Tutor feedback – Assignment 6

I have worked SO hard on my 6th assignment. I haven’t stopped since February and whilst I was anxious to receive this feedback from my tutor, I was also very eager to see how far off the mark I was, or perhaps instead, realise that I wasn’t that far off the mark. I think it’s fair to say it was the latter, thank goodness!

This is the feedback from my tutor:

In summary, the following areas need addressing:
The Score:
1) The number of instruments on each part at bar 1 NOT needed (standard convention)
2) Confirm number of percussion players; 7 is too many for size of orchestra. Can I combine into single part?
3) Dynamic markings should ALL be in bold
4) Placement of slurs & whole bar rests, and check notation with ties and rests
5) Grace notes in woodwind should be notated with slurs
6) Woodwind parts have lots of long slurs; need more details with articulations
7) Don’t slur 2 notes of the same pitch (for any instrument) – it would need to be rearticulated or be tied, even within a longer phrase
8) Chords in strings need greater clarity over whether double stopped or divisi (stem direction helps but also adding div.)
9) Use more performance directions
10) Try hiding empty staves to save space and paper (this daunts me given layout issues before when I tried this!)

1) Check strings; still a little sparse. Consider doubling at the octave to give richer tone
2) Consider balance of dynamics between real instruments
3) Use tenor clef for high trombone sections
4) Look at practicality of fast, chromatic trumpet part
5) Look at practicality of fast, offbeats in woodwind parts
6) Check individual parts for any repetitiveness like the viola; can this be modified? More variation of texture instead of long notes?
7) Double bass often very high (in comfortable cello range); move it lower? Also double the bass and cello more at the octave
8) Consider losing the drum kit; can I create same effect using orchestral percussion?
9) Need more contrast; tempo and dynamics. Add some massive changes to both to make a dramatic impact.

Critical Review feedback:


Tutor feedback – Assignment 5

I admit to holding my breath following the submission of my 5th assignment. I knew I had quite a lot more to do, and I wasn’t wrong.

This is the feedback from my tutor:
Amy Balcomb (510035) Assignment 5 Tutor Feedback

In summary, the following areas need addressing:
1) I need more contrast in the second movement.
2) Bars 455-461 needs more variation in the bass from tonic/dominant.
3) The scoring is still quite sparse, feeling unfinished, and there are many rests in some of the parts and many instruments underused.
4) I need to check the woodwind parts for unnecessary doubling. Perhaps reduce to 1 player per part.
5) Remove the santoor completely? I’ve not written any music for it (I thought I had).
6) Consider how much piano is scored. Too much reliance on it still. In turn, increase strings and vary their timbral effects (sul pont, sul tasto, etc). Would pizzicato work at ‘Q’?
7) Look at each instrument for range and total use; increase ranges for instruments.
8) Think about the blending more.
9) Listen to more classical works, plus read scores, too. Ravel’s Bolero & Daphnis & Chloe Suite 2. Also listen to some Peter Maxwell Davies and go back over tutor’s previous listening recommendations and look at the scores, too.
10) Consider the balance between parts; consider if the registers of the melody lines could be overpowered by the accompaniment.
11) Double check the wind parts for repeated notes that are slurred.
12) Add more performance directions and descriptive words.
13) Ensure each instrumental entry needs a dynamic marking.
14) Check for clashes in parts (slurs overlapping).
15) Tidy up unnecessary rests particularly where I may have deleted something.
16) Check spelling of accidentals within each key.
17) Consider hiding empty staves (!) but go carefully and ensure all instruments are shown on the first page of the score.
18) Add writing cues to Nai and Dulcimer to oboe and harp respectively ‘play if no nai/dulcimer’
19) Increase knowledge of orchestral works from the classical tradition from the early 20th century.  Look, too, at the scores. This will increase my knowledge of seeing how different instruments are used within a larger ensemble.
20) Comments on the Critical Review draft are listed separately below here.

A LOT to get on with before the end of May. It’s hard not to feel daunted here but I just have to get my head down and work methodically through things.

