Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Music Tuesday

Sixteen years ago today, on November 19, 1997, I was corresponding with a trumpeter from my high school, for whom I was writing a trumpet concerto. The concerto ultimately morphed into The Hero, a symphonic work which Dave McKee called "that grade IV solo with the grade VI accompaniment".

I had sent the score for the first movement to Cat Armstrong, the trumpeter, and she had sent back a cassette tape with her comments (Cat happened to be blind, which made writing notes on the score a non-starter). Here are some excerpts from my email correspondence, offering some rare insight into my super-serious musical thoughts as a young composer.

While I was working with your strengths as a player, I also have to factor in the average player's weaknesses. Even today, the common "symphonic" limit is accepted at a High C, and rarely a D. That, combined with the fact that I've planned the entire concerto to be about twenty minutes in length, kept me from making the Cadenza higher and louder.

Being a trumpet player, Cat wanted the trumpet part to be harder and higher.

In several places you mentioned that the tonality didn't quite support the melody. At this point in my composing, I'm experimenting more with alternate tonalities and finding the balance between Steven Foster and Schoenberg. It's not that the simpler harmonies are bad; it's just that I've already done that, and now it's time to do something else. Oh, and don't worry, I don't plan on become a contemporary twelve-tone composer or such. I actually can't stand so-called "music for the mind". I much prefer music for the ear, which can be enjoyed, instead of techniques like serial composing. As I go further along, I find my toleration of dissonance expanding (especially from listening to the music of Stan Kenton...an interesting timeline from straight-ahead swing to oddball mellophonium music which I still don't entirely like).

My last composing assignment was a violin/piano sonata which was supposed to be atonal. For that, I pulled out all the stops and just went off. And now that I listen to it, the only real reason I like the first and second movements is because _I_ wrote them. My composition teacher loves it...all the student atonal piano-banging composers love it, but to me, it just emphasized the fact that I prefer music in the style of the nineteenth century over that of the twentieth. I'll play it for you sometime; if you find the small dissonances in the concerto unsettling, you'll probably choke on this.

My thoughts on dissonance remain unchanged today.

Since I'm still learning composition, I've made it a point to keep my scores exactly the way they were at the time of creation. This allows me to judge my progress from when I began, by reviewing old scores and seeing what I did wrong. There are plenty of examples from my early music where things just don't work, voices cross, or saxophones go out of range, but if I were to go back and edit my own music, I'd have no way of seeing my progress. As such, this movement has been marked as "Complete". With the exception of a few minor articulation changes and such, I don't plan on changing anything major. I do, however, remember the comments made by you and others, both teachers and composers, which I then use to make the next piece better.

Actually though, undergraduate composers never take anyone's suggestions on anything!

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