Down to Brass Tacks

Less than a week after my last post, I am proud to announce that I am almost done with one of the two competition entries I mentioned last week, and have come a fair way on the other as well!

The band composition is the one I have spent the most time on. It was also the one I dreaded out of the two, as it is the first work I have ever written for this particular setting. I wanted to focus on getting at least one piece done, rather than splitting my time equally and running the risk finishing neither. Fortunately, I got going fairly quickly.

Last Wednesday, I spent a lot of time researching brass band instrumentation in my two orchestration books and online, as well as looking at some scores for ideas on instrument combinations and how to use the different instrument sections.

I started on the actual composition last Thursday, not having a solid musical idea to begin with. This, on the other hand, made for an excellent opportunity to practice what I preach, namely, to accept and try out any idea that comes to you instead of tossing out anything that doesn’t immediately seem perfect.

In fact, I was fortunate enough to come up with some basic ideas fairly quickly and started sketching them down. I didn’t spend a lot of time on instrumentation initially, in order to get as much of a rough sketch down as quickly as possible.

The first few days, I kept referring back to a couple of the scores I had found, as well as my books. Work on the piece kept progressing at a nice pace throughout the weekend, even though Friday was a national holiday. (Yes, Swedes celebrate Midsummer to the point where they even made a – quite good! – horror film about it recently.)

At the two-minutes-twenty point, I figured I had a choice to make. I had almost two and a half minutes of energetic, exciting fanfare-like music, and was about to take the music down to a soft and contemplative state. On the one hand, I could go the more obvious route – write out a mellow middle section and finish off with a da capo of the high-energy beginning – or, I could be a bit cheeky and simply end the piece with a slow second half.

Earlier today, I unfortunately came up with a great transition back to the start of the piece from the slow part, so I ended up going the traditional, expected route. I think it will ultimately be a more satisfying piece this way, though.

I have to say I am quite proud of how it is turning out. I only hope that I am not making tons of instrumentation mistakes that are obvious to those well-versed in brass band music, but the piece itself I am quite pleased with. It feels like it could make for a good concert opener, or perhaps to get the audience excited again at the halfway point of a programme.

The choral piece is not nearly as far along, but I have decided on a structure for the piece and selected the lyrics. There were no particular requirements for the brass compositions besides the instrumentation and a max duration of 6 minutes. However, the choral piece is to relate to, or respond to, English 20th century composer Gerald Finzi’s Lo, the full, final sacrifice for SATB choir and organ, and be no longer than 8 minutes. I was only superficially aware of Gerald Finzi before, but apparently his music is quite popular in England.

Musically, I have picked a few themes or thematic ideas from Lo, the fill, final sacrifice to base my composition on. Like Finzi did in his piece, I will mostly write syllabically, meaning that each syllable gets its own note. (The opposite is melismatic writing, where each syllable is sung over several notes.) I have structured my lyrics in such a way as to form three separate sections: First a slower, more introspective section; Then a more dramatic, explosive and jubilant one; And finally, a sort of dignified coda, halfway between introspection and jubilation.

I will spend most of the coming three days working on the choral piece. I might let the band piece rest tomorrow, before writing the ending. I often find satisfying endings to be difficult to write. As long as I submit both pieces before lunchtime this Friday, it should be fine. I will definitely get the band piece in, hopefully the choral piece as well. Wish me luck, dear reader.

I know I wrote last week that this post would be the last one before taking a break from the blog over summer, but I can’t leave you hanging without letting you know if I managed to get both pieces in on time, can I? Of course I can’t; so, expect one more post before the break. See you again next week.

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Composer, arranger and songwriter for performance, recording, broadcast and interactive media.

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