Assignment 6 – Advanced Music Composition

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

Technical Presentation:
This, my sixth assignment, sees me developing the previous draft of my full orchestration:


It sounds like this:

Assignment 6 was another huge undertaking of work, which unfortunately became marred by some extremely difficult personal circumstances. However, with enormous encouragement and support from the college and my tutor, we re-organised the timeframe for my formal assessment to March 2017 from November 2016, which bought me some additional, much needed time.

Following assignment 5, there seemed to be a lot that needed addressing, both in terms of the score, and the critical review. If I was to know where to start and understand truly how I was to get everything done in time, I had to start with a brand new schedule. And thus, a study timetable was drawn up covering every week within each month between May and November. This was the starting point.

I realised early on that the only way I was going to determine what it was that I needed to change with the score was to evaluate what I already had. Whilst this sounds obvious, having gone through some personal difficulties earlier in the year, I had come away from the score completely, which in hindsight had done me an enormous favour. I could now view it almost with new eyes and ears.

The first thing I wanted to do was just listen. From this, I made notes just purely from what I heard; what sounded wrong, what sounded bare, what was good, and what needed some adjustment; I allowed my ears alone to inform me at this point.

I then decided to work through comments and suggestions made by my tutor following assignment 5. I removed parts, I added parts (all detailed below).

In removing some parts, I gained some space on the score, which I kept as A4 size (I did plan to lay it out in A3 but was advised by a fellow student that this was harder for conductors to turn). I knew from Assignment 5 that there were likely to be some layout ‘issues’ but didn’t concern myself too greatly at this point; I had music to more write before that.

Referring to my listening notes, and now seeing the empty staves in front of me, I went through and started to add more parts into the music (more detailed notes on this follow under ‘Compositional Skills).

Once the additional parts were scored, I could then look at the layout. There were plenty of clashes, overlapping staves, key signatures bunching up at section changes. I decided that given that I now had all the parts that I wanted, I could go about changing the stave size from 3.5mm to between 4-5mm. However, I didn’t want to lose too much overall tidiness and so added a page break to every page.

I then increased the stave sizing, which suddenly made everything so much easier to read, but still the clashes continued. I selected the entire score and then reset note spacing. It resolved all the issues immediately! I then just needed to go through the score to create a little more spacing here and there between parts where they had bunched together.

Compositional skills
When I returned to my studies earlier in the year, I wanted to get some opinions from fellow professional musicians on each of the parts that I had written; being a pianist and flautist is great but only if you’re concerning yourself with those two instruments. This piece was much bigger and encompassed instruments I didn’t play.

I saved each part down in Sibelius to pdf, networked with professional teachers in each instrument, and got agreement for each part to be evaluated. I emailed the pdfs round, asking each player to tell me if the parts were playable, whether I had explored enough range and technique, and for general feedback. It was fascinating yet terrifying, because this was the first time that anyone other than my tutor had seen let alone played my music! One lady even recorded 15 seconds of my opening harp part form the royal box at Wimbledon and posted it on Facebook!

All feedback came in, which I noted on my blog, and I started the process of looking carefully at what had been said, instrument by instrument. I compared each part with my instrument notes compiled from Blatter (details below), and I quickly got a clear picture of what needed changing where.

After each instrument had been evaluated and tweaked, I decided to remove the Nai, Dulcimer and Santoor parts completely; where I did have notation written within these parts I re-allocated the lines to suitably alternative sounds, namely the Nai to the Oboe or Cor Anglais, and the Dulcimer to the harp or piano predominantly.

The Santoor didn’t have any notation and was an easy deletion. These parts were a luxury that, given that I hoped one day to hear this piece performed, would be too expensive to justify and despite feeling initially really disappointed reading my tutor’s comments about these parts, in time I came to appreciate her advice and acted upon it.

Once these parts were removed, I realised that the piece needed more percussion. Up to now, I had only written for timpani, and I knew that I wanted a more comical feel for the Mad Hatter, and a military side/snare drum for the Queen of Hearts. So, that’s when I decided to add a rock drum kit, which admittedly isn’t conventional for an orchestral piece but I think it’s fun and adds so much more dimension. I also added cymbals, side and bass drums, too.

For this assignment, I had a different creative requirement. I didn’t need to orchestrate the entire piece but perhaps more challengingly, I needed instead to determine what was missing and then add just enough additional music that would enhance everything, with attention to the overall balance and colour. I was guided initially by my ear and what sounded right or wrong.

I have been far more stylistically aware this time round regarding the individual instruments and their capabilities. For assignment 5, I was mindful of the instruments and the groupings, but I didn’t pay as close attention to each one’s true capabilities; I just wanted to get the first, rough arrangement down.

For this assignment, I didn’t have the luxury of a ‘first stab’ approach. I needed to be far more diligent in this respect and not only create new music where needed, but also make sure that every part was appropriate. As such, I created crib notes on each instrument based upon my research reading Blatter’s book (detailed below), and I also printed off each part and analysed what I had initially written, with particular attention to range and technique (see blog posts ‘Analysis of Individual Parts’ & ‘Instrumentation notes’).

I quickly realised through this process that I had not explored any techniques, aside from marking in a trumpet mute – but even this had not been specified because I didn’t appreciate there were different types.

I took time to research each instrument’s special techniques; the different bowing techniques with the strings, the mutes with the woodwind and brass. I spent some time learning about pedal settings for the harp and the ‘up/down’ bowing instructions for the strings with the intention of including them but was persuaded otherwise by my professional colleagues; they all advised me that it wasn’t necessary to mark these in unless I wanted to achieve a specific effect, such as a series of down bows for accents. They advised me that the majority of players work their own bowing methods out, and a harpist is trained to go through a score and mark in pedal markings.


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