Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kandinsky's Theories (1)

Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) is one of the best-known 20th-century artists (he is regarded as the originator of abstract art), but he did not begin painting studies until he was 30. Kandinsky had previously studied Law and Economics at the University of Moscow and was evidently very successful, because he was offered a professorship (chair of Roman Law) at the University of Dorpat (Estonia).

And I thought I was a late starter… [ 3 ] ←

In addition to his accomplishments as a painter (visit this website to see his paintings and learn more about him: https://www.artsy.net/artist/wassily-kandinsky), he was also a theorist with strong convictions about the role of art and the artist in society, and more painting-specific issues such as colour theories (he believed that certain colors have an affinity for certain shapes; see more here).

My friend and fellow composer John Oliver wrote a blog ("Artist's Statement") in which he cites Kandinsky's three "mystical necessities" that define artwork of lasting value: The Personal, The Ephemeral, and The Eternal. This topic—the role of the artist—fascinates me, and it's something I try to get my students to think about, so I will follow my own advice about not getting too hung-up on originality (see: Is Originality a Detriment in Art?, How Important is Originality in Art?, and Originality — Does it have Any Role in Art? ) and reproduce John's Kandinsky quote below:

1. Every artist, as creator, must express what is peculiar to oneself (element of personality).

2. Every artist as a child of his time, must express what is peculiar to one's own time (elements of style ...)

3. Every artist, as servant of art, must express what is peculiar to art in general (element of the pure and eternally artistic which pervades every individual, every people, every age, and which is to be seen in the works of every artist, of every nation, and of every period, and which, being the principal elements of art, knows neither time nor space).


I will also add another quote from the same booklet, entitled "On the Spiritual in Art" (the publication date of which I have seen listed as 1910, 1911, and 1912 at various places on the Internet). Kandinsky also wrote:

Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated.

Okay; lots to think about there, but this is getting long, so more later!


  • [ 3 ] I decided to become a musician after finishing my BA (humanities) degree. The decision was a rather odd one, in retrospect, because I could barely read music and couldn't play any instrument particularly well. Recognizing that my severe lack of musical skills could get in the way becoming a musician, I began the formal study of music (rudiments) in my twenties, and continued on weekends, evenings, and off-hours while working at a variety of jobs (bus information operator, stereo/electronics sales, department store sales clerk) over the next 15 years, leading eventually (and improbably) to a doctorate in composition. [ ↑ ]
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    Kandinsky's Theories (2)

    (For part 1 on Kandinsky's theories, see previous entry)

    Let's examine Kandinsky's three "mystical necessities" that define artwork of lasting value.
    The first is a concept that I suspect most would agree with: An artist must express something personal through their art. Kandinsky goes even further, however, by writing that what the artist expresses must not only be personal, but "peculiar to oneself."
    But what is unique to any of us? I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure that there is absolutely no attribute that I possess that is not also possessed by other people. We (or at least most people I know) like to think of ourselves as unique, but I would suggest that it is the combination of traits we possess that makes us and others feel that we are, and it is this combination of traits that makes up our personality.
    I'm fine with the idea that there is a connection between one's personality and one's artistic creations, but I'm proposing that it is impossible to "express what is peculiar to oneself," because nothing is.
    Just for fun, I'm going to flip Kandinsky's first 'mystical necessity' to:
    1. Every artist, as creator, must express what is universal.
    I'm not sure I agree with it 100%, but it seems to me that it is true of much artwork of lasting value. I recall reading at some point that most songs are love songs. If true, the reason for this would seem to be obvious; love is something that we've all experienced, and something that affects us profoundly. It is as close to a universal experience as there is.
    But so are basic bodily functions, and you don't hear too many songs about being hungry, or needing to pee. You may conclude from this that there is a vast, untapped market for songs relating to bladder control (the "I had to pee but the teacher wouldn't let me" blues, for instance?), but my own take is that a quality in addition to universality must be present for my above statement to have some validity.
    What to name this quality? Perhaps 'poetry,' or 'mystery,' or simply 'something that causes us to reflect on the subject in a different way.' And perhaps this quality, whatever you wish to call it, is tied in with the personal, which would bring it back to the territory covered by Kandinsky's first 'mystical necessity.'
    Speaking of which, I don't know about you, but whenever someone says you "must" do something, my natural inclination is to refuse and/or do the opposite. I am not a fan of imperatives, I guess, which is probably part of the reason I became a composer. So when I read Kandinsky's three 'mystical necessities,' I notice they are all 'must' statements and right off the bat there is a part of me that bristles at being told what I must do.
    My amended wording of #1 would be something like this:
    1. Art of lasting value tends to have qualities that are both personal and universal.
    And perhaps mysterious too, but this is getting long, so I think I'll leave it at that for today.
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    Kandinsky's Theories (3)

