Monday, October 26, 2009

"Fair Copy" Due Friday, 1 P.M.!

Just a reminder, in case you missed today's class or last week's blogs, that the final, bound, "fair copy" (i.e., best quality copy) of the score for your first project is due this Friday at 1 P.M.

You can get your scores bound at most photocopy shops, including the one in the student centre, as far as I know. It costs about $2 for this service.

The score should have a front and back cover (cover stock, or clear acetate front cover).

The front cover (or cover page, if you are using clear acetate) should have your composition title, the titles of each movement if they have titles (but don't list "I, II, & III" if they don't have titles; use those numbers at the top of the first page of each of the pieces instead) and your name.

Inside the front cover (on the left-facing page) you should have the total duration of the composition, as well as your programme note (and optional brief bio).

The score should be printed double-sided.

I recommend slightly heavier-weight paper for the double-sided pages, so that the notes on the back of pages don't "bleed" through.

There are three blog entries on the topic of musical detail; please read them before handing in your scores:

On musical detail (1)
On musical detail (2)
On musical detail (3)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Successful Concert!

Congratulations to all composers involved in today's concert! I thought it went very well indeed, although, at 2.5 hours in length, it was a bit of a marathon, was it not? :-)

Although we had all heard in-progress versions of your compositions over the course of the past six weeks, these really only gave us a glimpse of the finished products. In most cases, a tremendous amount of revision occurred subsequent to in-class readings, and in all cases the recital provided our first opportunity to hear everyone's finished compositions. Plus, what we hear in class is almost always a read-through, whereas what we heard in today's recital were polished performances, and this makes a huge difference in how an audience hears the music, as we all know.

These class recitals are always a real treat for me, and I hope you feel the same way. There is something very special about witnessing the process that leads from the amorphous, murky beginnings of a work to it's completed state. The creative process is often difficult, perhaps even painful at times, but it sure is rewarding to see it come to fruition.

And many thanks as well to all of today's performers! If I counted correctly, there were 20 performers involved, so an impressive number of people put a lot of work into making this recital a success.

Thanks to Mary Beth Waldram for recording the show, and to Jessie Blennis for her help backstage!

And finally, thanks to all who remained to hear the end of the concert! Only one class member was unable to do this due to having to go to work, but everyone else hung in there 'till the very end, which is a great way to show your support and respect for each other's music.

→ All went well, but, given that we will be doing this again at the end of the semester, it would be useful to think about what could be improved for our next concert.
  • Did you wish there had been a larger audience, and if so, what do might be done to achieve this? Any ideas as to how we could have better publicized the concert?

  • Would you have liked to have had a post-concert reception of some kind in the lobby?

  • Is there anything we could have done to speed up the concert a bit?

  • Any other ideas, or comments?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Upcoming Concert – Information, and Protocol


Our first concert of the course is imminent… This Sunday at 1 PM at the D. F. Cook recital hall. I am REALLY looking forward to it, and I hope you are too! Make sure you invite all friends, family, and basically any other people you have ever met.

Please let me know (via the "comments" section below) the following:
  • Title of your composition, and the titles of the three pieces if they also have titles. You may give it a generic title, such as "Three Pieces for Violin [or whatever instrument you're writing for] and Piano," if you wish, but I encourage you to come up with a more descriptive title if you can. But don't stress over it… If you can't come up with a good descriptive title, a generic one is fine.

  • Your name, as you would like it to appear in the programme.

  • The names of your performers.

  • Any requests you may have regarding where you would like your composition to be in the programme (early, late). Please only make such a request if you or your performers have a valid reason for doing so (like having to be at work, etc.). All class members are expected to support one another by being present for the entire concert; if your piece is on the first half, please don't leave at the intermission

  • If you or your performers are playing two or more compositions, do you prefer them to be back to back, or separated by at least one other composition? If it doesn't matter, just say so, because it makes programming a bit easier.
  • I will endeavor to accommodate all requests. As soon as I have all the information, I will post the programme order to this class blog.

Concert Protocol:
  • Dress: All black, or black pants/skirt and coloured top… Or some other combination that you like that looks dressy, but isn't as formal as a penguin suit.

