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NRKulus

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NRKulus last won the day on April 17

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About NRKulus

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    Advanced Member

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  • Website URL
    www.nicholasryankelly.com

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  • Biography
    I was semi-active on this forum a long time ago; now I resurface occasionally to see what's new.
  • Gender
    Male
  • Location
    Canada
  • Occupation
    I have several part-time jobs, most of which relate to music. I like it that way.
  • Favorite Composers
    Samuel Barber, John Adams, Mahler, Britten, Ravel, Ives, Magnus Lindberg, Bernard Herrmann, Bruno Coulais
  • My Compositional Styles
    Neo-Romantic, Neo-Impressionist, Americana, Pseudo-Soundtrack, Crazy Modern Music (occasionally)

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  1. As a general rule, whenever you post a MIDI recording, it's good to have a score to go along with it. This is especially true with vocal music--we need to know what the words are! Do you have a score you can post? From what I listened to, I think it's nice. It's a good imitation of the German romantic style (with a bit of classical thrown in) and you clearly know your traditional harmony and melodic composition. The orchestral writing also seemed to work well, although I'd have to see a score to know for sure, since MIDI can be misleading. My best advice for the next piece is just to listen to (and, if you can, look at scores) to lots of music from different places and time periods (including 20th/21st century)--and don't be afraid to "borrow" things you like from it in your own compositions. Over time, this can help you develop a more distinct, original sound.
  2. NRKulus

    Where once Poe walked (SATB)

    Thanks, Mark! I don't know if my music has been called "profound" before. Do you think the ending fits with the rest of the piece?
  3. NRKulus

    Sicut Cervus

    Thanks, pateceramics--it's definitely helpful to know your reasoning behind what you did. I think the 6/4 chord at the end definitely makes sense in terms of the text painting you describe. I think the intent behind your text painting is great--my suggestion (to clarify) is that you could do it in a way that's more consistent with the rest of the piece's "sound world"--since having too many different styles and harmonic ideas in a short piece can get overwhelming to the listener. I had a composition teacher who said it's best to limit yourself to 2 (or at most 3) different types of chord (e.g. triadic, extended tertian, clusters, etc.) in a short piece. Obviously there are a lot of exceptions to this, but keeping it in the back of your mind can help achieve a little more stylistic consistency. And tritones are great! My suggestion has more to do with being careful about where you use them in structuring your phrases. In case it wasn't clear, I really like the piece! I hope you keep up the good work with polyphony and text painting, and post it here if you manage to get a live recording. Cheers!
  4. NRKulus

    Where once Poe walked (SATB)

    Well, I updated the file with less reverb... hopefully some of it is a little easier to follow now! I also added more dynamic contrast to the recording in the first section so that maybe the phrase shapes will be easier to hear. (apocryphal conversation between Elliot Carter and someone who was performing his music: INSTRUMENTALIST: The problem with your music is that if you take away the dynamics, the music doesn't make sense! CARTER: Yes; that's why you're supposed to PLAY the dynamics. I realized this piece is also probably much easier to understand with more dynamic contrast and phrase shaping in the recording... but that's [hopefully] where the similarity to Elliot Carter ends!)
  5. NRKulus

    Sicut Cervus

    I really appreciate the polyphonic writing here. So much a cappella music published today is almost completely homophonic, so it's refreshing to see a piece that has nice melodies to sing in each part and some give and take between the different voices. I think it would be more effective if you treated dissonances with more care. When you're writing in a tonal context like this, with relatively smooth voice leading, it really sticks out to my ear (and not in a good way) when an unharmonized tritone suddenly arises in the middle of a phrase, with no obvious relation to the musical drama (this happened a few times, but it struck me the most at the end of m. 13, probably because of the parallel octaves). I think you could use these striking dissonances more to your advantage if you save them for important points in the phrase (e.g. dramatic high points, cadences, etc.) where their harshness could enhance the flow of the music rather than (to my ear) undermine it. The same could be said for accidentals--in a piece that's almost entirely diatonic, the few notes from outside the key will stand out, so they should be there for a reason. And I think some of them are (I really like the E-flat on "anima"), but I think others create harmonies that don't really fit in the context of the piece and are unnecessarily difficult to sing. For example, the alto part would be much easier if the last note of m. 29 were an A rather than a B-flat, and to my ear the B-flat is pretty unnecessary to the harmony anyway. Same thing in m. 40--I think the B-flat in the alto against the B-natural in the bass creates a sound that doesn't really fit with the rest of the piece. Personally, I'd just change the first two alto notes to Gs in that measure--you'd have a nice C-minor/A half-diminished chord on the first two beats, which would be much easier to sing in tune and more characteristic of this piece's overall sound. Polyphonic music like this can be easier for the listener to follow if each phrase has a clear direction to it (e.g. building toward a cadence, winding down from a climactic point, etc). There were just a few spots in this piece where I lost sense of this direction. For example, in the top line of page 5, you have an increase in dynamics from mf to f and have some nice ascending lines, but any sense of building intensity there is undercut by the fact that the texture is getting thinner (moving from 4 voices to 3, really 2 since the tenor and bass move into unison). A really little thing, but I'm curious why you ended on a 2nd-inversion chord. Root position would have a nicer sense of finality, and finally giving the basses a low G might give them a small--but satisfying--chance to show off, since they've been in the middle-to-high range for most of the piece.
  6. NRKulus