    In my last entry I discussed Kandinsky's theory that the artist "must express what is peculiar to oneself," proposed as one of the three "mystical necessities" that define artwork of lasting value, and I suggested that this may be an impossible challenge to meet since I cannot think of any human attribute that is not shared. In trying to come up with a related set of principles that I felt I could agree with, I came up with:

    1. Art of lasting value tends to have qualities that are both personal and universal.

    Before I go on, I want to sneak in a second principle, one that was also mentioned in my previous entry:

    2. It often causes us to reflect on the subject in a different way (Perspective).

    And, while I'm at it, I'll add a couple more:

    3. It speaks to us; people (but not all people, necessarily) feel a connection to it.

    4. It often touches on the mysterious.

    I think that #3 is self-evident (but I'd welcome input from anyone would like to suggest otherwise!); most of us value an art work because we feel a connection to it. I think this is where the notion that "art is in the eye of the beholder" comes from.

    I touched on the quality of mystery in part 2 of this series. What I'm getting at is the idea that it is one thing for art to grab our attention, and it is another to hold it. There needs to be something there that makes us want to continue our engagement with the art, and perhaps that thing, or at least one element of that thing, is mystery. The Mona Lisa is a good example of this. What the heck is she half-smiling about? It's a mystery, but maybe if we stare at it long enough…

    5. It often touches on the sublime.

    Maybe #4 and #5 are two aspects of the same thing, but I made a separate entry for 'the sublime' because of the number of times I have heard people refer to God in reference to art; for some, great art is evidence of the divine, or at least of the way divinity is expressed through human creations. An art work that is highly valued is often said to be greater than the sum of its parts, and perhaps this is because it touches on the sublime, a quality that is difficult to quantify.

    6. It usually demonstrates technical excellence.

    I throw "technique" into the mix because it's one of my pet causes as a music teacher. The better your technical skills, the better equipped you are to create the kind of art you imagine. Are there 'great' works of art with poor or even average technique? Perhaps; both 'greatness' and 'technique' are qualities that are debatable (although the former more than the latter, I think), but it seems to me that most art referred to as 'great' also demonstrates excellent technique.

    Kandinsky's second "mystical necessity" is that the artist "must express what is peculiar to one's own time," and that is something I think is undeniable. What makes it particularly interesting in our time is that post-modernist art often draws on the art of periods other than our own, but in a way that usually is distinguishable from the art of earlier periods. I do this in some (or much?) of my own compositions; "Dream Dance," for example has sections that evoke (for me, at least) the music of Bach, Haydn, Phillip Glass, Scott Joplin, and Gershwin. In my programme note for the piece I call it an example of "Poly-stylism" because of this, but a composition that mixes styles in this way could not have been written in any period other than our own.

    Here's the way I'd put it:

    7. It is recognizably of its own time.

    Kankinsky's third "mystical necessity" speaks to a transcendent quality in art, which he calls "the pure and eternally artistic which pervades every individual, every people, every age, and which is to be seen in the works of every artist, of every nation, and of every period, and which, being the principal elements of art, knows neither time nor space."

    He rather goes over the top here, does he not? In any event, I think I understand what he means, and I mostly agree with it, although I think it is important to add tha but it's hard to think of art that is felt to be meaningful to "every individual, every people, every age," etc. The Taj Mahal might come close to this kind of pan-cultural ideal, but for the most part, it seems to me that art's appeal tends to have a strong element of culture-specificity. The art of Beethoven, Kandinsky, and yes, even yours truly are not held in equally high regard in all parts of the world (or even within western culture), and, conversely, it has only been in the last few decades that many people in our culture have begun to appreciate and value music from non-western cultures.

    Here is my wording:

    8. Its appeal transcends some cultures and periods.

    And that's all for today, and, probably for my Kandinsky-inspired discussion as well!
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    Notation Software Woes

    Once again, this post is based on a response I made to a student's journal/blog entry…

    The notation programme I have used for the past 15 years or so is called "Composer's Mosaic," by Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU). As you might imagine, one I feel extremely comfortable with it, even though it is a more limited programme than Sibelius, Finale, or Notability Pro [click the links if you wish to find out more about them]. But, because I'm usually composing to meet a deadline, the thought of having to learn new notation software AND meet a deadline is pretty daunting and stressful.

