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Everything posted by stewboy

  1. stewboy

    Ode to Hersheypark

    I haven't seen the original work, so I'm just looking at this as a concert band piece. I think the opening develops too slowly - I think it would sound better if four bars were cut out and the vibraphone came in at bar 5. I found the glock/oboe rhythm at 96 quite interesting. If you were intending this to be played by a real band, I would kind of recommend just having the glock play it - the reason being it's a very hard rhythm to play, and even I would probably find myself very slightly fudging it. Which would be fine if I was the only player with it, but two players fudging the same unison rhythm can end badly. Another thought I have is that it doesn't seem like it changes enough. You've got plenty of tempo/rhythmic variation, and you change up the chords, but you don't have any dynamic variation and you often use the same combinations of instruments. These things will come more naturally to you as you get more experience in writing - an idea will come with a specific sound/dynamic/colour in mind. You're also generally using the full range of registers available within the concert band - more ideas for variation would be using only the high register or the low register.
  2. stewboy


    My master's degree is starting to draw to a close, and I'm very aware that every piece I write now will be one of the last while I still have my tutor. For that reason, I've really tried to push myself beyond my current boundaries wherever possible. This piece, while not incredibly 'contemporary' sounding I suppose, in some ways represents the culmination of my efforts and explorations while at this institution. I've pushed my harmonies and chord progressions as far as I'm personally willing to right now, and also used some new string techniques that I'd not really explored before. Some of this piece, especially the second half, is definitely among my favourite music I've ever written. I've still kept to my usual style of working with very short bits of material and seeing where I can take them, but this piece is roughly divided into three or four smaller sections which have their own separate ideas as well. I've also become very interested lately in sounds that 'morph' over the course of a single note. Usually, that just means fading multiple instruments in and out on the same note. I feel that this is an area that isn't adequately explored in a lot of the more widely played contemporary repertoire, especially in more amateur-aimed music. This piece will be performed at the start of May by a professional ensemble (including a very skilled concert pianist, fortunately). It'll be conducted, which is why I put the piece in this section. I've put it on Soundcloud as well if that playback is working better than this site for whatever reason. There's a couple of really minor changes between the score and the recording, because once you start polishing the score in Sibelius you often kind of ruin the playback.
  3. stewboy


    A clarinet tutor at my uni put together a clarinet choir and was looking for a student here to write a piece. One of the lecturers put my name forward because he felt that my style would fit the group well. So, I tried to just write a piece in my normal kind of slightly jazzy style. I did my usual thing of creating a few motifs and attempting to build a whole piece out of them, seeing which ways I could twist them and play around with them. I haven't yet sent it to the group, I probably will in early 2019.
  4. stewboy

    The Juggler

    There was a recent call for scores put out by the Edinburgh University Brass Band for a new concert march, and I'd been looking for an excuse to write something for brass band for a while. The march genre is one I've had quite a lot of experience in as a performer and so the style came fairly easily to me. I haven't submitted this yet, but I probably will fairly soon.
  5. stewboy

    Midwinter Poem (wind ensemble)

    Yes, I feel like there's a little bit of metal percussion overuse. I've played pieces in band where there were cymbal rolls all over the place and that annoyed me a little - I feel that overuse of these percussion effects can lead to them losing their effectiveness. I think in particular, the triangle notes in bars 24 through 29 felt superfluous. The glock was also starting to feel overused by bar 53. Changing the role of the instrument can help. I liked the glock at bar 74, for example, because it was clear that it was a supporting role. Doing that gives the piece more variety of colour. I stopped noticing the triangle later on in the piece because it too became part of the texture, and it became a welcome addition instead of feeling old. Using a particular percussion instrument all throughout a piece isn't always necessarily a bad thing. John Mackey is one composer who tends to rely on the same percussion instruments quite a lot. His 'Aurora Awakes', for example, makes extensive use of the vibraphone and marimba throughout its second movement (about 6-7 minutes worth of music). I think the reason it works there is the reduced attack of those instruments, and the fact that the piece only draws attention to them when they first come in, before then fading them into the musical texture. A glock sticks out a lot more. Having said all that I did enjoy your piece, and there were some really nice unexpected colours in there!
  6. A while ago I decided that writing for wind band was something I wanted to seriously pursue. After a couple false starts this year, I finally got going on a second wind band work (after 'Aviary', which was performed twice last year), and gradually worked on it over the last two months. It's now become my longest single-movement work so far, and I'm quite proud of a few of the ideas in it. I'll soon be sending it around to a few conductor friends of mine to see if anyone will be willing to play it, but I'm pretty sure that someone will somewhere. The score still needs a bit of polishing here and there but I'll leave that for if/when I have to make some presentable parts.
  7. stewboy

