This time I tried to upload my audio files, it just worked. No problems whatsoever. I am excited to share them with you. I hope to get this my first symphony performed soon. For those new to my website, these are the audio files created by Joschija Oelkrug, my nephew who also is a composer, but works with Musescore 4. He was able to get a superior sound to what I had made with my software, and I am happy to have you listen to these in anticipation of a real recording. As always, contact me if you want to talk about performing my music!
It’s been a fantastic few months since I wrote last here. Our family welcomed a baby boy to the crew. We call him Johannes, which often reminds me of Johannes Brahms, one of the great Romantic composers that I look up to, and whose music inspired me to write my first symphony.
I have played several concerts, and Diana Golden premiered my piece “Jorden är så full av färg” for solo cello, that she commissioned a couple of years ago. I had the privilege of listening in on a livestream on October 23. And you can listen to the piece at the YouTube link, from Washington College, in Chestertown, Maryland.
I had promised that I would post the improved audio files of my symphony. Sadly I have had severe technical difficulties making it happen, but the second movement worked out for some unknown reason. Enjoy! As soon as I can make it work, I will share the other three movements.
We had initially planned on practicing a month ago, but it was hard to get our schedules to match up and we finally met up last night. I had added a new ending to the fourth and final movement “Fast and Furious”, which we tried out. Several of us had not been playing very much for several weeks, and I was a little worried about how it would go. But I was very happy with our rehearsal, and I think we might be able to record it in the next few months.
As usual, playing music I write is often a springboard for more inspiration to write, and I decided last night to start on another string quartet. I mean, I’ve got to keep writing to improve my craft, and a string quartet is a lot less demanding to get performed than an entire symphony.
So today I opened up my laptop to actually do something else, but the last thing I had opened was my first string quartet, and I decided to just go for it. I had spent some time today just relaxing and trying to figure out what I was going to write, but hadn’t really gotten any strokes of inspiration. From experience, I know that it seldom comes that way anyway, so I wasn’t too worried.
I made a “New score”, selected the instrumentation, made choice of tempo and key signature (atonal for simplicity), and called it simply “String Quartet #2” and then I had this one idea. Just a small gesture. And as you know, a small gesture is often all it takes for a piece to get started. Now I have three phrases, and I have started. That is a good feeling, because often the first step can be daunting.
My nephew Joschija Oelkrug also writes music, and he helped me get a better sound recording of my symphony. I listened to the new audio files this morning, and though I have been through some discouragement the past few months, I realized that I was quite pleased with how that symphony turned out, and I really hope that it gets played before too long. I will upload the new files here in another post in the next few days so you can all hear it with the better sound. I especially loved the way the piccolo and flute sound in it. Not to mention the clarinets. So much better.
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.
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.
So for those who want to hear what a synthesized version of my symphony will sound like, here are some sound files. Let me know if your orchestra wants to play it!
As I’m still not sure whether the contact me form actually works, you can contact me over LinkedIn, Instagram, or Facebook.
I brought the printed out copy to rehearsal and I showed it briefly to a couple of friends. I guess I realized that I didn’t need to ask many questions anymore. I’m feeling comfortable with what I’ve learned so far, and I hope that a real orchestra will read it before too long. My contrabassist friend mentioned that they don’t really like solos, but I have this line that is letting them solo briefly in the piece. Well, they get to anyway.
This morning, I look through the printed copy. I make a mental note of a handful of things to take a closer look at. I noticed this part where the second violins cut out for two beats, and I was wondering if they should keep doubling the viola line right there, and decide to let them do that.
I also noticed that I had changed the pitch in the timpani sooner than I realized, and make a note for the timpani to change one of the pitches earlier in the piece. There is this fortissimo section, where the flutes were only at mezzoforte, so I give them fortissimo as well.
