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.

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.


Assignment 4 – Advanced Music Composition

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

Technical Presentation:
This, my fourth assignment, sees me completing my short score:

Alice in Wonderland Short Score – Revised for Assignment 4

It sounds like this:

Having composed the first 9 minutes and 15 seconds by my second assignment – and having not composed any new material by my third assignment – there was an enormous but necessary expectation to pull out all the stops and complete the short score of my composition for this assignment. That meant writing nearly 11 minutes of music.

It’s fair to say that the period leading up to my third assignment witnessed me experiencing a crisis of confidence and a complete lack of direction, and it wasn’t until I had forced myself to work out the structure of the piece in its entirety that I had a better sense of what I needed to do.

For the notation of the rest of the short score, I worked in Sibelius in ‘panoramic’ mode, which enabled me to move backwards and forwards throughout the music with ease. Within this mode, I entered freely the descriptive story elements, the dynamics and phrasing, and gave little thought to how this might end up ‘looking’ in a different viewing mode for printing.

When I came to print the entire score at the end of composing so that I had a ‘hard copy’ version to start marking up story descriptions, dynamics, phrasing, articulation (which I prefer to do away from the screen), I realised that this panoramic viewing mode skewed the formatting of the staves. I had no room between stave lines; everything looked out of alignment somehow.

In order to re-format the layout, I needed to stay away from panoramic mode from hereon in so that what I saw on the screen was representative of the printed version. The horizontal spread mode was the one I needed to stick to from now on. So, from a technical point of view, realising that the different viewing modes had various pros and cons to the end result and the finished presentation of my score was a huge learning curve.

I also need to learn how to present the score so that Movement II (this is the section that I have written for this assignment) appears on a completely new page.  I also need to give due consideration to page turns for musicians when it comes to the arrangement score.  I will undertake some specific research for this and record my findings on my log.

I very consciously didn’t go back over the first section that I wrote to incorporate my tutor’s feedback. I really did need to focus solely on this second movement. However, for assignment 5 I will be taking into account all feedback and applying it where I think is appropriate.

Compositional skills:
For the first time, I approached the composing of my score differently and took more time to undertake research prior to writing the music. The first section that I needed to write for assignment 4 – the hookah-smoking caterpillar – initially had me stumped creatively; how could I be inspired to write music that described an insect?

After some head-scratching, it dawned on me that I had a very obvious clue in what the insect was actually doing. Smoking. And smoking a hookah. I had my inspiration right there! This lead me on a quest to research what a hookah was and where it came from (Middle East). From here, I was able to then research Middle Eastern music, the instrumentation and the style of music written (based on modal scales).

This approach really helped me to establish a more authentic feel for the caterpillar section and I did my best to incorporate a very ethnic sound.

I also checked what instruments were available to me on Sibelius that I could write for; the Nay and the Santur were two, and I knew immediately that I would also write for the harp and the strings to try to replicate the eastern sound.

The other sections came to me in a more traditional fashion but were again written very instinctively and with no prior research or listening work. I felt that the Cheshire Cat needed to sound mysterious and sly. The Mad Hatter’s tea party needed to sound quirky and humourous; as such, and in accordance with my composition plan, I wrote a ragtime-inspired section that had a suitably off-beat, slightly syncopated rhythm, and a harmonic structure that was chromatic.

I undertook some research prior to writing the Queen of Hearts, because I wanted not only a strong regal feel but also quite a Gaelic sound, too. Thinking about our own monarch and her love for the Highlands, I felt I wanted to hint at this, hence this section departs from the initial fanfare opening to a more lyrical, open-chord (bagpipe-esque) motif.

All the while, throughout the process of writing this second half, I have been conscious of trying to keep Alice’s theme ‘appearing’, either literally or as an under-pinning accompaniment part to other motifs. This was highlighted by my tutor after submitting my third assignment, and I realised just how important it was to maintain a thread of continuity throughout the piece. As I discovered, though, this was really hard to execute. Getting the balance right between new sections and re-workings of existing themes was very difficult, and I’m still not sure whether I have achieved this yet.