    Unfortunately, MOTU stopped supporting Mosaic in 1997. This means that I have to keep an ancient computer around for the sole purpose of running Mosaic, because it doesn't run under the current Mac operating system (OS X).

    Obviously, at some point this will no longer be an option — all computers die eventually — so, I bought Sibelius and Finale a few years ago, intending to try both to see which I liked better, and then stick with that one.

    But the frustration of having to learn a new notation programme while keeping the creative flow going is huge… So far, I have written one piece in Finale (Dream Dance, which Kristina Szutor played in the 2008 Newfound Music Festival), and I feel I am slowly getting the hang of it, although the number of times I have to go to the manual to look up how to do something really basic is ridiculous, and a real inspiration killer.

    Nevertheless, having learned Finale well enough to have completed one piece, I am ready to try a more ambitious composing project with Finale.

    Not to say that Dream Dance wasn't ambitious; what I mean is that, having muddled my way through the process of using Finale to notate a fairly lengthy solo piano piece, I think I may be ready to try writing chamber music with Finale next.

    I should probably give Sibelius a try too. I know a lot of people insist that it's easier to use than Finale, although in my very cursory attempts to do anything with it I still found it less intuitive and more inflexible than I was hoping for. But I think that would be true of any notation programme.

    Incidentally, one programme that really intrigues me is Notability Pro. It only works on Mac OS X, but it describes itself as:
    • "easily the most sophisticated music notation software available on any platform. NoteAbility combines both musical intelligence and graphical flexibility in a direct and intuitive graphical user interface. Notate anything from simple melodies to complex avant garde orchestral music, play the score on your MIDI synthesizer or using Quicktime Musical Instruments and print a publishable copy of your score on any OS-X compatible printer."
    And here's the clincher:
    • "If you have been frustrated by the awkwardness and inflexibility of other notation programs, or by the time it takes to learn them, then you definitely should have a look at NoteAbility Pro."

    Sounds pretty impressive, does it not? You may be thinking, 'but why believe the hype on the company's web page?" Mostly, I feel the same way; be wary of hype!

    However, in this case, I am more inclined to believe it than not, because the product was developed by Dr. Keith Hamel, an outstanding composer and professor at the University of British Columbia, and he happens to be a friend of mine. Basically, if Keith says his programme is both easy to use and the most sophisticated music notation software out there, then I'll take his word for it. Some composer friends of mine swear by it (not at it), telling me it is superior to both Sibelius and Finale. Another point in its favour is that, as I understand it, Notability Pro does not charge for upgrades. Both Sibelius and Finale release yearly "upgrades" and charge fairly hefty upgrade fees for them.

    [Edit in 2016: Sibelius and Finale seem to have abandoned the yearly updates. Sibelius is now being sold "by subscription" only, as far as I can tell, meaning they charge you a monthly fee to use their software. This seems lame in the extreme. Finale's current version is 2014, and the previous one was 2011, and you can still buy the software outright (academic price: US$350).]

    Okay, I've convinced myself! I'm going to try Notability Pro! Woo hoo!

    But I have digressed somewhat...

    The point is that I know some of you are just learning notation software for the first time so that you can use it on this project, and you are running into frustrations, and I can relate to this!

    But, try to persevere (I seem to use that word a lot, don't I?), because it's useful to be able to create beautifully-notated scores with computer software.

    Monday, September 22, 2008

    Creative Angst... Welcome to the club!

    Another entry based on a reply I just made to a student journal entry...

    Some of you may be finding that you are not content with a composition; you know it could be better, or perhaps you feel it ought to be better, but you're not exactly sure how to achieve this. And meanwhile, there's a deadline fast approaching... Yikes!

    We tend to want our music to be not only good, but personal as well. After all, people who hear unfamiliar works by well-known composers can often recognize who wrote them, which suggests that there is something of ourselves — almost like a strand of DNA — in the things we create; or at least this seems to be the case in the hands of most composers, bands, and artists in general.

    And so, knowing that what we create is in some way a reflection of who we are, we sometimes find ourselves wishing our compositions were better, but perhaps feeling stymied as to how, exactly, we should go about making them better.