There was this place that looked unfinished. I had copied in a couple of string parts to the clarinets. And the second clarinet was playing higher than the first. That isn’t necessarily a problem, but it didn’t look right. So I went to work on that section. Now the first is playing higher, and I also added in some flute doublings, because they should be playing when it’s nearly tutti.
I look at the timpani some more. At first, I’m thinking, maybe I should add a fifth timpani to the mix. But that seems excessive, if it’s just for one note. So I work on the timpani part some more, and add in another tam-tam beat at the fortissimo section, and a triangle entrance that adds some zest.
I’m very pleased with the divisi violas from yesterday.
I can’t believe how hard it is to call it done. I feel like every time I look at it, I find another small problem with it. But I need to move on. It would be very fun to prepare the professional parts, with cues and everything. I know how helpful that must be for the timpani after 31 measures of rest, to know just what to listen for. It is for me as a violist, after a long rest, and I don’t usually get that many measures of rest. Sometimes there are no cue notes, and you have to infer from tempo changes, just count, or make notes yourself to know what to listen for.
So I go through it again. I’m second guessing the quick switch from snare drum to bass drum, and give the percussionist three more beats to switch. I decide to divide the violas one more time, just for a few notes, to make the string sound a little fuller, not so gaping between second violins and viola.
The competition I’m entering asks for program notes. So I take some time to describe what is happening in the movement. It’s pretty abstract, but I guess all this blogging about the orchestration and composition of this piece might have helped me know how to talk about what I’m doing.
That’s it for now. I’m not making any more changes unless an orchestra picks it up and there are obvious problems with something I wrote that I hadn’t addressed.
A quick way to notices mistakes is by looking through each individual part. When I first started writing for orchestra (and voices) I wrote everything by hand. It was amazing when software extracted parts for me automatically. And even more amazing when the software made them dynamically, and if I made a change in the part, it automatically got changed in the score.
I start with flute 1. A little after rehearsal E, I see a missing dynamic. I go to the score, because if it’s missing in this part, it’s likely missing in other parts as well. I look at the section, and it appears I only missed to give the flutes a dynamic. I look at flute 2, and I’m wondering if the fortissimo continues after the four measure rest. It does. But then I see that the oboes were supposed to get to participate in the last couple of measures, and I had to forgotten to add them in. Actually, I wanted all the musicians in the orchestra to play the last couple of measures, in pianissimo, so I write in the horns and the trombones as well. It will be an interesting pianissimo, but I think it has its place.
Oboe 1. There is one suspicious omission of dynamics, but it’s a short rest, and I just add in the word “solo” in two places to help her or him know that it’s kind of exposed. I proceed to add in the same word for the clarinets and the tuba in their respective exposed parts. I’m looking over the clarinet part. I see what looks like a solo in the high register in mezzopiano, and I’m wondering if I’m serious about that dynamic. I go to the section, and see that for some reason, the second oboe cuts off before the other woodwinds. Why? No good reason, so I extend that note two beats. I experiment with extending the chord two more beats, but then the delicate clarinet gets kind of drowned out, so I undo that. I notice that I forgot to add in a slur at one point. Clarinet 2 gets added in several measures after the first, and I had forgotten to give them a fortissimo. I notice a similar problem in the second bassoon part.
I get to the second trombone part. I’m wondering if they’ll be frustrated that I didn’t give them more notes. I will listen through the piece and see if it looks like it’s missing a second trombone anywhere. I find this one part where a lot of the brass is playing, and I double the cello line in the second trombone, and add in a tuba octave doubling to the fourth horn. Listening in to check that they don’t drown out the bassoons. Adding in a doubling of the bassoon to the second trombone for that one gesture that seemed kind of lost once the tuba came in. Seeing as the notes are the same as the timpani has tuned to, I add in a doubling on the timpani.
I add in some more doublings in the ending part. The low brass is needed there. I add in a Glockenspiel doubling as well. It should pop now. I look back at the trombone parts now, and they look better.