Critical Review feedback:
Amy Balcomb (510035) Level 3 Advanced Composition Tutor Feedback Critical Review

Tutor feedback Assignment 4

Herewith my tutor, Carla Rees’s feedback following the submission of my fourth assignment:

Amy Balcomb (510035) Assignment 4 Tutor Feedback

In summary, the feedback has asked me to focus on the following areas before the fifth of my assignments is due for submission:

1) I shouldn’t rely on or be limited by Sibelius’s instrumentation library as a guide to what I should be writing for; if the sound I’m looking for doesn’t exist within the software, I should select something with a similar range and re-label it in the scoring. I think in hindsight, my tutor may have read these comments and taken them in the wrong way.  I raised this point when referring to the instrumentation for my Caterpillar section.  I was just curious to know how broad a selection of Middle Eastern instrumentation Sibelius offered. I have always kept foremost in the back of my mind the ‘live’ performance, not the Sibelius environment; this is a solely a piece of software being used as a tool to create the music score for the musicians. It’s important that I make my position clear on this matter because I do believe that my comment was misunderstood.

2) I need to be mindful not to phrase notes of the same pitch, i.e. bar 398.  I will go through the score carefully and remove any such phrasing to ensure articulation is kept clear where any same pitched notes exist.

3) Bars 428-429; the introduction to the Cheshire Cat.  These two bars have a chord introduction to the cat section and my tutor feels that it is too static and has suggested I lose it.  Having listened to it again and fully appreciated the movement that I generate in bars 420-427, she’s right; I lose momentum by incorporating these two bars and I will probably remove them from the arrangement.

4) My tutor has suggested that I use my various themes as countermelodies within different sections to act as individual leitmotif.  This way, I can reveal which characters are in which section.  My tutor has suggested listening to Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’ for leitmotif development.  I also intend to add some research in a separate blog post about leitmotif so that I can understand it more and start to work it into my arrangement.

5) The one overarching concern I have about my composition was mentioned by my tutor; the connections between the sections.  I have lots of different sections of music and as such, they start/stop; there is very little flow between them and I must make sure that the composition feels like a ‘coherent whole rather than a selection of episodes’. I need to spend some considerable time looking at these transitions to weave one section into another and ensure that the music feels more seamless and I want to do this before I start arranging, ideally.  Perhaps I can dedicate a specific blog post to this…

6) I need to keep my research up; keep investigating techniques, listening to pieces, studying scores, broadening my learning and understanding.  I was really pleased that my tutor acknowledged positively my change of approach towards my composing, namely taking time to research specific things (such as the Persian/Middle Eastern music and instrumentation) prior to actually physically composing.

7) I intend to start studying in earnest my copy of ‘Instrumentation & Orchestration’ by Alfred Blatter, making notes on all the key points for each of the instruments that I now intend to write for.  I also want to create a crib sheet for each individual instrument, which will give me a quick reference that tells me: register (highest/lowest notes), the way it is played, technique, special FX.

Tutor feedback Assignment 3

Herewith my tutor, Carla Rees’s feedback following the submission of my third assignment:

Amy Balcomb (510035) Assignment 3 Tutor Feedback

In summary, the feedback has asked me to focus on the following areas before the fourth of my assignments is due for submission:

Carla has made various compositional suggestions throughout the score, which I will look at closely.  Specifically:-