    If it is any consolation, this "creative angst" is a normal part of the creative process. I suspect that even professional composers (or, more generally, all people who create things) experience this on a fairly regular basis.

    The more you compose, the more developed and sophisticated your compositional skills become, so if this project is one of your first forays into writing music, rest assured that your ability to write the kind of music of which you are capable will grow in leaps (and possibly bounds, too; who knows?) as long as you keep at it.

    Regarding your weekly composition projects, I would just encourage you persevere until you're pretty sure that each one is as good as you can make it for now, and then move on to the next piece.

    When you start out as a composer your musical taste generally exceeds your compositional abilities (which is the compositional equivalent to the adage about one's reach exceeding one's grasp), so it is nearly impossible to reach a point where you are 100% satisfied with your creations. "I know what good music is," you might think to yourself, "and this [our composition] isn't it!"

    Maybe. Or maybe it's better than you realize. But, more importantly, remember that your skills as a performer/music connoisseur weren't developed overnight, and the same is true of your compositional skills. If you keep at it, you will eventually reach the point where you become better able to express what you want through music, and therefore become more content with what you compose. When this course is over, you might even surprise yourself by how good some of the compositions you created are.

    And they'll just get better if you persevere.

    There is also a beneficial aspect of creative angst: The points in a composition that gave you the most grief in the composition process can become the sections of which you are proudest when your composition is finished. These "angst-ridden" points may turn out to be the most inspired, since greater inspiration is often necessary to work through creative roadblocks. Read more on this in "Running into a Brick Wall," if you like.

    Friday, September 19, 2008

    Writing a Play

    This is adapted and expanded from a reply I just made to a student's journal entry. I have posted it here on the class blog in case anyone else might find the ideas useful too.

    If you were writing a play, you would, for the most part, be writing dialogue. Dialogue tends to be sequential; that is, one person speaks, then another, then another, etc. Sometimes one character might speak at length; other times, the dialogue may be rather rapid-fire and choppy, with characters interrupting one another, and perhaps even speaking at the same time. And sometimes, characters are silent, but engaged in some activity that the audience can see, as indicated in stage directions.

    Composing has analogies to all these things. You can feature one particular instrument for a while, then focus on a different one, and continue soloing instruments sequentially, but you can also have instruments interrupting one another in a way similar to the rapid-fire, choppy dialogue described above. You can even have players wander about the stage while playing their instruments, or not playing their instruments, assuming their instruments are portable.

    However, a significant difference between play-writing and composing music is that music typically has multiple instruments 'speaking' at the same time, whereas it would be unusual to have multiple characters in a play speak simultaneously, presumably because it would make it hard to understand what they were saying.

    What is it about music that makes multiple instruments playing simultaneously work so well as to be the norm?

    The answer is easy: The composer/arranger assigns different roles to different instruments (or different groups of instruments), and those roles can change occasionally.

    A trumpet solo might be accompanied by slow-moving chords in the strings in a work for orchestra. In this case, the trumpet has a foreground role, while the strings are playing more of background (but essential, nonetheless!) role. Or the trumpet could be in 'dialogue' with another instrument, perhaps the oboe, where they take turns 'saying something,' and perhaps they might even overlap sometimes, while the strings continue in their background role. In that case, both the trumpet and oboe have a similar role.

    A division of musical roles that you learn about in orchestration class is:

    Foreground — Middle ground — Background.

    In this case, the orchestrator/composer decides on a role for each instrument or choir of instruments, and writes accordingly. This 3-part division of roles is a bit more challenging to manage when you are only writing for two instruments, but it is nevertheless achievable if one of the instruments is piano, because you could, for example, have a LH bass line supporting a trumpet melody, while the RH plays chords. In this case, the trumpet would be foreground, piano LH middle ground, and piano RH (chords) would be background.

    One interesting thing about music, though, is that you don't usually see more than three roles represented simultaneously, presumably because, like having several people speak at once in a play, it would result in information overload. However, there may be times where information overload is exactly what you want — perhaps to convey a sense of chaos in the music — in which case you should feel free to give it a try!

    In any event, as you compose, decide on the role of each instrument at any given time, and consider altering that role periodically, perhaps with unexpected interruptions, or by having the instruments take turns being in the foreground/background, or with the instruments having identical roles sometimes (perhaps one is rhythmically doubling the other), etc.