Moving on to percussion. The timpani will have to retune two of the timpani one step or a half step, twice in the piece. They have plenty of time, so I hope they can do it. The percussion parts look ok. I see that the marimba might wonder at what dynamic level to start their diminuendo and add in a forte.
It’s time to look at string parts. The first violin has four pages of music. I’m looking at the bowings, and it’s pretty much what I had in mind. I guess I’ve looked at this part a lot in the score. I’m looking at the second violin part. One small section looks like I neglected to add in phrasing, and when I go to the score, it’s also missing for the viola part, and I fix it.
I look at the viola part, and for some reason, the missing phrase markings are more glaring here. I go to the score, and fix it for violins, viola, and cello all at once. There’s this suspicious part in the cello part, where no markings for phrasing or bowing are present. I go to the score, and I decide to change the notes just a little to better align with the rhythm right there. The phrasing follows.
Well, I think I must have given the contrabass part a lot of attention before, because it’s looking deliberate throughout.
Breaking for lunch.
I come back to it. I add in a cover page. I’m wondering what kind of subtitle to give it, I’m coming up blank so far. I look at the opening gesture, and decide to give the first trombone part to the second trombone part, and give the first a new part, a little higher, closer to the oboe’s melody. I decide to divide the violas in this one part where there is a big gap between violins and violas, and I want to fill it in more.
I think it’s time to print it out and maybe show it to a musician friend.
I’m starting where I left off. I’m at the percussion, last two pages. And I listen to the ending. Ugh, that chord progression and bass line together? I change a couple of notes in the contrabass, and double with the second bassoon and tuba. I like it better. It’s more definitive.
I continue to go through the symphony movement. I fix a few notes that ended up the wrong kind of dissonant in the clarinet part yesterday, add in an oboe doubling. Adding in more percussion, because with the new introductions of instruments, my palette of sounds has expanded and I can hear how the new ones (shaker, tam-tam, wood blocks) can fit in on occasion.
I keep going through, fixing slurs, dynamic markings that are obscured. There’s a few more articulations I add in. It’s getting very close to where I feel I can play it for my family for the first time.
Breaking for some baking. I play the piece for my family after adding in another couple of percussion lines/phrases.
As we listen to the piece, I decide I want to write some more notes for the viola. That leads to a few more notes for the rest of the string section as well. I give the woodwinds a diminuendo right when the horns are coming in to give them more space to be heard.
I’m feeling very close to abandoning the project. I fix a few more slurs so they aren’t obscuring the note underneath. It’s a strange sensation to stop working on such a big project. I’ll look at it some more tomorrow, and make sure I didn’t miss writing in dynamics for any parts, and other such easy misses.
I start my composition today by just listening from the beginning and stopping when I notice that I could easily add in some more horn parts where I initially only had one. The melody passes from the first horn to the trumpet, and I decide to give the four horns some chords to play.
I continue listening through, finding where I need to add in some clarinet parts, some oboe lines, and a second flute line. The bass drum loses a few notes to give the measure two beats of just a little less thunder. I have this bassoon line that I want to support, and those clarinets get to help, and I also let the cello section pitch in.
I go to the ending, add in some clarinet doublings to the trumpets, let the tuba double the second bassoon. Adding in a few accents for the marimba. I get back, add in more clarinet parts. Seems like a clarinet kind of day. Like it’s the solution to a lot of problems. Another time, the first trumpet comes to the rescue, when I feel like I need a gesture to repeat once more in the first part of the movement.
Back at it in the evening. I see that the strings need some slurs to denote what kind of phrasing I’m after. I’m keeping it simple for now, it’s mostly tying sixteenth notes together for switching bows each beat. There are times for more complicated bowings, and I have them already defined. Some trill notations look really bad and I clean them up. I add in a second trumpet to the aforementioned trumpet rescue. There are a number of other woodwind additions I fit in.
I add in a couple of more percussion instruments that suit the quiet part better. I make note that I need a few more percussion lines in the last two pages.