    Beat The World, The War - SATB div.

    I think there are a lot of good ideas here, and the voice leading and melodic shaping are generally good. I also think you captured the atmosphere of the words very well (is there a story here? Who is the lyricist?) However, when you're writing a piece this long, it's always difficult to find the right balance between repetition and contrast to keep listeners engaged for 10 minutes... and for me, there was a little too much contrast (at least as far as melodic/motivic material is concerned). Apart from the minor chords with 9ths that keep coming back with longer rests between them, are there other musical ideas that come back in different parts of the piece to help unify the whole? To me, every section sounded kind of self-contained--new ideas kept being introduced and then abandoned. Maybe this wouldn't have bothered me as much if each section were well-developed, but you seemed to give up on a lot of your ideas prematurely. For example, I really liked the music at letter C in the score, but I was disappointed when it ended after 8 measures, and its contrapuntal richness and melodic ideas never came back. I understand you may have felt the need to end it after 8 bars because of the words, but you can always repeat text to make the section longer--or at least bring the idea back later in the piece to develop it more fully. Do you know the Hymn to St. Cecilia by Britten? It's a similar length, and takes a similar approach to form as you do (a few self-contained sections with a recurring refrain between them), but each section is several minutes long and thoroughly develops a single idea--the music doesn't move on from each idea until it's absolutely ready. It might be a good score to study when you're writing this kind of music (though it's not in the Public Domain yet, unfortunately). You might also try building more large-scale momentum and continuity (always important in a piece this length) by varying the harmonic rhythm more gradually--e.g. introduce faster chord changes little by little, instead of having an entire section that's essentially a single chord, abruptly followed by a section where the harmony changes every 2 beats. Something to keep in mind for the next piece, at least. I think I wouldn't have written such a long review if I didn't see a lot of potential in this piece... so good work.
  7. NRKulus

    Where once Poe walked (SATB)

    Thanks! I can indeed adjust the reverb, so maybe I'll try that... the thing with these virtual choir sounds is, they sound pretty choppy and robotic without lots of reverb, so it's a matter of finding the right balance. I also think these sound libraries tend to work better for more homophonic textures, so sometimes in more complex, polyphonic pieces like this one, they can be a little hard to follow. But I still stand by my "better-than-MIDI" comments!
  8. NRKulus

    Where once Poe walked (SATB)

    Hi! I don't post here much anymore, but I have a piece that I'm a little unsure about and would like some feedback on. The words are by H.P. Lovecraft (the weird uncle of modern horror fiction)--please have a listen and let me know if anything sticks out at you. The recording was made with Virharmonic Voices of Prague software so, while it's better than a MIDI, it's still not a substitute for a live performance (i.e. you'll still have to read the score and use a little imagination while listening). Score and audio are both in this video (updated Apr. 16 with less reverb/more shaping) Thanks!
  9. To me, this is kind of like asking "why didn't Shakespeare and Chaucer write in Modern English? I mean, it's so much simpler without all those 'wherefore's and 'forsooth's!" Shakespeare could never have written the lyrics to a modern rap song--he had the same 26 letters and many of the same words, but not the vocabulary or the grammar. That doesn't make him less "evolved" than Drake. The analogy between language and music is so popular for a reason. Like language, music evolves culturally over many generations, and its grammar--the set of unwritten rules that determine how it is structured--is usually very complex and culture-specific even though it feels "natural" to someone who has grown up with it. Somebody who grew up speaking Russian and has never heard any other language will never randomly start speaking full-blown Spanish--even though Spanish is phonetically and grammatically simpler (and might seem more "natural" for that reason). I imagine BMB probably did play around with "putting a little bounce in their right hand," though--you don't have to go too far to find examples of swing-like rhythms in Mozart and Beethoven. I wouldn't be surprised if they improvised entire pieces in what we might consider "swing-time" today--but playing bouncy rhythms is very different from playing "proper jazz," which has its own highly-specialized grammar (to go back to the language analogy). I hadn't heard of Baldassare Galuppi before, and his stuff is interesting--I can see the Chopin analogy in terms of its virtuosity. But Chopin's music is structurally very conservative--take away all the chromatic frills and wide arpeggios, and you basically have the same kind of European folk music that had been around for centuries (and that Galuppi probably heard in his own time). I have to admit--at first I thought this was a silly topic, but it turns out to be quite thought-provoking (especially exploring the "why" of the question). Thanks!
  10. NRKulus

