THE PROCESS, #1: What?

[This blog entry is the first of a series on my work here — the process of deciding, doing, and promoting my music compositions. To see all of the “Process” postings, click “Process” next to “Tagged” at left.]

A tennis-playing friend of mine came up to me and asked “How do you decide what your next project will be?” There’s a short answer — “Whatever I want!” But I’ll take a few minutes to tease out the underlying issues in any such decision. As always, it’s complicated.

When I started, I had established my own self-contained compositional world, a student of the discipline working on software in my office. My first composition was a string quartet, selected because I love the ensemble, and because (being a former violinist/violist) I wouldn’t have to get too tangled up in learning the instruments themselves. The results were very satisfying, though I’m guessing I could have pushed the instrumentalists a bit more. (The entire four movements were read over a single weekend by two UK professors and two graduate students!) But there were plenty of things I learned from that first work unrelated to the instruments — form, thematic content and development, tonality, style, to name a few. I remain pleased with the results.

I selected my next targets with new learning goals in mind. Since I’m currently a member of the Lexington Chamber Chorale, a cappella choir was an obvious choice, though that demanded that I write lyrics too! The results (see above) gave me my first true performance premier (more on that later). I’ve since written a short piece for treble voices, presumably a children’s choir. But I wanted to move past my own immediate knowledge base, so my next two projects were an orchestral piece, and a brass quintet. Suddenly I was writing for instruments of which I had little technical knowledge. I’ve continued that focus in my latest project, which adds mallets/percussion and piano to the mix. In each I also selected forms which, in themselves, were learning goals as well — theme and variation, fugue, rondo, rounded binary, to name a few. (You don’t need to know what those are — I reference them on the project pages for each work.)

But having a premier, plus one (and soon a second) reading by professional players of other works, might imply that selecting projects specifically for their performance possibility is a better idea. Most composers intending to have an actual career often select a platform/direction in which they have a realistic possibility of attention and performance — choirs, strings, brass band, film score, percussion, chamber ensembles, to name a few. Only the most well-known composers get to be “generalists.”

To force the issue further, it might be that my focus on learning goals will get perturbed, as the UK School of Music changes their theory and composition faculty and course offerings.

What to do?

As satisfying as the attention towards actual performance is, as long as I can get my software to render my work in a listenable format, I will probably continue to select ensembles/formats that simply interest me. I am pretty severely ADD, so variation and new challenges really is where I’m happiest. Having said that, I hope against hope that a few of you remain interested and encouraging. I also hope my connection to local performers and ensembles, as well as UK, make it possible to realize concert performances. I will continue to pursue that. But….

That was a long way to arrive where I started — “Whatever I want!”

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