    Another parallel is that just as you wouldn't try to write a dialogue between two characters in a play by writing lines for one character first, and then, once that was finished, writing the lines for another, you would typically write for your two instruments at the same time too. Not to say that you CAN'T do it the other way — anything is worth a try if you wish to do so — but composers typically write for multiple instruments at the same time, probably because it seems the best way to allow the instruments to be equal partners in the music.

    Thursday, September 18, 2008

    17 Blogs!

    The "Mu3100 Student Blog List" (on the right column of this page) shows that we are now up to 17 student blogs, which I believe means that all students in this course now have functioning blogs, which is good news... Woo hoo!

    I have a few requests:
    1. Most people's blogs are called "My 3100 Blog," or something along those lines. I would appreciate it if you could change your blog name to anything with your name in it (like: "Clark R's Mu3100 Blog"), as it would make them easier to identify for me .

    2. Don't forget that you get 10% of the mark for this course just for making reasonably intelligent blog entries every week. Most of you are doing this, and doing it well, but there are a few slow starters who have posted very little, so if you're in the late-starters group try to get going on this a.s.a.p.

    3. By the same token, another 10% of the mark is for making a reasonably thoughtful comment on any of the blogs on this page (especially archived ones), and I think a majority of you have yet to participate in this way, so please try to get started on that as well. The blog entries of mine that I'd most like you to read, think about, and discuss, are those in the 9-part series called "composition issues," so please read these and leave comments. These are all in the August archive, accessible on the right hand column of this page; or you could click on the hot link I just made to take you to the outline for the series, and from there there are links to each of the 9 parts.

    4. And finally, if you haven't already done so, please click on "Composition Blog Followers" on the right column of this page in order to follow it. Right now there are about 6 students who have not done so.
    Thanks!

    Monday, September 15, 2008

    Available Instruments

    If you would like to write for an instrument played by one of your classmates, choose from the following:

    Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Sax (any), Trumpet, Trombone, Euphonium, Percussion, Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Piano/harpsichord/organ.

    If I have missed anybody, please let me know!
    • Make sure you ask the person you intend to write for if they are willing to perform your piece!

    • You can also select instruments played by other music school students, of course, but it makes things a lot less complicated if you choose one of the above instruments.

    • If you are having trouble finding someone to play your music, let me know, and I'll help if I can.

    Sunday, September 14, 2008

    What next?

    [ N.B. This is a follow-up to the Project 1 Description for Mu3100. Please read that and complete your atonal chord progression before reading this.]

    Once you have created chords with which you are content, the next step is to compose a short character piece based on your chords.

    How short? Well, there is no exact answer to this, but perhaps somewhere between 1-3 pages of music. Obviously, page length is affected by the number of bars you squeeze into each system, and the number of systems you squeeze onto each page, but the overriding consideration when it comes to deciding how long a piece should be is to determine how long it needs to be. I know that sounds a bit mystical, but that's the way I look at it, anyway. If you feel your composition has said all it needs to in one page, then great; your first piece may well be done! If you feel that, at the end of three pages, it still has more to say, then I guess you'd better keep it going a bit longer! If you're not sure how long it should be, don't worry, because you'll get feedback from your classmates and myself on this issue.

    • The description for Project 1 challenges you to create a sense of "timelessness" through your chords. Try to come up with rhythmic values for your chords that don't always emphasize the strong beats in a given meter (i.e., beats 1 and 3 in 4/4 time). This frees up the rhythm, and can cause the listener to be drawn into each sonority more deeply, especially if the chords do not change very quickly.

    You may repeat chords immediately, or you may interpolate earlier chords between later chords. i.e., chord numbers 1, 2, 3, 3, 4; or 1, 2, 3, 1, 4, etc.

    You may switch registers; I encourage you to consider repeating a given chord in a different register (or in several different registers). Does the colour or harmonic tension of your chord change as the registers change?

    Register (range) is one of the variables you can control and play with. For example, you could have a character piece that sits entirely in an upper register (i.e., no notes below middle C). Or you could have a piece that starts high but ends low, and vice versa. Or you could only use the registral extremes in one of your pieces (i.e., only very high and very low notes, nothing in between). Or you could have rapid and frequent register changes. Or you could have one instrument in one register and the other instrument in a different one. There are many more possibilities!

    You may re-voice chords (possibly while repeating them and/or while doing so in a different register).

    You may add passing tones and other "Non Chord Tones."

    Add a melody to your chords,. This may be played on an instrument of your choice, but preferably chosen from instruments that your classmates play (for pragmatic reasons), or it may be played by the piano, or it may be shared between them in some way.