I knew instinctively that for the last section, ‘Return to the Riverbank’, I wanted to recap each main theme from the piece, because I visualised Alice ‘coming to’ on the riverbank and her mind wandering through her adventures as she questioned whether any of it had been real or not.

My third assignment saw me thinking more carefully about potential instrumentation, and I suppose more importantly this time around, I have been more attentive and mindful to being more considered about my composing. At times I have been careful to undertake specific bits of research to give myself a firmer starting point to work from, and I think this shows through in my music.

I see this as quite a development in myself as a composer. Rather than just sitting at the piano and letting an idea ‘come to me’, I have found myself doing more groundwork, doing more research to seek guidance and inspiration. And given that I have aspirations to write professionally for film and TV, I have felt a shift in me creatively over the last 3 months.

I suppose it’s felt more of a ‘prescriptive’ way of working. That’s not to say that some elements of this second movement haven’t just come to me, but most times in the past 3 months, I’ve deliberately started the section away from the piano and looked more thoroughly at what it was I needed to achieve.

At the third assignment, I said that I had started to orchestrate the piece. This didn’t last, sadly. Time was very much against me and once I realised how much composing lay ahead of me because I was effectively playing catch-up, there was no time for orchestration. This will be the work for assignment 5.

Critical Review:
Once again, there has been little time for any work to take place on this review. With only one more assignment left for the composition and my sixth and final assignment available to concentrate on this review, I do need to use the 5th assignment as a head-start; I need to get as close to a first draft of this essay as possible.

As far as the structure is concerned, I have had some early thoughts about it:

1) The first paragraph will discuss what programme music is and put into historical music context the two pieces that I am looking at, i.e. the baroque period of Vivaldi, and the late Classical/early Romantic period of Beethoven.
2) I will then discuss in more depth the history of each piece, where they sat within the composer’s other works, and what were the influences behind them.
3) I will then take each piece in turn, starting with Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ and then Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’, and identify what it is about each piece that justifies them being an example of programme music. This is where I will not only need to research what others have said about the works, but also identify key examples of programme music style from each score and cite them within the essay. This will help me conclude whether they are indeed worthy of being classed as an example of programme music.
4) The last section will need to offer a conclusion to the question raised in the title and draw upon the research and analysis undertaken.

Stylistic Awareness:
I have undertaken more research over the course of the last 3 months to assist me with my composing, both to inform me of particular styles but also to broaden my understanding of orchestral scores and sounds. My listening work has a dedicated post on my learning log online (link to this is detailed below).

Assignment 5:
Assignment 5 is essentially the last chance that I have to go through my composition with my tutor prior to assessment. Therefore, I have some serious arranging to get done over the next couple of months. Indeed, for this reason, I want to give myself at least four months to complete this, given that I don’t have a huge amount of experience in arranging. This timeframe works on the basis that I can get 5 minutes of music arranged per month. This will also hopefully give me enough study time to start work in earnest on my critical review, which I must get started with some seriousness now.

Undertaking a degree whilst in full time employment, whilst holding down two jobs and doing various other projects on the go, is no small feat, and I should take more time to congratulate myself on how well I am keeping things together. I can’t deny that I am fearful of the next few months; I have a large amount of dread regarding the arranging of this piece because once I have written something, I find editing and going back over it painstaking; it really challenges my patience. However, I’ve come to realise that if something doesn’t scare you, you shouldn’t be doing it, and this is a journey that as a composer I need to take.

Online blog:
The address for my online studying blog is:







Assignment 3 – Advanced Music Composition

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

Technical Presentation:
This, my third assignment, sees me developing my short score:

Alice in Wonderland Short Score – Revised for Assignment 3

It sounds like this:

Instead of continuing the compositional process, I took the advice of my tutor and concentrated more closely on working on what I had already written; the first 9 minutes 15 seconds. I have not composed any new material.

I freely admitted to deliberately avoiding dynamics, articulation and any further expressive markings on my short score at Assignment 2 because I had been focused on writing the music. However, I have been making rough notes about possible orchestration so that I knew what parts of the story I was interpreting where; I just needed to incorporate this all into the short score to give me a firmer basis for the orchestrating process.

