Category Archives: Music Composition

Dissertation Update and Some Thoughts on Composition

I was deleting some spam off of my site today and realized that I haven’t posted in a long time, so I thought I’d give an update.

I am currently trying to finish my dissertation at LSU in case anyone reading this didn’t know. I have to have a completed draft to my committee by October 1 – which is in exactly two weeks. The dissertation must be a 20-minute composition and a sizable document. I have also chosen to add electronics, which means I had to create software for the performers. The document and software are mostly finished. I have roughly six minutes of music left. That includes a short movement (4 minutes) and then some room to elaborate what I have barfed out in the last month.

The work has to be for large orchestra. If you have never written for orchestra, it presents a unique set of challenges from both a compositional and performative standpoint. That is mostly what the written document of my dissertation is about.

I write mostly solo and chamber music, so one of the hardest things for me has been to tone down some of the string parts (I resisted the urge to write “dumb down”). Imagine taking 30 random people and have them all step forward while simultaneously touching their nose in exactly the same way. You also can’t use words – only dots and lines on paper to show them how to do it – and they only have 15 minutes to look at your diagram before it happens. It is easy for one person to do it because he can’t really be wrong, but 30 becomes a real challenge.

When writing music, constraints are both creatively irritating and refreshing. They are irritating because you are limited in what you want to do, but refreshing because pulling off what you want while adhering to the constraints is very satisfying. It’s like solving a jigsaw puzzle looking at only the back. Solving a jigsaw puzzle is already refreshing, but adding a constraint like I just mentioned adds a challenge that might be difficult – but never impossible – to overcome. For a great example of an extreme musical constraint, check out the Musica Ricercata by Gy├Ârgy Ligeti. Ligeti constrains himself to only a single pitch class – the note A. It’s a short piece, but very musically refreshing.

Anyway, I just finished the opening theme for my final movement. It is going to be a Rondo (a theme plays back several times throughout the movement). I’m excited to write it, but I want it to be a fast tempo, so that means more notes. diss3_themeI better get back to writing. Thanks for the break. Hope you all enjoy the post. I’ll try to write more I promise!


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Filed under Dissertation, Music, Music Composition, Uncategorized

Current Composition Project

vocal1I haven’t posted in awhile, but I thought I’d give an update of what I am working on at the moment.

Currently, I am taking a break from my dissertation and working on a chamber piece for flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, violin, cello, and voice. The goal is to have the piece done by sometime in March, with the premier in April or May. I haven’t been feeling like much of a composer lately, so it’s good to be getting my hands dirty again.

The text I am using for the voice is a suicide note my cousin found in the attic of her new house in West Virginia. It is dated June 14, 1930. She researched to find who it might be, but was unsuccessful. The text never makes any reference to whether the writer is a man or woman, nor does it mention a name. The writer does not give any particular reason why he or she cannot bear life, only that they no longer wish to do so. In perhaps the most interesting line, they ask the reader to “destroy all of my pictures that I have not got hold of. I would not have any one to remember that such a looking mortal ever existed.”

The text is sad, especially in light of the fact that this person is completely unknown. I also find it fascinating, and it is easy to try to imagine why they were the way they were, or what happened to them. The setting has also led to some interesting debate, such as whether it should be set musically or more rhythmically like speech, or whether it is appropriate to change or reorder the text for musical purposes. Some might even feel that setting this text is not appropriate, but my answer is that if I can make something contructive out of it, then maybe the world will seem a little less bleak.

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Filed under Music, Music Composition