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Showing posts from April, 2008

Laptop Music

There are a lot of different forms of music being made - and laptop music is a recent addition to the list. I'm not talking about writing music on the laptop to have it played back (although that's certainly a tool composers have really taken advantage of allowing new compositions to be self-published). Nor am I talking about using the computer tied to a synthesiser to generate sounds. This new form is actually making the laptop itself a musical instrument. Ok - there are a lot of different forms of music, most of which will go by the wayside as a fade, an exploration, but nothing will come of them. I think this one has real possibilities. - It's not going to replace the orchestra for many things, but it is augmenting it.

Explaining the 2 previous posts

I am not trying to be morbid, but rather pay respects to fellow musicians/composers. We live in a world where Mozarts' can die bankrupt, and Beethovens' popularity wains as they get older. Society finds gems and celebrates them, but then all to quickly the attention fades and new gems are found and celebrated. When people pass, it is important (IMHO) to mark, with some reverence, their contribution to this world. So, if you were not aware of the two composers who have recently passed, take a moment and find out more about them. Both were innovators.

Jimmy Giuffre died

Jimmy Giuffre died on Thursday in Massechutes; he was 86.He composed "Four Bothers" which was a hit for Woody Herman's band in 1947. After early experience in jazz bands, Mr. Giuffre took an interest in counterpoint, fugues and other elements of classical music. He became identified with John Lewis, George Russell, Gunther Schuller and other musicians who sought to blend jazz and classical music in a style known as Third Stream. He also formed a group called Jimmy Giuffre 3 with guitarist Jim Hall and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. As his musical style moved further and further from mainstream, Jimmy directed his attentions to composing and teaching. He started composing for theater, ballet and commercials and also taught at New York University, the New School and the New England Conservatory of Music. "I don't play to win a mass audience, although I wouldn't shun them if they wanted to come along," he told The Washington Po…

Tristram Cary died

The music world morns the loss of another composer today. Tristram Cary died Thursday; he was 82.Some may know him for his music used in the Doctor Who series, but he is also one of the pioneers of electronic music in Britian. He was educated in classical music at the Westminster School in London. Whle working as a radar operator during World War II, he developed a variety of concepts in electronic music, eventually leading him to co-develope the EMS VCS3 synthesiser, used by a number of avant-gard musicians including The Who and Pink Floyd. Cary was one of the first British composers to work in musique concrète. In 1967 he created the first electronic music studio of the Royal College of Music.

The Effects and Future of Music on Music

There seems to be thread developing on this blog (not surprising since it's a thread that exists in my life and this blog is an extension of that...) - the effects of classical music on other forms of music and the effects of those other forms on classical music.On the 28th, I blog'd about My Classical Music Style, discussing the elements of "pop" music that is leaking into my classical writing. My good friend Shay commented on the effects of classical music in his own "Americana" style (click here for a listen). On the 18th I posted a note about the Blending of jazz and classical music by not only me but other composers as well. And today the Telegraph writes of how Folk and Classical are blending.The basic thread is "we are a product of our roots" so let's not deny them. Schoenberg said (roughly), there is no new music that is not built on what comes before. And in our modern world where all forms of music…

Music as a Weapon???

I am all in favour of playing classical music in as many venues as possible, but I'm not sure how I feel about this one. Music, of all forms, should produce harmony, be a way of bringing people together, not run them off or create a further divide between the ages. In the store in Northhampton they are using classical music to "attack" the youth (ok, in a non-violent way) - but the concept is, "The teenagers hate the music so much that whenever it plays they simply move away." And since the idea of playing it is to push away the teenagers, this tells the teenagers - We don't want you. We are doing something you "hate" intensionally - which only serves to create more anger an animosity amoung the youth (IMHO).In England there is a device known as the Mosquito which emits a high pitched frequency that typically only the young can hear. This is done for the same reason, to drive off the youth and prevent mayhem. Howev…

