Monthly Archives: December 2022

YouTube channel up and running with my first video

I finally uploaded the video from Jonathan Warburton’s premiere of Where is home?, a piece in four movements for solo bass trombone. The piece was written in commemoration of my political exile from Sweden. Yes, they don’t allow home education as an option for most families, and after fighting the government (unsuccessfully) about the issue for about two years, we left for the United States. We are happy about living here, but it still hurts sometimes to think about how unwelcome we were in my home country because of our educational philosophy.

That means you can view this recording too, from October 3, 2022, at the University of South Carolina.

It is my intention to regularly populate my channel with new recordings of my works. Do subscribe to get a notification whenever new content is uploaded.

Mr. Warburton is planning another performance of the piece next year, which I hope to be able to attend in person.

Getting back into writing notes

I got so sick a couple of weeks ago, that at first I was just lying around sleeping with a fever. As I started to recover, I had very few thoughts on writing music, it being Christmas and I had some other responsibilities associated with that (a little for the music program at church, and trying to make it a meaningful time for the family by cooking some special dishes for our dinner, trying to figure out decorations and gifts).

There had been a difficulty for the choir at one of the key changes for Angels we have heard on high, and I added some notes for the clarinet and the alto saxophone to clarify the key change. It was simple and worked.

But today I feel the itch of writing more. I remembered exactly what I had been thinking last time, probably in part because I kept a record here on this blog. I just listened through what I had so far, and then I wrote a part for the first violin, and then one for the second violin. They are rhythmically unison which makes it easy, in some ways. I know that if I keep the same interval between them, they cease to be independent, so I try to vary the distance a little bit, and add in a little bit of contrary motion. But the idea here is high and kind of ethereal, and I don’t want any quick moves.

I add in a viola part, and I start working on a cello part but the library is closing so I’ll have to pick it up later.

Last minute changes

Last week I wrote about rejection, and it was when I found out that my second competition piece hadn’t won, that I found out about another call for scores. It had been my intention to submit a movement to that competition this week. Well deadline was tonight, and I got really sick on Wednesday. I was lying pretty useless on the couch for a couple of days, and then today I got to hold my feverish child most of the day.

Thankfully, there wasn’t a lot I still needed to do to submit the piece, and this evening, with less than two hours to spare, I got on my computer and handed off kid-duty to my awesome husband and gave kids hand signals to leave me alone while I focused on the last minute things I still had to do to send it in.

There was one thing that stood out to me, and it was towards the end of the movement. For some reason, I had the second clarinet cut out in the middle of the building up to the end, and it just looked funny to me. So I decided to write a part for that instrument by doubling the second flute, and it just looked better, and I’m sure will feel more satisfying for the person playing that part.

I added a cover page, added a couple of notes that make it easier to read for the conductor, and fixed some funny looking slurs that were artifacts of going back and forth between transposing score and score in C.

I wrote some program notes, which I am seeing most competitions like to receive these days, and realized how much this piece actually means to me, and this time, I really hope it goes better than the last two competitions.

Transition from fast to calm

Today when I get back to the computer to what I imagine is finishing up the loose ends from yesterday, I find that what sounds like an ending can just as well be the transition to a calmer middle part. The piece is full of contrapuntal movement, and I have finally reached a resting point for all the four instruments. That is why it feels so final. But I decide that I can start a new part here, and make the piece more of an ABA form. I’m at the end of the first “A,” and I can start on “B.”

Here are a few things that I deliberately do to change the feel of the music, to make it a contrasting section. 1) I slow down the tempo from 120 to 84 beats per minute, 2) I don’t write any sixteenth notes – the fastest note so far is an eighth note, 3) I give it a pianissimo marking, the first in the piece, 4) I make the counterpoint less busy, so I only have two different rhythm shapes, and they are only a little bit different from each other, and 5) I use a lot of sequence and try to make the section predictable.

Last Saturday I had the fantastic experience of listening to the Utah Symphony playing live at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City. They played Prokofiev’s 2nd piano concerto and Shostakovich’s 1st symphony. Their opening piece was by John Adams, The Chairman Dances: Foxtrot for Orchestra. As I listened to the orchestra, I was thinking a lot about repetition, and how much repetition is desirable. It clearly is a delicate balance! You want the audience to feel like they have some kind of idea of what the musical theme is, and how you are developing it. You can only know the theme if there are enough iterations of it, because otherwise it comes across as introduction or variation.

