This year I have returned to the Young Composers Project but with a slightly different role! Instead of participating as a student composer, I have been commissioned to write a composition for the final concert (scary but exciting). Alongside this, I am going to give a talk at the conservatoire (March 8th) on studying music at University and what it is like to be an emerging composer. I am going to give you a little insight into my Young Composer experience 2014-2015….
The composition brief itself was very open…
Although this was a great way to be creative without being tied down to specific (and often very restrictive) requirements, thinking of an initial idea to get the ball rolling is always the hardest part! I began the process by sitting down at the piano and improvising. I have been playing piano since the age of 5, and it is my go-to for starting almost every composition. There is something very pure and personal about discovering chords that make you smile or discovering a quirky little rhythmic motif which help to form the foundations of your work.
My next step in the process is to transcribe my ‘findings’ on to Sibelius and to try them out on different instruments. For me, one of the most exciting things about composing is deciding on instruments. I find their different timbre qualities and abilities to create a colour of ambiances fascinating. I chose marimba because of its crisp and light timbre, the strings due to their flexibility – they are able to produce both earthy sustained notes and light delicate pizzicato – and the piano because I was pleased with the improvisation and, from personal experience, have always loved the mellow and comforting tone of the instrument.
Mapping out the structure of the composition is, in most cases, one of the most important parts of the process. Having a goal in mind really helps you to stay focused and prevents you from throwing down your headphones in disgust before moaning that you ‘want to give up with this rubbish’. Composition is all about making mistakes and learning from them, but forming a structure helps you to persevere in the knowledge that you have a safety net.
I then combine trial and error and inspiration from further piano improvisation to map out chord sequences and themes. It sounds odd, but I find it hard to explain the process from here…I guess a continuation of trial and error, swapping and changing, and experimenting leads you to your first draft. It is a long and often frustrating process, but this is counteracted by the sense of pride and relief you get when you have completed your first draft.
My piece draws on elements of film music; an introduction which builds suspense, a lighter second section complete with pizzicato and the upper register of the marimba, and murkier sustained piano chords. I have tried to use extended techniques on instruments such as playing the piano strings with soft mallets, which helps the composition to stand out from others.
As I am writing this, I have yet to hear the marimba part! I think composition involves a lot of risk-taking, and being unsure until the last possible moment what the instrument combination will sound like and whether it will actually work is a prime example.
I’ll be back blogging after the concert with another little update. Until then, I’ll get back to my editing and hope for the best!
Thank you for reading,
Check out Meghan’s work she did with us last year