that they only appear in one section and I chose to hide their staves for the first movement.

However, as soon as I hide them, the layout of my score went sideways. My original layout when I was orchestrating was set to A3 landscape orientation, giving me lots of room, but admittedly, this made the staves tiny. A conductor would have needed binoculars to have read the score like this, so in a way, hiding these 3 instruments until movement 2 did me a favour. But it didn’t come without headaches.

I spent literally hours trying to work out how I could change the layout so that everything was readable and there were no collisions between staves.

In the end, I decided to change the paper size to A4, which of course was even scarier because everything bunched up; fonts were too big, parts were clashing horrendously. It was a mess. I made sure that I highlighted the entire score as I made these changes because I needed to affect the whole composition with any change I made.

Once the paper size and orientation had been changed, I played around with the overall stave sizing. Once I got a better overall size that I was convinced a conductor could read, I then needed to create more space between the individual staves themselves. I did this by clicking into each stave’s very first bar and clicking ‘optimise’; this gave them the much-needed breathing space and aesthetically, it was now starting to look more professional.

However, I needed to address all my section titles and narrative text, which was still too large and defaulting to A3 paper size, i.e. too long. I went through and reduced all of these across the whole score.

Through scanning through and changing the various text elements, I noticed that my beautifully set second movement page break was now ruined and I had the last bar of movement one hijacking the same page; I needed to delete the original page break, click on the last bar of the first movement and set the page break again.

I inserted a title page and further blank page at the beginning of my score to insert the necessary information required here (title, composer, instrumentation). I have never created these before and this again took some researching to fathom out.

I then needed to go through and check each instrument stave separately for consistency on dynamics, articulation, etc.

And then it was a careful, time-consuming process of running through the entire score and checking for collisons between the staves. I’m still not completely sure this has been done correctly; where dynamics or notation came up in red, I optimized the staves in and around them until everything fitted without clashing. This resulted in some staves needing to bunch right up together to allow more room for the ‘active’ staves to have space.

It was then that I discovered that the overall stave size and orientation should have been determined before I had begun scoring. I had no idea. And of course, this would have saved me ALL this work. I went back and re-set the stave size initially to 5.5mm and then reduced it further still, just to make sure everything would work and stop clashing.

Compositional skills
I was surprised by how readily the orchestration process came together. I had a great starting point in the short score and I used it in its entirety as the basis for the orchestration. As I played the short score in different instruments within the orchestration, I began hearing other lines that I wanted to include; decorative motifs, bass lines, harmonic parts.

So, therefore, on reflection – despite the technical difficulties I have experienced with the layout – the actual compositional aspect of this assignment was a joy to complete and I am very proud of what I have achieved.

I know that I have further work to do within certain parts, such as the strings, but I found that with the Critical Review draft that needed writing, there was an enormous amount to achieve for this assignment, and I fully intend to utilise my 6th and final assignment to ‘tidy’ things and get everything ready for formal assessment.

I feel for this assignment, my creativity goes hand in hand with my compositional skills above. That said, I did need to think differently about this assignment because I had a much broader colour of sound to use. In this sense, my creativity really took off because instead of writing my music solely on the piano (and thus, hearing it for piano), I was able to create nuances, subtleties within the music that gave light and shade to my music. I had one word in mind when I was doing the orchestration; contrast. I didn’t want the whole orchestra playing all the time – and that’s evident in the number of empty staves at various times – I tried my best, with my limited experience, to use the instruments I chose, to create as many different effects and provide as much contrast as possible.

So, my interest in creating contrast came now only in the texture, but also in the rhythm, the harmonic support (and with different instruments), and the dynamics and articulation. I reduced the orchestral texture to a handful of instruments when the dynamics were quieter and conversely increased the instrumentation when the dynamics grew; this is the first time I have tried this technique and I’m really pleased with the results.

I introduced three instruments for the start of Movement II, the Nai, Dulcimer and Santoor. I really wanted an oriental feel and whilst my tutor encouraged me to use my standard instrumentation instead because for performance reasons it would be costly, I wanted to keep them in because I wanted to remain true to the sound that I wanted to create. I agree with my tutor; it is somewhat luxurious to expect 3 instrumentalists to just play for a few bars in a piece, but I think if one were to ever get this performed for real, I would utilise the oboe and the harp instead.



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