So as I’m writing the beginning part of “B” in the first movement of my first string quartet, I’m trying to introduce the theme enough times that a listener can feel like the music makes sense. I’m pairing the two violins rhythmically, and I’m also pairing the viola and cello. Then I switch rhythms between the two groups, so that the leading voice is in the lower register. I’m thinking a lot about two-part harmony, which does best when the intervals are a pleasing interval, rather than doublings (doublings kind of undo the idea of harmony).

In two-part harmony, a pretty safe bet in traditional arrangements is the third or the sixth. However, I love variety, and therefore I will mix my thirds and sixths up with seconds, diminished fifths, and the occasional fourth or seventh. I try to aim for a mix of countermotion and the parts moving together (with countermotion being favored). That is how I find a two-part harmony the most interesting.

Well, I finish up my first eight measures of that section, and I know that it needs something a little different next. I’ve just ended on a pretty high chord for all the strings, which lends itself fairly well for introducing the climax. I remember learning that when you’re looking for a climax in a piece, it generally means the highest point. Playing Prokofiev’s third piano concerto (observe that this recording is not my orchestra playing it) last spring, I definitely felt it was a high point when the entire viola section was maxing out by playing the highest notes we are usually ever asked to play in concert, towards the end of the last movement (listen at about 24-26 minutes for that part where the high strings are really high and lyrical, right before the peppy contrasting part by woodwinds, piano, and strings playing in a very different style).

So when I get back to writing either later today or tomorrow, I will try and make that high section fly.

About different modes in music

As I mentioned last time, there were gaps in the piece as I left it, and I start by writing in a second violin part, that extends past what I wrote last. Somehow, it seems to ask for a key change, at least temporarily, rather than a change of mood. So I’m ending up with a different tonal center for a little while.

Let’s talk about keys and tonal centers a little bit. I was in high school when I first learned about different modes. I found them very interesting to work with. I actually employed a few different modes in my first opera writing. I started out very traditional in a mostly Dorian B-minor, but I wrote a part for the soprano to sing in Phrygian mode, and later on, a song for the mezzosoprano in Lydian mode. This way, I could keep the key signature, but just change the tonal center, and I liked the way it turned out.

There are certain harmonies that I tend to favor. I really like four-note harmonies, which means I don’t double many notes in the string quartet. So I’ll add a sixth or a seventh or something to fill out the trichords that are so common. One of my favorite trichords is the augmented one. It’s so mysterious! I also like the diminished trichord, and you can easily make it a diminished seventh when you add the fourth note.

This is kind of hard to express in just words. If you know what I am talking about when I talk about different modes, the best way to learn more is by just experimenting. You can listen to Tavasz (It means Spring in Hungarian) by Béla Bártok. It starts with a melody with a high fourth, just like in the Lydian mode. Maybe this is one reason his music resonates so much with me. The modes are different enough from the common practice era to make me sharpen my ear, but still really beautiful.

I just keep writing more notes on the string quartet, and suddenly I write a cello line that sounds like it could be the ending of a movement. What in the world? I thought the piece would be longer. The movement might be nearly done but my brain is spent. I’ll get back to it tomorrow and see what happens. The piece is close to five minutes of peppy music, and maybe the contrast I was looking for will just appear in the second movement. I think I’ll go for a slow, sweet style.

Adding more notes

It’s been a busy week and I feel like it’s hard to find any long stretches of work on my string quartet. But I’m still happy with being able to write in some more notes today. It’s gaping a little for a second violin part, but I did write some notes for each instrument, and all those holes make it easy to know where to start next time!

I had this phrase that I let cascade from the cello, to the viola, to the second violin, to the first violin. But it wasn’t coming through enough, so I decided to add in doublings until they all play unison.

As I’m listening through the music I’ve written so far, I’m thinking that there are probably only a few changes I’ll make to the material when I’m editing it. One note sounds a little out of place, so I’ll change it from a G to an A, probably. I know it’s short on dynamics too, so I’ll add in more of that when I have a moment.

I’m at about four minutes now, and I’m thinking that if I want to have a middle, contrasting section, it should come just about now. I’ll have to think about what I want it to sound like.


