Relight My Fire

In last week’s post I mentioned the joy in returning to some of my older compositions with a fresh perspective and a deeper understanding of not only music in general but also my of own music. Sometimes, this reappraisal (of a kind) leads to my being able to realize even better the ideas I had back when I first wrote the piece in question.

Last weekend, during a lovely dinner with dear friends, I got to talking about my childhood and how I first started composing music actively. I still remember quite well that as I grew up, I had all of these fantastic ideas for pieces of music but I could never write them down as I imagined them. Sometimes not even close. I had yet much to learn about music theory and the like, and even though I have always found ear training and learning by ear easy, as a teenager I had much to learn about, for example, transcribing music (including the one I heard in my head).

When I was nine, my parents bought our first home computer. Not long after, they also got some music software. If I hadn’t already been hooked, that did it. And here I am. I cannot remember when, exactly, but certainly in my early teens I knew that I wanted to dedicate a large part of my life to composing music. Back then my biggest dream was making a career out of composing for computer and video games, specifically. On a handful of occasions, I have been so fortunate. While I haven’t abandoned that idea (not in the slightest!) I have since then expanded my musical horizons significantly.

Aside from the simple fact that there is an absolutely enormous amount of absolutely fantastic music in games, what attracted me to game music was the narrative aspect. In contemporary video games, the possibilities that adaptive music offer are incredibly exciting to me. I found this delightful and quite instructive video about the adaptive music system used in the game Pikmin 3 that I recommend you watch regardless if you know of and/or are interested in game music or not; no previous knowledge of games or game music is required.

(As an aside, that same video creator has another fantastic video about the intricacies of sound design in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild that is also absolutely worth watching.)

Back in late 2013, I composed what was at that point my greatest and most complex musical work, by far: my Christmas oratorio. I not only composed the music, but also came up with the structure and wrote the libretto. The basic idea was to center it around the humans of the story, to tell it from a more grounded perspective. For example: what was life like for shepherds living in that period? What might the consequences have been for Mary and Joseph if indeed Mary became pregnant and declared that she had not been with another man? It is such a well-known story, you might even say well-worn at this point, and I wanted to tell it in a new way that would resonate on another level with people.

The original version from 2013 is written for choir, four vocal soloists, organ and a small instrumental ensemble. I am currently working on a reduced version for voices and organ only. Reducing the accompaniment down to only one instrument – albeit one with enormous possibilities – is quite the challenge. At the same time, it gives me the chance to do what I described above: to reexamine the music and fine-tune any ideas that perhaps did not quite reach their final form.

As I described in my last blog post, the majority of the changes I make are small. I change a note value, or extend the length of a bar slightly by altering the time signature, or clean up the instrumental parts before reducing them. By cleaning up the parts I mean reducing the amount of detail in sections of the music where simply too much was happening at once. Worst case, the instrumental parts were covering up the vocals, but even if that was not the case, too many individual parts not properly organised can make the music sound thick and soupy instead of lush and exciting.

When I am further along, I will show some examples of how I reduced the instrumental arrangement down to only an organ part. If people are interested, I could also discuss the libretto a little, as well as the narrative structure of the work. Oh, and here is a recording (if simple) of the first movement, taken from the premiere performance back in December 2013 in Härnösand Cathedral. Enjoy!