My "Classical Music" style

When I was young I played trombone... well, I still play the trombone on occasion, but that's not the point. When I was young and playing the trombone I was exposed to a variety of different music styles. The concert band played mostly classical music, but occasionally band tunes from the likes of Souza. The stage band played jazz tunes from the big band era to modern Dave Brubeck and Chuck Mangione. Outside of band there was disco, which was great for dancing but not something I actually listened to, or other popular music from people like Miami Sound Machine or the harder edged anthem rock bands like Kansas, Styx, Yes, Led Zeppelin (the list goes on). Without realising it, these sounds affected my musical tastes, interests and have crept into my compositions. My classical compositional background leads me to want to score the music, so very little of anything I write isn't done with notation software at some point. (I rather enjoy putting the…

Classical Music Sales

More than just a few download music sites are encouraging classical music creators to provide music for downloads. eMusic just signed noteworthy independent classical music label to their growing list (they just surpassed 2million downloads). Crucial Music is trying to add to their collection as well. Music.com, Sony, Naxos, Warner Bros all expect classical music to represent between 10-16% of their download revenue and that doesn't even begin to speak of the exposure this means to composers and performers alike. So, while posting music to your own website might be one way of getting it out there, I strongly encourage all you aspiring composers to start posting your music to other media sites as well. It may not garner enough to pay the mortgage on your home, but the exposure is invaluable!

Finding a Voice

Preparing for a classical music concert has a number of factors involved; only one of them is finding the talent. While I have been blessed with both the Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Edinburgh Quartet agreeing to work with me on this concert, I am also attempting to put on the work-in-progress opera "It Must Be Fate". This requires not only singers but instrumentalists (and, even though we're staging it oratorio style - long list of reasons why) the piece needs movement - dance).The original concept for the opera was a blending of urban styles with more classical lyric lines (you'd be surprised how similar some of the urban lyric lines are to classical ones). But, urban music style really needs drums, bass and effects/amplification and more. The music was progressing nicely, but to accomplish it on stage we were talking about pre-recorded music. This was possible, but not right for the oratorio style performance. One of the re…

Getting Noticed

Do you self-promote or do you find an agent to promote you? Getting an Agent would seem to be the easiest answer, but an Agent may be promoting a dozen or more people - who's to say you'll be the focus of their attention? Some say do the job you do well and let other's do the jobs they do. If you're a software engineer, rebuilding a car engine isn't something you should attempt if you need the car engine to run. If you look into rebuilding car engines as a hobby, or curiosity - and there is no need for the engine to actually function when you're done - great! But, if you need the car tomorrow, hire a mechanic. Is this true for agents as well?Certainly the world of Classical Music is vast; finding the right person to talk to in order to get a piece performed is a skill all of it's own. Spending time trolling the web, making phone calls (sending emails) and reading the stacks of magazines about who's doing what where isn't necessarily the mos…

Blending Expressions - Jazz and Classical Music

It's interesting how music has moved through phases in the last century, sort of making it up as it goes along. In the nineteen-thirties, Gershwin wasn't considered (by many) to be a "classical composer" because he came from a background of jazz and "show tunes"; his music was too improvised. When Copeland turned to incorporating jazz styles, he was cautioned for getting too "low brow," too free with his music. Classical music needed to strive for something new, not succumb to the music of the masses. For years the two worlds seemed to be separated by some arbitrary class structure.However, jazz has become so much a part of our musical consciousness that "classical" musicians are incorporating elements of it in their music all over the place. Many of the biggest names in "pop/jazz" world reference their classical roots (Beyoncé Knowles). According to a NY Times music review, Bill Frisell wrote a series of string quartet pi…

Music in Retrospect

Geoff Edgers of Boston.com posted an article a few days ago relating to composers thoughts on their early works. I found it interesting that Geoff doesn't feel composers like Mozart were embarrassed by their early works. When I was doing a paper on Haydn's string quartets I ran across something that suggested Haydn feel his later quartets were built upon what he'd learned in the earlier ones, and found the early ones immature in comparison. Thus the early ones were a necessary stepping stone, but not of the quality (maybe I'm reading too much into this comparison based on my own feelings about my early works - more on that later).Steve Layton of Sequenza21.com posted a query for other composers to comment on their impressions of their early works. While I did post a comment, I thought a more thorough response was appropriate.First of all, it's difficult for me to really speak about early works when I am just preparing to premier …