a) Change the clef from bar 268 in the piano LH part to avoid ledger lines.
b) Consider the playing range of the clarinets in bar 76 onwards; too high for B-flat clarinet (I already had in mind to position this with E-flat clarinet)
c) Use countermelodies from bar 34 to add interest to the static lines; I like this idea because the texture will need to develop from here.
d) There is a general feeling of ‘stop-start’ in-between sections.  Perhaps I could smooth this out more?  My tutor identifies from bars 109-111 an example of this, using the final E in the bass in bar 108 and starting the ostinato there giving an overlap. She’s also suggested using crotchets with B-flat in the bass and the E above and then fading out the lower part, with an accel to new tempo, could act as a good transition which would also add tension and maintain emotional engagement.
e) The reprise of material at bar 218 works but I need to change the instrumentation for the ostinato, maybe bassoons and oboes (with the oboe playing the opening theme this could create a memory connection).
f) Could I make more of bar 241?  Add a bar of silence? Another point where I have stopped the music completely is at bar 254 and my tutor has suggested that I continue the chord through to where the Dodo section starts.
g) My tutor has suggested that where I have written up to so far makes a good place to conclude a first movement.
h) I need to look back at the themes and the melodic ideas that I have introduced to date.  The Alice theme is the obvious one but there will be other motifs introduced that I can re-work and use again. I need to find a balance between developing previous material with the introduction of new music, too.
i) I need to quantify my remarks about the Queen Symphony in my score analysis post.
j) My tutor has suggested that from the indications marked onto my short score to date, I appear to be leaning towards more of a chamber orchestra as opposed to a symphonic setting. Therefore, I need to consider paring down my resources list to a more manageable list.
k) I need to go through and make sure that I have credited my sources within my posts; the YouTube videos I included in my blog post about instrumentation. Confirm the edition of Beethoven’s 5th that I reproduced.
l) Listening to a broader range of instrumental and chamber music as part of my studying of orchestration will help me.  I need to develop a greater awareness of how composers over time have combined colours through using different instruments.

I have confirmed back to my tutor that I will take 3 months to complete the remaining composition work (in short score form).  This will take me to the 05 October.  I will then need to concentrate on getting the score orchestrated, which will probably take at least 2 months if not longer, after which I will only have one tutorial assessment left which will concern itself with the Critical Review.

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.”

Further queries from Assignment 2

My level of unease currently being felt as a result of the feedback I received from my tutor recently prompted me to ask further questions.  I assume – hopefully rightly – that these feelings of unease will reduce soon!

Questions asked were as follows.  My subsequent thoughts and reflections follow the answers:

Q. What do you mean by avoid using presets in Sibelius for presentation?
A. If you create a score of any kind in Sibelius, the software imposes all sorts of defaults regarding score size, fonts, layout, etc – and creates a generic looking Sibelius score.  You’ll find that most experienced composers begin to develop their  own style of presentation and change these presets accordingly.  This will really help to show the examiners that you’re on top of all areas of presentation and making personal choices rather than just what the software sends out automatically.
Reflection: I will take time to reference the Sibelius manual and write a post specifically about layouts, presentation, etc, to see if I can develop my understanding on this. I didn’t appreciate that by changing presets you could advance your own style; I considered it amateurish to ‘play around’ with fonts, etc and feared it may lose me marks but I will explore this some more.

Q. Should I lift actual text from the book and include in the text? I could put the credit at the front of the score?
A. A few lines of text might be really helpful – if you can find short quotes to put in that are relevant to the music it might help to bring it all together (think of Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – the text is really helpful in setting the mood).
Reflection: I will look at the 4th movement of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ and see how I can interpret a similar notation in my score.

Q. How should I edit accompaniment parts when currently my score is only for the piano/two hands? Should I include additional lines for other aspects of the texture or simply maintain the piano part?  It’ll be hard to physically play further lines in accompaniment otherwise!
A. What I meant here was that you have to try to conceive of the music as an orchestral piece rather than a piano piece – so piano-style accompaniments aren’t really going to be relevant to the final piece.  That means in your sketches it might actually be enough just to map out harmonies so that when you write the accompaniment in the orchestral music it takes on orchestral-style textures rather than pianistic ones.  For a short score, you’re just pulling together the basic, main elements of the piece and it will evolve and develop as you flesh everything out, so don’t get too fixed into piano writing and think more about the basic elements of melody, harmony and rhythm.
Reflection: Now that I have written the first 9 minutes or so of my composition as a piano short score, I will continue to use this as the basis for my orchestration work. However, when I continue to write further music, I will instead write melody lines with chords instead.  Therefore, I will be able to demonstrate two different approaches to my orchestration and will reflect at the end of the course which worked better. Or ask further questions!

