Keeping composed

A dedicated week of annual leave commenced this week, all in the name of studying. Alice should feel honoured.

Having completed the first round of my final schedule, ‘Presentation’ work, it was time to address the more complex and potentially time consuming task; composing.

I wrote the short score on the piano a long time ago, and then completed the first and revised drafts of the orchestration over the Summer, so this task was a daunting one. It always is.

I have learned along this journey that as a composer, I am usually incredibly fortunate to be able to generate the compositional ideas and elements very quickly, often quicker than I can keep up with; I truly believe this to be a gift. I don’t know where the music comes from, but I’m definitely the channel.

I read a book; I get the soundtrack. I look out at the scenery; I get the melody line. My life has a theme running through it continually, which is ever changing depending on what I’m doing, and where I am.

My initial feeling when I read my tutor’s formative feedback comments regarding the score being sparse still in places was heart stopping, stomach churning dread. I lack huge amounts of patience when it comes to going back over my work, which is something I am learning to be more tolerant of.

My feeling is that once I have the music ‘out there’ that’s it. Often, I feel it takes a little part of me with it…very difficult to describe or put into words, but my composing is such a personal thing. I was told by my secondary school music teacher that I would never do a degree in music composition, nor would I teach, and least of all get my grade VIII piano. As you can imagine, this was fairly damaging at the time, so much so that I truly wonder now at how things have u-turned. I have managed to reach my final year studies in composition and learned to write for an orchestra. I have also been successfully teaching privately for over 20yrs and passed my grade VIII piano – with distinction.

So – I digress. But this subplot needed to be included to give context to this incredible journey and echo my own sense of wonder and pride in what I have achieved so far.

And so ‘keeping composed’ is what I have been doing this week. I had initially gone through the manuscript and highlighted with bright neon yellow the ‘sparse’ areas, based upon face value judgment. It may have made me feel like I was making a start, but in real terms, with hindsight, this achieved nothing.

What I realised quickly after this was that what I really needed to do, much like when preparing for my 6th assignment, was to listen. And so, for 6 solid days, that’s what I have done. Listen.

Initially, I didn’t think I was going to know what needed to be added. I felt exactly this way before. And then it began. Small but significant motives, invisible on the score but playing in my head, began to come forward.

Sometimes, I felt instinctively where the line should go, which instrument should play it. Other times, I didn’t. This is one thing I have really enjoyed about Sibelius; I can place a phrase with one instrument and then ‘move it around’ other parts should it not sound right.

Therefore, as I conclude this post, I have decided to leave Wonderland for a few days. I have worked through the entire score and evaluated the orchestration throughout. I have added more lines, taken some out, and varied some of the repetitive sections. Yet I know that this is just the beginning of my work within ‘Composition’, and before I fall out with Alice completely, I need to walk away and get some distance. I have achieved in six days the same work that I truly thought would take me six weeks.

I know that when I next pull up a chair at a certain tea party, I will be having a very sensible conversation with someone (well, by Wonderland’s standards anyway!)


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