    Children of a Dream (SSAA + piano)

    Thanks for your comments, Mark and Juan! Mark, now that I've had a few months away from this piece and am hearing it with fresh ears, I think I have a better understanding of why I intuitively set this poem the way that I did. To me, this music felt like a good match for the richness and variety of the images in the poem--complex and full of contrasts, but with an underlying logic that (hopefully) brings out their beauty. These are some of the characteristics I associate with the sights and sounds of nature (to us humans, hearing crickets or birds might be a lot like hearing "angels singing in a language we don't understand," to use your words)--but I wanted to translate this sensation into the language of tonal music and make it accessible to classical singers and audiences. That's why it works for me, at least, but mostly, I'm just glad you enjoyed the music! Juan, to answer your questions, when I'm writing choral music, I always start with the words--usually a line or phrase in the poem will suggest a certain melody or motive to me. After that, I usually write down the melody with chord symbols on paper (sometimes using the piano, sometimes just by ear/singing quietly to myself if nobody's around). Sometimes I sketch out the whole piece like this, other times just the first big section--but once I'm satisfied with that, I'll go to the piano and Sibelius and work out the accompaniment, counterpoint, etc. I make the recording after I've finished and revised the entire score. It's so time-consuming to make Virharmonic (or EastWest, or any other word-building choir software that I know of) sound expressive and realistic that you basically have to know what you want the music to sound like before you start recording--it's not worth spending half an hour getting them to "sing" a phrase just right and then decide that you want to completely rewrite the music. Hopefully the new Hollywood Choir sounds will be better, but I'm not optimistic.
  11. NRKulus

    Children of a Dream (SSAA + piano)

    Thanks for your kind words, KJ and Gustav--and for listening. Gustav, I can't really recommend any specific books or online resources--for me, just studying a lot of scores was the most useful thing. I personally think a lot about phrase structure, melodic shape, and text setting when writing choral music, and I think looking at/singing (badly) through the scores to classical songs (solo voice + piano) helped me learn more about these things than looking at choral music. Samuel Barber is probably my favourite, but of course you also can't go wrong with the old German lieder by Mahler, Hugo Wolf, Schubert, etc. Another thing that's fun* to do sometimes is look at publishers' perusal scores of contemporary choral pieces and read through them (again, badly) at the piano--this helps give a sense of how modern composers build interesting harmonies and (sometimes) subvert traditional voice-leading "rules" while still creating individual lines that are singable and intuitive. A lot of the smaller choral publishers (e.g. Santa Barbara and Pavane) allow you to download full perusal scores from their websites as long as it's exclusively for personal use, and I've found them pretty helpful to this end. *O.k., maybe I have a skewed idea of "fun"
  12. NRKulus