    Steps to Follow

    It certainly would be playable by pianists who had a very good sense of rhythm. I've actually performed 'Fractalia' myself and I personally would be fine with playing this piece, at least rhythmically speaking. I think for me, your piece doesn't do enough interesting things harmonically. 'Fractalia', being for percussion ensemble, has a much greater range of timbres available to play around with, and one of the attractive aspects of it is the contrast between the out of sync marimba playing, and the in-sync untuned instruments - but even having said this, I would understand if an audience member found 'Fractalia' too boring. Another piece that I've performed comes to mind as well, 'The So Called Laws of Nature' by David Lang - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELN47gnPUVg. It has the same idea - all four players have the same part, but rhythmically displaced by various amounts. The piece has a very effective climax about 9 minutes in when the drums all sync up after being chaotic for so long. However, I personally feel it is not worth the 9 minutes it takes to reach that point. I think the piece stretches out its idea for far too long. (It's also ridiculously difficult to play.) There's still some lessons you can take from it though. Extended chaos builds tension, which you can choose to release at your discretion, but the most effective way to release tension from chaos is to become orderly. Constant rhythmic displacement, by itself, isn't really enough to sustain a piece - unless you want to do what Steve Reich did in 'Drumming', and go absolutely all-out on the rhythmic displacement and ignore all else. It's good that you have split your piece into a few distinct sections - this provides some sort of contrast - but the piece as a whole doesn't sound very coherent to me, and I think your harmonic language isn't helping. It's often quite unclear what the harmony is supposed to be or where it's going. One thing you can do is to have less notes in each phrase, or chord. 'Fractalia' has quite simple, spaced out chords, and this is very effective when you have the same phrase displaced against itself. Runs and scales like you've written (especially with the pedal down - consider taking that out maybe!), when overlayed with each other, can easily become messy and confused. I've often used this overlay technique when I write electronic music, and I almost always use it on arpeggios or on very limited melodies. I do think that this general idea is a good one to have in your toolkit though. A great piece could well be written that uses this idea, but it would have to incorporate other musical aspects as well. 'Nagoya Marimbas' (also by Steve Reich) is another good piece to look at which uses this idea - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OrfZI-JRXY. Reich also uses very simple chords and arpeggios, and the displacement is always very carefully considered. In this example, there's no point of sudden order to release the tension from the chaos - but it's not really needed.
  8. Okay so here's my first kind of 'major' piece I've written for my degree. It'll be performed by a professional ensemble in May, and I'm sending off the score this week. The brief was to write a piece of maximum length 12 minutes, for an ensemble of maximum size flute/clarinet/perc/2 violins/viola/cello/bass. After a bit of agonizing over what on earth I would do, I did what usually works for me and just sat down and put some notes out to see what happened, and then went from there. The piece is kind of loosely following around a character as he explores a world. I haven't put too much more thought into the precise story than that, except that the first movement is introducing the character, and the second and third are two little adventures of his, with the third ending in his triumphant return. I kept a fairly light tone throughout, which seems to be a common thread for all my compositions. Some of my tutor's suggestions that I put in were expanding the first movement slightly, experimenting with string harmonics, and just some general score tidying. He liked the ending and I do too - his comment was that it sounded like something a composer might have written a hundred or so years ago, but in a good way. The piece is fairly tonal, almost to a fault at times, so mostly my concerns were with trying to keep it as fresh and interesting as I could, in my own ways. Mainly, that involves trying to vary up my chord progressions and harmonies. I had particular fun towards the end of the second movement where I literally was just putting in whatever I felt like in the strings. The title has no significance whatsoever, except that I wanted it to evoke something childlike and innocent. I originally had 'Tinky-Winky' instead of 'Timmy' but my tutor thought that was going too far, and it would seem like I was going for a jokey piece, which was not quite my intention. Recording is a slightly dodgy/quirky/stuttery Sibelius output but it's mostly okay.
  9. stewboy