And that’s what I have been doing for this assignment; working out how to include the various descriptive story elements and orchestration ‘thoughts’ amongst the music. I didn’t have a president to follow and I have used my own judgement as to how I included these factors.

Compositional skills:
I have worked on developing my understanding of the orchestra for this assignment, looking specifically at the different sections within it, and the individual instruments that play within those sections (what their ranges are, their different timbres within different ranges, their characteristics).

As I started this research, I soon realised how vast a subject area this was; it could take potentially a lifetime to truly master the intricacies of the orchestra and certainly Rimsky-Korsakov seems to have dedicated his life to the art-form.

It’s a fascinating subject orchestration. I liken it to baking; the instruments are the necessary ingredients, the composer is the chef, and the arrangement is the method. Providing you get the right ingredients together in the most appropriate way, the end result is a beautifully balanced cake.

This is most definitely a ‘work-in-progress’, which now takes equal priority on this third year course to that of my actual composing. I need a much stronger understanding of the instrumentation, what works well together, what creates tension and release, balance, and contrast. At the moment, this feels like a mountain to climb but as I progress, I know that I will learn to make it more manageable.

Owing to the deliberate ceasing of further composing over the last 8 weeks, I cannot demonstrate or discuss my creativity in the same way as my previous assignments.

However, I have been giving thought to the types of orchestration that I’m interested in for each of the sections already written, along with the remaining sections.

I have also worked on the structure of my piece, from start to finish, to give me a stronger starting point for the project.

For each section, I have considered the following areas:
a) Any theme being introduced or reprised
b) The general feel/style
c) Initial thoughts on instrumentation
d) Approximate length
e) The texture (and I have tried to capture the shape of this, how it may build or remain the same, pictorially)
f) Pitch, which also takes into consideration thoughts around individual timbres of instruments I hope to include
g) Rhythm
h) Time signature
i) Key signature
j) Speed

In hindsight, now that I have put thought into each of these areas for each of the sections, I feel that I have a stronger starting point for the remaining part of the composition. The first 9 minutes was written without a structure and was created purely from intuition based on the part of the story. I look forward to reflecting on the effectiveness of this structure and what impact is has on my creativity when I start composing again.

I have started very slowly to start orchestrating the first section. I say ‘very slowly’ because I’m taking great care to really ‘hear’ what is happening and what is needed. I haven’t developed as good an ear yet and this will come from listening to more orchestral scores, which I fully intend to do.

Critical Review:
In all honesty, with the struggles of the past 8 weeks, I haven’t focused on the critical review; I am happy with the title proposed at Assignment 2 and once I feel comfortable and on top of the project again, I can then start to commit more time to planning out this review.

I had been concerned at my lack of attention to this part of my studies recently, but I am discovering that whilst I may initially fret over what I’m not doing, I should stand back from everything and acknowledge what I am doing. I can’t do everything all at once, and I have to be able to manage my studies and focus on the area that requires attention the most.

Stylistic Awareness:
I have tried to engage with various orchestral scores over the past 8 weeks to look at their texture and be inspired with my own arrangement ideas.

I have created a post on my online learning log, which talks specifically about orchestral texture and the piece that I listened to for this research was Tolga Kashif’s ‘Queen Symphony’.

Tolga Kashif’s ‘Queen Symphony’

Assignment 4:
For this next assignment, I want to have progressed with the orchestration of the first 9 minutes of my project. This is going to take time; I feel right now like I’m about to jump into a swimming pool with all my clothes on – and I actually can’t swim all that well, and I chose this analogy carefully because this is exactly how I feel. Frightened and out of my depth.

But I’m staying focused, and being careful to look at one part at a time; that’s where I’ll start to see some progress I’m sure and I don’t want to guarantee getting the whole 9 minutes orchestrated.