Immigrant Composers

The Seattle Symphony's Spring Festival is going to honor immigrant composers, people who came to the US to further their musical career. and they're calling the programme "Coming to America: Composers in Pursuit of a Dream." While I was at Napier University (Edinburgh, Scotland) we studied a number of these composers like Stravinsky, Schoenburg. We studied other's who aren't included in the programme, like Dvorák, Holst, Brittan and Ferneyhough (to be fair Holst only came over to promote his works in the US and Brittan eventually moved back to the UK). We also studied composers like Cage who went the other direction (at least for a while). As an American in the UK, I often wonder whether I'll be considered a "British" composer because of my educational stint here, or an American one because of my birth. I suppose some of that depends on when (and where) my fame occurs (soon would be nice!). It probably also de…

Reviewers, opinions and opera

Philip Glass is famous and being famous he is under the scrutiny of critics. There will be people that will enjoy his works under the auspice of, "He's famous; he must be good." And there are people who will chide him with "He just does the same thing over and over and over again." The Metropolitan Opera's most recent product is "Satyagraha" based on the life of Mohandas Ghandi and written by Philip Glass. As religious and political worlds collide with the Olympics in China and the protests concerning the fate of Tibet, this opera couldn't be more timely. Ghandi, a man devoted to peaceful protests and intense meditation is portrayed in minimalist music, repetitive motives that attempt to create a trance like state. How could you find fault with these concepts? And yet...Critics seem to have taken these polar opposites in terms of their reviews of this production. Ronald Blum, an Associated Press writer, spea…

An Article published in my company's magazine

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Here is an article that appeared in the internal magazine for Scottish Widows (the company I work for). Free publicity is always good... The formatting isn't quite what it is in the magazine, but there's only so much you can do with the html in a blogger postMusic speaks
louder than wordsEveryone loves putting the last piece in a puzzle and for Chip Michael, Compliance Consultant, finishing a composition is just the same. Charlotte McNeill meets Scottish Widows’ rising musical star.“Once in your life you should undertake a task that is huge but possible, difficult ut obtainable. Something that when it’s done you can look back and say, ‘I did it’,” says Chip Michael, Compliance Consultant at Scottish Widows. Chip has done just that and in June 2008 his concert ‘Interchanging Idioms’ will be performed for the first time. Music is an important part of Chip’s life. “I started playing the trombone aged seven and became a pretty fair player. But playing doesn’t really satisfy me th…

Getting through the Clutter

Eddie and I took in an ecat concert last night, “String Quartet on the Tight-Rope” with the Quatuor Diotima, and some interesting events occurred (for me, at least). The expertise of the players was very evident in their handling of pieces from James Dillon (Fourth String Quartet), Henri Dutilleux (Ainsi la Nuit) and Helmut Lachenmann (Gran Torso) (they also performed Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, but I’ll speak of that later). Each of these three composers are still living and their compositions are cutting edge music, with the Dillon piece, his Fourth String Quartet, the most recent - completed in January 2005. All three pieces are excellent examples of the European exploration of new sound, what ecat is all about.One of the first things that struck me was the awareness that I was able to understand the form of the pieces just on listening to them. I won’t say that I could achieve an in-depth musical analysis of them just through aural exploration, but even grasping large connected eleme…

Opera is a Different Beast

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Writing is a tortured occupation - writers are neurotic - the written word is so finalon the page! We spend endless hours asking ourselves questions. How much should the character say? What portion of their back-story must be told, what can just be hinted at? Would they use slang? If they say A, then would B follow, or would they jump to K? Will they be honest?Monologue (Aria) or dialogue?Trust me, the list of potential writer's block inducing questions is endless. In the novel form, in-depth character information can be laid out with deliberation and evocative description. In a Musical, back-story is ignored, or referred to obliquely. Film uses montage or flashback sequences to communicate the necessary information. Opera? Well, Opera is an entirely different beast.