    Timmy's Adventures in Dingleland

    It got performed last week by members of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, here's the recording!
  10. stewboy

    Birth of a Star

    Thank you guys! I think I'm getting pretty good at taking a short idea and making the most of it.
  11. stewboy

    Birth of a Star

    This was written for a collaboration project between the masters students at my conservatoire and some postgraduate astronomy students from another uni, each of whom was working on their own project. Each composer chose an astronomer, to write a piece in some sort of response to the astronomer's research. We had a given instrumentation, which was essentially wind quintet + string trio + electric guitar, and we were free to write for any combination. I decided to just write a wind quintet, since I like writing for winds. I think the rest of the composers all wrote for the full ensemble. My partner's project was to do with how stellar clusters form and grow. Specifically, he was trying to modify an existing simulation to add in another factor (some sort of gas) which has not previously been considered in the growth of stars, just to see if it actually does make a difference. The inspiration I took from this was to do with the general growth of stars (rather than his specific project, which was kind of uninspiring musically). I had the idea to create a piece which starts relatively chaotic, and gradually becomes simpler and calmer while still in some way retaining its initial character. The way I tried to do this was to have one single motif represent the star, and have it present throughout, becoming slower every now and then. This is meant to represent the star forming out of a flurry of gases, and becoming larger, slower, and more predictable over time. It's probably the most 'dissonant' of my pieces so far, which made it very difficult to work on, as my usual musical instincts weren't always present. I'm quite proud of myself for pushing through it though - I think allowing myself more dissonance has really allowed me to experiment more, and I'm happy with the resulting piece. The score isn't quite 'final' yet, I've still got to get some feedback from my tutor before I tidy it up and send it off.
  12. Yep that's completely fine! It's actually surprisingly unusual to play two timpani at once. There's nothing difficult about it, and I certainly wish more composers did it, but I'm just letting you know. I think the reason might be that the timpani generally supports the bass, and having notes close together in the bass can occasionally get muddy - but there's no intrinsic problem with that. Mostly, timps might get written in octaves or 5ths. As long as you're aware of what you're doing though there's no problem with writing them in 3rds or less. The other thing I notice about the part (and it's in other parts too) is your tendency to write quavers in sextuplets, for example starting in bar 108. This is technically correct but can be a little misleading. When I read the part in my mind, my instinct is to play them in the space of a crotchet instead of a minim - and then the last quaver triplet, oddly enough, gets played as a crotchet triplet because I subconsciously realise I have two beats left! I think my brain sees the '6' and automatically assumes that they are semiquavers, because 95% of the time I only see sextuplets with semiquavers. Writing these as separate triplets would be better - even in a full bar of triplets, the safest way of writing them is generally as four separate triplet groups. The same goes for crotchets - it's more common to write a crotchet sextuplet as two separate crotchet triplets, although it's not quite as confusing as the quavers.
  13. Wind bands are extremely widespread and are often happy to play new compositions, even if just once at a rehearsal. I've played student compositions myself while in my uni wind band, and I've had a composition played by them. However, this isn't quite a wind band piece - for example, the standard wind band orchestration includes 2 flute parts, 3 clarinet parts, 2 alto sax parts, 3 trumpet parts, and so on. It's flexible, but having 1 of each part makes it seem like it's for a very specific ensemble. Yes, the timpani part is unplayable as is, because most of the time only 1 timpani is able to go down to that range of E and below, and you've written 3 notes in that range. Putting it up an octave would help, but it's also rare to get the top timp going up to a C.
  14. stewboy