    Light Fanfare

    I think there's a lot of really good stuff in this piece. The polyphonic parts with different voices singing different words works well--the overlap is handled so that all the text will be clear. (Not that it has to be--just look at a lot of polyphonic Renaissance music!) As Monarcheon mentioned, the modal shifts are also handled well, and create some larger-scale harmonic interest. And I think the whispering sections work nicely. I like the way you build from them at the beginning, and the part near the end where they come back is satisfying from the standpoints of form and text-painting. The alto, tenor, and bass parts are very nice--singers will like them since they get some independence and their own melodic material (way too much choral music written today is purely homophonic.) Any choir capable of performing this piece, though, will have a soprano section that is capable of much more than the soprano line you've written--and they might get bored with the soprano part as it is. If you give the sopranos just a bit more of a chance to show off (i.e. more melodic material and more exploration of the high range), both they and the audience will thank you. Especially in the final section, adding some high soprano a little earlier on (maybe around m. 53) could help make the choir sound even fuller and add a little sparkle to the texture. You might consider just writing chordal skips on melismas so that the sopranos have an interesting line but don't interfere with the words or the harmonies in the other voices. Aesthetically, the only things that bothered me were fairly nit-picky: (1) the diatonic clusters in m. 22 are nice, but they don't really seem to fit in this piece since they never come back and (2) the transition to m. 49 feels too abrupt. I understand how what you're doing fits the text, but musically, the sudden momentum at m. 49 feels unearned--I think it would be more effective (and triumphant) if there were just a little more rhythmic and/or harmonic tension before it. Heck, you could even kill two birds with one stone and have the whole choir sing "let there be" on dissonant almost-clusters right before m. 49... this would create more unity by bringing back the texture from m. 22, and would also create a more convincing bridge from the section at m. 44. (As always, suggestions this specific should be taken with a grain of salt, though.) Since choral singers (and choral competition judges) tend to be kind of traditional and think in terms of tonal centers rather than modes, I would personally use a G minor key signature at the beginning and switch to G major at m. 49 for clarity's sake. That's not a big deal, though, and some would probably disagree with me. Good work!
  13. NRKulus

    Children of a Dream (SSAA + piano)

    Thanks for your feedback, Ken. I'm glad you think it captures the mood--I think that's all that really matters. I probably could have used words other than "strength through diversity," which DOES sound like a political slogan, now that you mention it. I wanted the variety of textures and harmonies to reflect the poem's diverse images and contrasting ideas--but still have an underlying unity in the music to reflect the idea that "all are children of a dream." So that's where I was coming from. But honestly, I probably only think about this stuff because people ask me to write program notes or talk about my music. I think feedback like yours--that it captures the mood and captivates the listener--is the best thing I can hope for, and gets at the heart of what I'm trying to do when writing music!
  14. Here's a setting I recently completed of an almost-trite little poem by Bliss Carman (1861-1929). The music is considerably more complex than the words are, but this doesn't bother me--my intent was for the music to reflect the variety and contrasts between the images in the poem, and to underscore its message of strength in diversity. Do you think I succeeded? Recently, I've found I gravitate towards simpler texts for choral music. They seem to allow for a lot more flexibility and interpretation, and music can often add a much-needed extra dimension to them. How do you choose texts when writing vocal music? Also, how do you feel about the balance between choir and piano in the recording? While sample libraries (even word-building ones like Virharmonic) are nowhere near as good as a live performance, they DO allow me to tweak little details to my heart's content. Thanks for listening! SCORE AND AUDIO
  15. NRKulus

    I am a little world made cunningly...

    HI Isaac, I think this is a nice piece, but the MIDI file really doesn't do it justice. I think the form makes sense when you factor in all the breaths, pauses, and fermatas written into the score--but since these don't play back, the MIDI file is pretty overwhelming to listen to. When I'm making a MIDI for an audience that may not be able to score-read well (which is probably the case on a forum for "young composers"), I often create a separate "playback only" file with extra rests and tempo changes written in so that the music "breathes" the way it's supposed to in a live performance. You might consider doing that kind of thing here. I wouldn't worry too much about writing in a "genre" like the first reviewer suggested... to me, what you're going for is pretty clear, and I think it works well. I like the modal shifts and the variety of textures. As I'm sure you're aware, this isn't an easy sing, and some of the dissonances will be hard to tune... but I think the individual lines make sense and are relatively singable. The exception to this is the borderline-atonal passage at m. 9 (that recurs later around m. 87)--as Monarcheon mentioned, the rhythmically-unimportant notes here don't always seem to fit into the same set the other voices are singing, and this will make them (as well as the chords they are building to) much harder for the singers to find. For what it's worth, I would leave the chords on beat 5 (in m. 9, 10, etc) as is, but make the fast notes leading to them as diatonic as possible to avoid overwhelming both the singers and the audience. The texture change already creates enough variety to keep the listener interested. Aside from that, the music seems relatively consistent, harmonically and stylistically. I'd love to hear a live recording, if you can find a choir that's up to the challenge.
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