To this end, I want to listen to and study a couple of orchestral scores to help develop my ear and sense of texture and structure. I have the following scores downloaded from the Petrucci website:

Mahler’s ‘Symphony No.5 in C Minor’
Mozart’s ‘Symphony No.41’
Debussy’s ‘Prelude a l’après-midi d’un faun’

Online blog:
The address for my online studying blog is:

Assignment 2 – Advanced Music Composition

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

Technical Presentation:
This, my second assignment, is the first time that I am submitting a Sibelius score for my tutor on this my final composition module:

Amy Balcomb Alice in Wonderland Short Score Assignment 2

It sounds like this:

I think the technical presentation of my score is okay but I am unsure currently about keeping each section flowing into another with the word ‘attacca’ notated. This is more a point around structure and something that I will give more thought to as I progress through the composing process. It may well be that I need to create 2-4 movements and effectively join sections together, but thought will need to be given to how the tempo changes will work.

I have submitted this first part of my composition as a short score. I have not started to arrange the music yet, nor have I added any articulation, dynamics or expression markings, and therefore, the score is quite sparse at present but given the volume of music required for this composition, I want to use these early assignments to get the initial notes down.

Compositional skills:
Each and every section of music for this piece has been written fairly spontaneously. With each section, I have considered a selection of things;

a) Is there a character? If so, what is the personality of that character and how can I represent that in the music?
b) Is there any action that takes place? If so, is it fast-paced or slow? Is the activity normal or unusual (a valid question in Wonderland).
c) Do I need to reprise a previous character theme?
d) Is there an obvious ‘style’ to the section? Should it feel a certain way, i.e. is it a dance? (this point is helped by the other 3 points, too).

The sections of music that I have written to date, together with my thoughts on potential instrumentation for symphony orchestra are as follows:

1) By the Riverbank
This is a gentle, lilting, repetitive section that captures the movement of the water and the dreaminess of the titular character, Alice, as she finds herself feeling sleepy on the riverbank. The harmonic movement of the piece is descending and chromatic, representing both the lulling of Alice’s senses and the flowing nature of the water, and Alice’s theme is slow and relaxed.
Anticipated orchestration: harp, piano or celeste playing main piano (quavers) motif with a flute or an oboe playing Alice’s theme. Perhaps pedal note strings and pizzicato bass.

2) The White Rabbit
This section needed to contrast in tempo with the opening; there is a very real sense of urgency with this character considering he is always late. Therefore, I wanted to write a note (the opening E in the left hand) that plays continually through the section and which plays on every beat, which helps to drive the section forward. This section is faster than the opening and it doesn’t take long to feel that the music is ‘on the move’. The melodic curve of the rabbit theme is quirky, bouncy, and flighty. There is an interlude-style change in the middle of the section, which I wrote to represent Alice’s growing curiosity – she’s noticed the rabbit and wants to follow him. It’s a lyrical motif that gives a welcome, albeit momentary contrast to the constancy of the repetitiveness of the rabbit’s motif, which is soon reprised.
Anticipated orchestration: bassoon playing repeated note. Oboe playing melody. Strings providing supporting harmony.

3) Curiosity before falling, then Falling Down
There was little doubt what needed to happen in this section musically; it needed to descend. It also needed to represent the tumbling motion of Alice as she falls down the rabbit hole. The section starts steadily, which is quite deliberate, with the Curiosity. I didn’t just want the music to career head-long down at full pelt for the entire time; it would have sounded too chaotic. I felt that Alice’s process of falling required a moment whereby she teeters on the edge with curiosity, peering over the edge craning her neck to catch a glimpse of where the rabbit has disappeared. It is this very action that is captured early in the section before we realise that she’s peered too far and she’s lost her balance and has started to fall (bar 151). The notation commences at a high register to allow greater room for descent, and the notes escalate downwards, sometimes solo, sometimes in discordant intervals to add to the building chaos.
Anticipated orchestration: unsure at this point but I do expect it to be quite contrapuntal between instruments.