Q. Being more adventurers with the rhythm means re-writing sections?  Not to sound too dim but is that an expectation? Same with the melody; should I write in Sibelius a sketch book of different/alternative ideas for both rhythm and melody for certain sections?
A. Again, I think it’s important to think of what you’ve done as the basics of the piece rather than a final version, as it will need to be difference within an orchestral context.  In terms of rhythm, think back to the changing time signature percussion piece as assignment 1 of level 1 – the examiners will be looking for rhythmic invention appropriate to the piece – so it doesn’t need to be crazily complicated all of the time, but it is advisable to show more advanced techniques, such as changing time signatures, triplets, syncopations, dotted rhythms, use of accents, etc. Sometimes writing in basic time signatures is appropriate to the music, but if you want to demonstrate skill and technical ability, think beyond 3/4 and 4/4 and see how adventurous you can be.  Of course, that adventurousness has to be part of your musical language rather than just used for its own sake, but I’d advise making some experiments and keeping a note of them in your learning log, so that even if they don’t make it into the final piece you can show that you’ve thought about it.  And remember too that rhythm can apply to accompaniment and countermelody as well as the main melodic material, so there are lots of ways to bring in rhythmic variety.
Reflection: Despite writing the short score for piano, with it’s limited accompaniment lines, I have already got ideas of alternative rhythmic lines to play with the piano part. I will have sections that are homophonic in texture, and some that have different polyphonic lines.  There will be a lot of contrasts created. But I think that I need to ask more questions or raise more concerns with my tutor.

Tutor Feedback Assignment 2

Herewith my tutor, Carla Rees’s feedback following the submission of my second assignment:

Amy Balcomb (510035) Assignment 2 Tutor Feedback

In summary, the feedback has asked me to focus on the following areas before the third of my assignments is due for submission:

1) Structure – I need to really give this some careful consideration.  It needs to be more logical. Ten single movements won’t be cohesive as an entire piece and I need to think about combining into 2-4 movements.

2) Orchestration – from avoiding confirming this in A1 to including it this time, I now need to be specific; list all the instruments that I want to use.  I have a fairly good idea of what sounds I want to include.  This is the musical equivalent of going into a sweetie shop.  It’s hard to ‘hear’ right now and this may have to be a ‘work in progress’ but the majority of this list I know and I will dedicate a separate post to this.

3) Presentation – this assignment demonstrates my good yet basic knowledge of Sibelius.  I’m completely self-taught.  These areas need to be considered:
a) Put some rough dynamics in to help start formulating mood and atmosphere.
b) Put notes in the short score suggesting orchestration ideas.
c) Include short descriptors of what scene it is I’m depicting from the book.
d) Add keywords as reminders of the programmatic aspects of the story.
e) Spelling – check the accidentals spelling in relation to the underlying key.  Double-check spelling of ‘attacca’ throughout.
f) Go beyond the pre-sets of Sibelius for the presentation – unsure about this.  Awaiting further feedback from my tutor.

4) 8va Sections – I need to write these at ‘sounding pitch’ unless using extreme registers, otherwise it suggests being lazy.

5) Accompaniment – this is sparse in places and I need to avoid using repetitive patterns and pedal notes.

6) Melodic writing – needs developing.

7) Rhythm – I need to vary this more, be more ambitious and move away from crotchets.  This will help to create tension and emotion.

8) Transitions – these need developing.  I need to think about how I can combine elements from different sections and make the characters stronger.

9) Listening work – I need to broaden this to include more symphonic works from composers including:
a) Peter Maxwell Davies
b) Lutoslawski
c) Shostakovich
d) Mahler
e) Britten
f) Ravel
g) Debussy
h) Mozart

10) Score Reading – I need to do more of this to develop an understand of how orchestral scores ‘look’ and in doing so develop a sense of which textures may work in my composition.  I will develop this into a research post.

11) Research sources – stop using Wiki !

12) Blog address – remember to keep giving it to my tutor at the end of my assignments.