    Sonatina (I)

    My last piano miniature (Haze) was a little short, so I started another one intending on making a longer miniature, but then it turned into a full-blown piece. My tutor remarked that it felt very much like the first movement of a sonatina, and I've never attempted one for piano so I thought I would try. I'll start work on a middle slow movement next!
  15. This is a work I've been looking at on and off for a few months now. It began its life as the opening few bars in my head for a week until I wrote them down. I decided that I wanted to try and write a very light-hearted and maybe (hopefully) occasionally humorous piece, while still keeping it interesting and musically varied. It's quite clearly very 'Candide'-inspired, but I tried to take it in my own direction as well. I'm also using this piece for another subject at uni, where I have to write an essay about some aspect of critical practice, and I'm talking about humour in music in general, and what my approach has been towards composing this piece. I'm happy to share the essay once I finish it in a week or two, if anyone would be interested in it! There are still a few notation issues to work out before I can submit it as part of this year's composition portfolio for my degree, such as the pedal lines, but now that the music is basically complete I wanted to share it with people anyway. I've also got a soundcloud link if people prefer that player - https://soundcloud.com/fotytoo/serious-music-for-violin-and-piano/s-Howou.
  16. stewboy


    I've done another piano miniature - I'm still trying to do one every week or two. This one is pretty light and playful again.
  17. stewboy


    Here's another piano miniature, because I'm slightly overdue for one. Emphasis on the 'miniature' this time - it's only 80 seconds or so! It basically only explores one idea/texture though, and was just an excuse for me to play around with some chords. (As are a lot of my pieces, to be honest!)
  18. stewboy

    Serious Music for Violin and Piano

    @pateceramics Ask and ye shall receive!
  19. stewboy


    Thanks! My tutor said he liked the beginning and the ending of the piece, but he found the middle less convincing. In particular, he said that ending the melody at bar 47 left an unanswered question which I didn't adequately return to, and suggested I add a couple more bars to it. I'll have a think about it.
  20. stewboy

    String Quartet No. 3 in C minor

    I agree, it's quite nice harmonically, there's very little that sounds 'wrong' to me. My issue is that it doesn't really do anything all that interesting. It doesn't tend to modulate, or go on journeys. I think bar 31 of the minuet was the first bar that really stood out colour-wise because of your harmonic choices. To be honest, I probably wouldn't enjoy an actual Haydn quartet all that much, so maybe I'm not the best judge here, but I would very much encourage you to start branching out and experimenting with the harmonies and structures of later periods, because you clearly have a very good foundation. Perhaps play around with sonata form. One harmony that stood out in a bad way was the F in the cello in bar 12 of the adagio. I'm not sure exactly why it sounds out of place, but for me, leaving out the F and just going Bb for a crotchet, then leaping up to the other Bb would work better there. Bar 37 of the adagio also felt slightly off, probably because of the Ab in the second violin part. The finale definitely felt the most 'fun' for me, and I think that's where you really started to play around a little with appoggiaturas and a little more experimental harmony. Keep going in that direction! I will also say though that the ending didn't feel satisfying, like it arrived too soon without a conclusive finish.
  21. stewboy