4) Drink Me, Eat Me
I felt with this section that it needed a brief period of calm and rest at the start; Alice has reached the bottom of the hole before discovering the bottle of potion and cake. I decided this would be a good time to reprise, albeit briefly, Alice’s theme for the first 13 bars. And then we experience the first episode of ‘strange’ in the composition at bar 231 where Alice drinks and eats things that makes her body larger and smaller. A change of direction, reflecting the changes in Alice, move us to a contrasting lyrical passage from bar 242 to the end of the section, leading us into the next; the Dodo.
Anticipated orchestration: unsure again at this point. I’d like to make the most of some unusual effects and sounds that can be created, perhaps with varying bowing techniques in the strings and the use of mutes, etc, with brass?
5) The Dodo, The Caucus Race
The half-way point of the composition, this two-part section introduces an extinct bird and a fruitless, pointless circular race that Alice participates in with various small mammals in the hope of drying off after getting sopping wet. The race is pointless because nobody wins and they go round in circles. My approach to this section, therefore, was to start with the Dodo. How do you write music about a creature you’ve never seen in real life?! I remembered watching a David Attenborough programme based in the Natural History Museum and they animated lots of the exhibits with computer graphics so that they all ‘came alive’ at night. One these creatures was the Dodo!
With a visual interpretation to go on, I wrote the motif based on its waddling gait and its inquisitive beak (e.g. the repeated B-note quavers in bar 256). With only 21 bars written for this creature, the Caucus Race makes its appearance at bar 276. I tried to make the melody line really simple yet go round on itself. I modulated the key from F-sharp major to B-flat major at bar 292. Bar 324 sees us return to F-sharp major again where the melody line repeats but an octave higher. The section ends at bar 343.
Anticipated orchestration: unknown as yet.

I find writing for the piano very liberating and it frees me up to getting the notes down; I don’t need to concern myself with orchestration, although at times, I get ideas for certain instruments tat I would like to use when I come to arrange it for the symphony orchestra.

I promised to compose 1/3 of the entire 20-minute piece by this assignment deadline and I have written 9 minutes 15 seconds, which I’m thrilled about because I am almost half way through. I wasn’t sure how I would mentally ‘take’ to the idea of writing an extended piece of music, but at this stage, having written what I have so far, I feel confident that I will be able to write the full 20 minutes of music with relative ease. I do have concerns around keeping the structure logical, as well as making each section both unique yet stylistic to the piece as a whole.

In my first assignment, I outlined the various story curves that I was keen to include in my piece. I think given my notes above, it shows that my creativity is ‘taking’ to this project really well and I have to confess that I am really enjoying it.

I originally felt drawn to writing a symphony but on further consideration decided that this would have been too restrictive; I wanted a freer form that would allow me to explore different styles. I therefore decided to write a freer style, a Fantasia. I have done some research on this which I have written up on my blog.



Writing for a symphony orchestra will give me a full colour palette of sound at my disposal. I won’t lie; at this stage it feels a little bit daunting to be considering such a vast array of instruments but I just need to take one section at a time and work methodically through.

I will continue to listen to film scores to get my ‘ear’ used to hearing and identifying the instrumentation used; it’s sometimes difficult to hear the balance and effect of certain instruments used together. I also think that it’s important to have moments that aren’t as densely orchestrated; I believe the music needs moments where it can catch its breath and in turn, will create contrast. I didn’t get a chance in my previous compositions at Level 2 to reduce the instrumentation back because the assignments were for very specific groupings; I now have the freedom to do this.

I also want to explore in one of my sections percussion and cross-rhythms to add variety and to demonstrate my diversity. I lack confidence in the notation of rhythm, though, and this is evident in my previous compositions; the percussive elements are minimal. I will be listening to more Steve Reich, John Cage, Christopher Deane and Ney Rosauro to see if this will help.

Critical Review:
I can now confirm the title for my critical review: –

‘To what extent are Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ and Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ examples of programme music and how effectively do they tell a story?’

Now that I have the title in place, I have started my research, commencing with Beethoven. I am listening to the piece carefully, working through each of the movements in turn. I have realised that each movement has to be looked at individually before evaluating the piece as a whole. Beethoven sets a different ‘scene’ for each of the five movements and gives each one of them a specific title, so it will be very interesting to get to know them and see how he interprets the scenes musically.