Opera can be murky, uncertain. Characters can have hidden motives; they can lie about their feelings. Back-story can be communicated only via the printed programme. Audiences are expected to just 'roll w…

The role of an accompaniment in opera

What is the role of an accompaniment, particularly in terms of an opera? Some could argue it is to provide a sense of pitch for the vocalists, although how anyone gets their pitch in Berg's Wozzeck is beyond me - and certainly at the professional level the vocalists should be able to know their pitch without the assistance of the accompaniment. It could be to provide a subplot to the text being sung. Certainly in Brittan's Rape of Lucretia, or Peter Grimes, the music provides a huge amount of subtext to the words, but what of atmosphere? Should the accompaniment also provide atmosphere to the scene, a setting or mood to extend the lyrics into a scene? For me I think all of the above reasons have their moments in an opera. While I agree a professional opera singer should be of a quality to not need the crutch of always having their pitch, there is something to be said for making the music accessible, to both the audience and the vocalist. If the…

Edinburgh Quartet joins the concert

We'd like to announce the Edinburgh Quartet has agreed to premier a new string quartet piece at the 4 June Concert. This is an exciting addition as it adds a nice dimension to the concert and continues a relationship with the quartet that has proved to be very rewarding. Previously the Edinburgh Quartet has performed "Aegidios" and "Weighting the Return" at concerts at St Giles.

Instruments that didn't make the cut for the concert

There are a number of instruments I love writing for, but for one reason or another are not included in this concert. When selecting music for a concert, it is important the overall programme has flow and continuity, which means some pieces just don’t work together, or for reasons of time, there just isn’t room to put them into the programme. This is a bit of a frustration for me because, as a composer, there are so many tonal colours I’d like to explore. There will be other concerts with other opportunities to explore these lovely instruments - so, while I regret not including them, they are far from being forgotten. The piano isn’t really included in this concert (although there is some discussion about having a small bit played at the opening – sort of a prelude to the concert). I have a number of pieces, most notably a series of twelve Piano Preludes which explore the merging of two keys, one for each hand. It would have been really nice to include these into the concert, but…

of Concepts and Language

Languages shape the way we think, and how things are said affects our perception of them. Take, for example, the working title of our opera, "It Must BeFate." The statement refers to something; "it" is somehow controlled(present tense) by another object "Fate." It is an imperative statement,meaning absolutely necessary or required; unavoidable. This concept is not possible in Classical Greek language (according to my sources - not being a Classical Greek scholar myself).There is also the question of Fate in the singular. The Fates were typically portrayed as three women, the Moriai spoken of collectively, but not in the singular. Thus the concept of a single entity of "Fate" didn't exist. Nor would Classical Greek necessarily consider the Moriai to be responsible for the unavoidability of said "it" as, while they were the keepers of mans' thread (life span), it was Zeus who ultimately determined a man's fate. The Moriai w…

Hail to the Copiests

My respect for composers in the past continues to grow, particularly in terms of producing the parts for their music. The orchestration of a work is one thing, and I don't want to make little of the effort in getting the orchestration right. Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is owed much to the popularity of the music. Certainly numerous books have been written on the subject of orchestration (I owned at least a half dozen, which I refer to often). Orchestration of a piece, while important, is creative, in many ways, very much like composing. The orchestrator is making personal choices as to what instruments, dynamics, articulations - and so on - to create the sound he/she wants. However, the copiest, the poor bloke who ends up putting pen to paper so the various musicians can turn those little black spots into something wonderful, is just moving those little black dots from one page to another. There is craft involved (it has to b…

Composers live (die) on the edge

Not that I'm planning on dieing anytime soon, but it seems that (according to the BBC) composers tend to live unusual lives and die unusual deaths. As I am just starting my career - and this concert is the debut of my 1st Symphony, I can safely say the "curse" of number 9 is a ways away.