    • Many student compositions have the melody instrument and piano starting at the same time, i.e., beat one of bar one. There is no reason you CAN'T do that, of course, but bear in mind that this doesn't usually happen in actual chamber music! Frequently, in music for piano and one other instrument, one instrument begins by itself, and the other joins in fairly soon thereafter. Consider trying this.

    • Along similar lines, consider the role of each instrument. Are they in dialogue? Is one more prominent than the other? Do they take turns being prominent and being supportive? Are you using rests?

    Silence (rests): Consider using it.

    Add dynamics and articulations as you compose. You can always change them later, but try to avoid the temptation to leave them out and then add them after you have finished the piece; dynamics and articulations are an integral part of the composition, not an afterthought.

    • If writing for a wind instrument, where will they breathe? If writing for a bowed instrument, what kind of bowing do you have in mind? You may wish to brush up on bowing techniques from your orchestration text.

    • Speaking of orchestration texts, you should obviously know the range of the added instrument, but even more importantly, you should review other aspects of that instrument as well, such as how the colour changes in different registers, how loud/soft it can play (and how well it can be heard) in different registers, what some of its challenges are (for example, flutes can't really play softly in their highest register, and they tend to be fairly quiet in the lowest register), how agile it is, what constitutes idiomatic writing for that instrument, etc.

    • Somewhere in the midst of all this you need to think of a character for your composition. All you need do is come up with a character for this particular piece; remember that this will be one of three pieces you will be writing. Possible characters to choose from: Nervous, mystical (trance), bombastic, joyful, sad, angry, optimistic, dark, crazy, scary, playful, exuberant, simple, etc.

    Good luck!

    Sunday, September 7, 2008

    Why Atonal/Post-Tonal Music?

    Our first composition project (see Project Description) of this course requires students to create a progression of 12-16 chords for piano where the harmonic tension gradually increases to about the two-thirds point, and then gradually decreases to the end. The chords must be atonal.

    Which begs the question, "why atonal?"

    Here are some of my reasons:
    • The first is that almost every course that involves writing or studying music in the School of Music (1st- and 2nd-year theory, 16th and 18th-century counterpoint, orchestration, aural labs, keyboard harmony, analysis, jazz theory and arranging, etc.) concerns itself with tonal music, and composition is one of the few courses where there is an opportunity to write post-tonal music (electronic music is another). If you don't try writing this kind of music here, it is possible that you would not have the opportunity to do so in any of your other courses!

    • The 20th century was period of unprecedented stylistic change and contrast in music history. Graduating without ever having dipped your toe into the pool of 20th-century techniques would be sad, and difficult to justify.

    • Just as we can better understand renaissance music by learning to write 16th-century counterpoint, we can better understand much of the music of the 20th century by learning to write post-tonal music.

    • Doing so gives you a broader palette of techniques from which to choose as you proceed on the journey to discovering your own musical voice as a composer.

    • Developing your own musical voice as a composer is surprisingly difficult if you limit yourself to composing tonal music. You may wish to debate this point (and I would be happy to engage in such a discussion!), but this has been my experience, based on hearing numerous student compositions over the years. I, like many composers of contemporary classical music, often write music that can be said to be either tonal, or very closely linked to tonal music. I do not believe I would have been able to write music like this, however, had I not undergone a period of many years of studying and composing atonal music. It gives you a different perspective on the nature of tonality, and, ironically, it frees up your thinking as to new possibilities within tonality.

    • It works. I've tried this teaching method for 16 years now, and, despite initial resistance or wariness by some students, which is understandable, it has always resulted in students writing music that I considered to be anywhere from pretty good to impressively good; I believe (in part, because students have told me this) that even the most skeptical students would acknowledge that they ended up writing music that exceeded their own expectations. I once gave a paper at an American meeting of fellow composition professors in which I played excerpts from several student works created in the previous semester's Mu3100 course, and my colleagues' responses were unfailingly positive; many told me they were amazed at the quality of the compositions they heard, especially considering that the works they heard represented the first attempts at composing for almost all of the students, and that the students were just random students who chose to take the Introduction to Composition course, not composition majors. It works, so I keep teaching this way!
    Hopefully, these reasons make sense to you. I guess the main point is that my job is to help students who take this course become better composers, and at this early stage in the process (this is an introductory-level course), I think it essential to explore atonality in order to discover new sonic possibilities.

    Comments?