Stylistic Awareness:
Listening, reading, research: The following reading and listening research helped me to broaden my knowledge and assisted me in developing my ideas at this stage:

* Huscher, P. (Unknown). Program Notes: Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (Pastoral). Available: Last accessed 18 April 2015
* Ku, A. (Unknown). Programme Notes – Orchestra Concert, Vredenburg Great Hall in Utrecht. Available: Last accessed 23 April 2015
* Unknown. (Unknown). Beethoven’s 6th Symphony (Pastoral). Available: Last accessed 17 April 2015
* Unknown. (Unknown). Beethoven Pastoral Symphony (6th) – A Love of Nature. Available: Last accessed 17 April 2015

* Unknown. (Unknown). Fantasia (music). Available: (music). Last accessed 16 April 2015

* Unknown. (Unknown). Fantasia (music). Available: Last accessed 18 April 2015

* Unknown. (Unknown). List of program music. Available: Last accessed 15 February 2015

* Unknown. (Unknown). Symphony No.6 (Beethoven). Available: (Beethoven). Last accessed 08 April 2015

* Unknown. (Unknown). What is program music?. Available: Last accessed 08 April 2015


* Beethoven, Ludwig van – Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral): Movements 1 & 2
* Desplat, Alexandre – The Imitation Game: ‘Alan’
* Desplat, Alexandre – The King’s Speech: ‘Lionel & Bertie’
* Desplat, Alexandre – The Queen: ‘The Queen’
* Silvestri, Alan – Forrest Gump: ‘Theme’

Assignment 3:
By my next tutorial deadline – Monday 13 July – I will be getting the following work completed:

* Compose the next two sections of music, namely ‘The Caterpillar & Mushroom            Eating’, and the ‘Cheshire Cat’. I hope to write more, but this will be a minimum expectation.
* Give further thought to the orchestration of the music already written.
* Make any adjustments/changes to music already written as recommended by tutor.
* Listen to percussive music (composers noted above), film music.
* Listen closely to movements 1 & 2 of Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ and analyse the techniques used.

Assignment 1 – Advanced Music Composition

Structure & Ideas
Receiving the documentation for my final year music composition course, I wasn’t prepared to discover that the course structure and ideas were down to me to generate.

However, this was actually a very liberating and exciting prospect. I firstly needed to consider the structure of my work and map out my six tutorial dates which is when I would be submitting my assignments.

This was my initial starting point and the following dates have been set out with my tutor for tutorials:

  • 23 March 2015
  • 18 May
  • 13 July
  • 07 September
  • 02 November
  • 14 December

I then spent some considerable time considering the type of orchestral piece that I wanted to compose. My initial thoughts lay with writing a symphony as I had recently been listening very closely to Tolga Kashiff’s ‘Queen Symphony’, his orchestral setting of the songs of Queen. I considered whether I could achieve something similar with Elton John songs, but my tutor reminded me of the copyright pitfalls of incorporating somebody else’s works into my own.

I also spent time considering the subject matter. I have always ‘heard’ a soundtrack in my head when I’ve read stories and books, and I have recently been studying ‘Writing for Children’ as one of my Year 2 OCA courses. One story immediately came to mind and kept coming back to me every time I looked at these course materials; Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. Little did I know that 2015 was the 150th anniversary of its first publication and I began seeing references to it everywhere! The decision was made; this would be the foundation of my final year work.

I particularly liked the structure of the story; there was a definite ‘journey’ that I could base the structure of my piece around. It had a solid, identifiable lead character that could act as my main theme, which could be varied throughout, and also lots of different characters within many weird and wonderful environments that I could interpret and experiment with both harmonically and rhythmically.

I continued considering a symphony as the setting for my piece, but as soon as I had my subject matter finalised, I realised that this was probably going to be too restrictive for me. A traditional symphony has four movements, the first being in Sonata-Allegro form. The second movement is usually a slower Adagio or Andante section. The third movement is in dance form like a Rondo and the symphony concludes with another quick movement.

I didn’t want to be hemmed in; I realised that I needed to rethink this and after discussing this with my tutor, I realised that I could come away from any traditional orchestral form and go my own way, which was a huge relief.

There would still need to be structure, but I knew that I would build this from the different sections of the story, and thus, be a representation of Carroll’s infamous tale.

Meeting Alice
The most obvious starting point to get me underway having set my tutorial dates was to get Carroll’s books read; that is to say, his first title ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and his follow-up book ‘Alice Through The Looking-Glass’.

I spent a couple of weeks carefully reading the books, noting down the characters and the story ‘curves’ to establish the key elements. I then started to identify which parts of the stories I would want to feature in my composition.