    Waltz No 2

    I had a little difficulty picking out the form of the melody that came in about 0:19. I couldn't really hear where it was going or where it landed. The F minor at 0:40 was very welcome (and I would have preferred it to come a little earlier). I would have loved to see you experiment with different chords apart from I, IV, and V by now, because they have grown a little monotonous, although the changes in orchestration and texture make up for that a little. I think 2:18 is the first time you change chords, and I'd have preferred that to come earlier as well, or even bringing forward the horn soli at 3:24. Overall it sounded very nice, and there was a little variation, but it didn't really take me on a journey. I think you're getting too comfortable in the colours that you've built up (although they are very pleasant indeed), or too unwilling to change them. Some other changes that could build tension or change colour could be rhythmic variation (taking out the constant movement of the crotchets if you've written in 3/4, or taking out the quavers, or making a few bars be entirely quavers), instrument colour variation (pizz in strings, giving melody to a combination of instruments, going to a much different register of the instruments, etc), harmonic variation (going on a wandering harmonic journey, modulation, harmonizing the melody), or some counterpoint (have two melodies going at once, or have an instrument start the melody a bar after a different one starts). I think the one that grated on me the most was probably the rhythm - by the end I was really sick of the rhythm you've given to the strings most of the piece.
  22. It does strike me as being an early effort piece, kind of with some similarities to how I started I suppose. So I'm not sure how much use detailed feedback would be - you're clearly still experimenting with rhythms and harmonies to see what works and what doesn't. I will say that most of the piece doesn't really work for me, but a large part of that is honestly just the repetitiveness of the Alberti bass which just stays in the same key for far too long. Some of the harmony is actually fairly interesting, but it's inconsistent as to whether you're deliberately going for inventive or traditional harmony. Studying harmony would help, but really at this point the best thing to do is to keep writing and developing your instincts and your ear. Find interesting pieces of music and try and figure out what they're doing.
  23. stewboy

    Why do you compose?

    @Maarten Bauer@Rabbival507 I was kind of in a similar position when I finished high school 8 years ago. I went into software engineering at first because it didn't occur to me at the time that music was something I'd be able to pursue really seriously. Even as I started hating software engineering, and realising that I really needed music in my life, I still worried that music wasn't something I could do as a 'job', and that IT would be safer even if I hated it. But then I hated it so much, and was so miserable, that I decided that I would switch to music and just take my chances. This was after 3 years of uni. I then had a 4 year music degree (in percussion performance) which I loved almost every second of. It was at a university rather than a conservatoire, which I think was better for my own development. Then during the music degree I gradually realised that what I actually really wanted to do was to write music. The composition tutor at my uni recommended I finish my degree in performance rather than switch to composition, so I stuck out in performance and I'm glad I did. A chance visit to London two years ago gave me the inspiration to audition for a masters degree in composition at various places in the UK, and my backup plan was a masters degree in performance at the Sydney Con (I didn't want to do composition there). I got accepted in Sydney and was about to start class when I got the offer from the RCS in Glasgow, and there was not a moment's hesitation before I accepted it. So I guess if I have any advice, it'd be to feel free to start a degree in something other than music, but remember that it's never too late to change your mind. So the reason I write music is that I can't imagine doing anything else. Even if I had stayed in IT (and would by now be working in some sort of desk job), I would still be composing in my spare time. It made sense to me that I should therefore try and study it to get better at it.
  24. stewboy

    A Brisk Walk

    A little piano piece I wrote over the last day or two. The initial idea occurred to me late in bed one night while I couldn't sleep. It's probably one of my least tonal pieces so far, although I wouldn't go so far as to call it 'atonal'. I'm really having some fun exploring the sounds and harmonic colours possible once I start accepting a little dissonance into my style. I'm starting to seriously think about compiling a bunch of small piano pieces into some sort of collection - I seem to be writing a lot of them lately, and I intend to continue doing so. My aim is to write one short piano piece at least every two weeks.
  25. stewboy

    A Brisk Walk

    My tutor actually made a similar comment as it turns out - it was too light to really work as a climax, but it doesn't need a dramatic rethinking. I'll return to it some time after this weekend and maybe just add in a couple of bars and notes. I'll also probably take another look at the articulations. @SonatainfSharp I was trying to keep playability in mind at least a little while writing it, especially the larger intervals. So in theory I'd hope it's possible. But I haven't actually looked at it on a piano yet. I might sometime!