I know that many successful writers and other kinds of professions often get many rejections before someone takes a chance and believes in them. I also remember that there was some guy (Jia Jiang) that went out of his way to get rejected every day for 100 days to get over his fear of rejection. Brilliant, right? He wrote a book about it. I just watched his TED talk.

So I think it’s partly what he says, he just tried hard to make unreasonable requests or weird and unusual requests and then he recorded what happened on video. He wasn’t actually rejected every time, some people gave him what he asked for. For him, it sounds like he learned a lot about himself, and was able to not just start running as soon as someone said “no.”

I submitted my first work to a competition when I was still a student. It wasn’t a great piece of work, and I wrote it for the competition under a time crunch. I didn’t win, and I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. But I didn’t really look for any other competitions for many years. It was just a few months ago, after I had started working on the symphony, and I got word of a competition that was especially for female composers of symphonic music, that I started to write the last movement to suit the parameters of the competition.

I started keeping an eye out for other competitions, and it kept me to deadlines. Just keep writing, a little bit every day, and make sure it’s done by the deadline. The second competition I submitted to this fall (third in total) was a new song I wrote. I blogged about the journey. I didn’t know what I was doing at first, but I didn’t give up. Just one step at a time.

So today when I got word that I didn’t win the second composition competition I ever entered, I shouldn’t get too discouraged. I remember learning about the philosophies of Eastern religions, and the striving for nirvana, which has to do with a quietness, a freedom from the bonds of this earth. I like to think of it as letting go of the desire for quick success, which is attained by those who are able to not get sucked into the abyss of disappointment that is so easy to fall into when faced with rejection.

And I wrote some more lines on my string quartet today.

Repeating the exposition

Who writes sonata form these days? I don’t know that I want to follow the form exactly, but after listening to so much Mendelssohn, I feel inclined to look up what people say – does he actually follow sonata form or is it some kind of modified form? I actually found Katie Walshaw’s dissertation, and started reading what she had to say about it. I’m sure I’ll find a lot more if I keep reading it. Basically, she seems to claim that people have been judging Mendelssohn after Beethoven’s style, and that it’s unfair to do that. I’ve always kind of wondered why we would stick to one composer for analyzing form, and her thoughts resonate with me.

I add in a repeat of the first five measures of the piece, and then start diverging again. I feel like I’m coming into a more intense version of the exposition.

It was a lot of fun to have that one cello line leading into the repeat, and then to fill in the other parts, that all lead to a crescendo, landing on a forte. I keep going after the brief repeat, but finally I’m tired of thinking of new lines, and I’m leaving it for today. I’m searching for some new harmonies, and land in a new chord (B-flat minor seventh), but I want to think about it when I’m fresh again. I am not sure where I’m going to go after that landing.

Ten full measures

Ok, so I felt ok with finishing up when I had gotten at least one part all the way to the added twenty seconds yesterday. But they were not filled out with all the parts. Today when I pick up work on the string quartet, I first fill out the remaining parts, and then I go to work to add another ten measures.

I alternate between contrapuntal movement and unison rhythm sections. I think it’s a lot of fun, and I guess that was a lot of what I heard in my Mendelssohn listening too.

After filling up the ten measures, I have a floating four measures of just cello line to build off of next time I pull out my composing work.

I’ve heard people complain that they can’t focus long enough to write music. I don’t write for very long stints either, usually. It’s intense while I work on it, but then I have to break it up with something else or my mind starts going to mush.

Also, if someone starts playing music in the background it becomes impossible to keep my focus. So that is out. When I’m writing music it is also difficult to take interruptions. If someone wants my attention when I’m writing, I’ll usually hold up a hand, to show them that I’ve noticed them, but they must let me finish what I’m working on. It’s usually just finishing up a phrase that’s hard to interrupt. And in an Allegro movement, there are many phrases!

Non-zero means at least a little bit

It’s been a long day, and I spent a good chunk of time this morning trying to get better audio files, but not succeeding. I didn’t want to call it quits today before at least writing a little bit on the string quartet. It is energizing, but after giving each of the four string instruments a little more music to play, I’m just tired, and I’m calling it a day.

I’m still pleased, because I wrote a little bit. And what’s more: I like what I’m writing. I can hardly wait to play it with my friends. But there’s no huge rush. The piece is twenty seconds longer than it was yesterday. If I do this for five days a week, for five weeks, I’d have more than eight minutes of music. Not too bad, and I think I can probably write more some days.