I didn’t enjoy the second book at all and felt that Carroll really drifted away from the original adventures that Alice enjoyed during the first title. And so I settled upon the first book as my focus and read it through a second time to be sure that I knew the storyline thoroughly.

My second read through helped me to identify that areas that I felt an affinity to musically and in turn, this gave me a structure and some ideas to work to:

  • Alice by riverbank – set the scene, establish ‘Alice’ theme
  • The White Rabbit is seen – introduce the White Rabbit theme
  • Alice falls down the rabbit hole – an opportunity to experiment to convey the sensation of descending down for a length of time
  • ‘Drink Me, Eat Me’ – another experimentation section with a varied ‘Alice’ theme
  • Meeting the Dodo & the Caucus Race – a comical, circular theme representing the race
  • Hookah-smoking caterpillar & mushroom eating – this needs to represent Alice getting taller and smaller again; perhaps a variation on the ‘Drink Me, Eat Me’ section
  • The Cheshire Cat – a mysterious theme
  • Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – a comical, quirky theme based upon stride piano technique
  • The Queen of Heart’s Game of Croquet – a heraldic theme with a variation on Alice’s theme woven in
  • Back on the riverbank – a reprise of the opening theme

The Composing
I have to be mindful that my composition must be a maximum of 20 minutes in length; it could be very easy to write too much with all the elements that I have identified above and this will be something that I have to be mindful of as I start to compose. I was also glad that I had settled upon the one book!

My composing has started, albeit in short snippets within a sketchbook. I’m notating themes, ideas and motifs and I start playing around initially with a few notes, some chords, and occasionally, I find that it’s a perfect starting point for one of the elements above; a character motif, a scenic setting.

I’m taking my time, letting the music find me. I’ve been quite stressed with composing in the past and created quite a ‘block’ for myself; I’m enjoying taking my time at the moment and as such, I’m discovering ideas sooner and being more creative. I’m even starting to hear the arrangement of instruments as the ideas come to me, which I feel is the legacy from my Year 2 composition course; my ear is more tuned into a broader sound instead of being solely working within a piano environment.

I want to start practicing flexi-time recording with Sibelius, something I didn’t get to grips with in Year 2 as I have been quite intimidated by quantising issues.

I have not yet started upon any specific lines of research for my project because much of my time has been taken up with getting the two books read and then determining the piece’s overall structure and themes.

However, I do want to start listening to as broad a range of material as possible. I am keen to listen to J.S. Bach and Gerald Finzi amongst others for harmonic inspiration. I want to explore what constitutes a quintessential ‘English’ sound by studying Vaughan Williams, William Byrd, and Purcell; this will be important for my riverbank setting.

I also want to study theme and variations by Elgar and Rachmaninoff to see how they took a simple melodic motif and re-worked it; this should help me to develop Alice’s theme.

I need to inject some experimentation into my work for a couple of the sections and try to move myself away from my usual comfort zone. I want to study more contemporary composers such as Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, and Ludovico Einuadi to understand more broadly what is being written now and see if this can inspire me to write differently.

I am also keen to listen to more film soundtrack material because I am constantly fascinated by how such music conveys a story, mood or emotion. I also think that listening closely to more scores in general will help shape my ear for arranging my short piano scores into the final orchestrated piece.

Critical Review
A natural choice for this review is to explore how music can tell a story or act as a narrative for a particular topic, item or event, and I therefore intend to study programme music to do this. In particular, I want to analyse one or two orchestral pieces of programme music from different periods, to identify how the composers achieved their element of story-telling, and discuss whether they are successful examples of programme music.

I haven’t selected the music that I want to study yet but I hope to confirm the title of my review, together with the music, by my next assignment.

Aspirations for Assignment 2
I now have some music to write. I’ve got a structure to work within, a selection of characters to get to know and a journey to take them on, and so I need to really start getting the sections roughed out. Therefore, by assignment 2 I hope to have at least a third of my piece written in short score, hopefully more.

I will have started my listening research in earnest by Assignment 2 to help shape my writing.

I also hope to have the Critical Review more clear in my mind with a working title and a choice of music to study.