  • Introductions: Each composer will give a brief introduction to their work; please try to keep it short and snappy; no more than 1 minute, maximum! Remember to thank the performer(s) by name. Your spoken introduction may be off the cuff or written down, but in my experience, audiences seem to relate better to the former than the latter, probably because we tend to speak more naturally when we make it up as we go. If an extemporized introduction is what you choose, consider making a few notes beforehand to help guide you.

  • Programme Notes: Not necessary for this concert, but necessary for the final version of your score. Programme notes by the composer are generally thought to be a good thing in concert settings, but (a) It has been my impression that many concert-goers do not read the programme notes, or read just a small portion of them, perhaps because the lighting conditions during a concert to not lend themselves to reading, and (b) Many of you are already stressed enough by trying to finish your compositions and rehearse them in time for Sunday's concert without having to stress further about writing programme notes at the last minute.

  • Hurry on and off the stage!The concert is likely to be quite long as it is (17 students times 5-6 minute compositions = 85-102 minutes, plus 17 times 1-2 minutes for introductions and getting on and off the stage, = 102-136 minutes; this is absurdly long! By way of comparison, most classical music recitals are planned with something like 60-70 minutes of music…), so it is essential that the switchovers between performances be as brief as possible. Towards that end, each duo should walk on the stage AS the previous duo is walking off, and take very little time between each of your three pieces.
I think that's all for now!

And good luck to all in your preparations!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Last summer, Micheline Roi, editor of musicworks magazine, contacted me to ask if I thought our composition students might like to receive free issues of the magazine. An anonymous (I think) and very generous donor had apparently provided the funds to make this happen, and I was thrilled to be able to pass this opportunity onto our students. Composition students should each have received one issue (Winter, 2007) by now, and you will be receiving two more in the coming weeks.

musicworks has a couple of descriptive catch phrases on the cover above its name, which give you a sense of its purpose and orientation:
  • For curious ears, and…
  • Explorations in sound.
Further information is provided on the magazine's website:
    We stand committed to new and challenging forms of music and to the excitement of creative engagement in sound exploration. We feature composers of new music for concert presentation as well as those who work with recorded sound; we feature improvisers, instrument designers, and artists who work in radio, sound installation and sound sculpture.

    We offer an inclusive context in which ideas can be discussed, and unfamiliar forms of sound art introduced to adventurous listeners.
So, now that you know a bit about the magazine, I would like each Mu3100 composition student to read one article, and then write a blog entry on your reactions to that article. You could make your entry short and sweet (but at least a paragraph), or you could write at greater length; if you do the latter, and you are short of the required number of blog entries at the end of the semester, I will count it as two entries.

The magazine has a wide variety of items, so I hope you will take this opportunity to learn about some of things that are going on in the huge world of contemporary music. Do not feel you have to agree with everything a writer or interview subject says! Disagreements, like skepticism, can be healthy, and can make for a good discussion.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Musical Influences - 2

In my "Musical Influences - 1" blog a few days ago, I promised to "spill the beans" and reveal some of my musical influences. Alas, I fear I have spilled a ridiculous quantity of beans; my response is awfully long... In any event, here is an expanded version of the answer I gave to the music teacher in the Northwest Territories who asked me about this last week:

Some of the composers whose music I most admire include Lassus, Palestrina, J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Bartok, Ravel, Messiaen, and Lutoslawski, but I'm not sure how much any of them actually influenced my music in any fundamental way. But they, and many other musical creators in many genres, have all inspired me, without a doubt. I am inspired by the fact that so many people have written magnificent works of sound art whose appeal has transcended time and some cultural differences; it gives me something to aspire to. I am inspired by the raw emotional power of great music.

Great musical creators have an uncompromising refusal to be satisfied with anything less than the absolute best work they are capable of creating. I am both inspired and influenced by this.

Something I hadn't realized until I began thinking about the answer to this question is that the influence of various composers can be found in many of my compositions, although usually for just a few bars here and there. For example, I have written a few pieces that have allusions to Bach in sections, for no valid reason other than it seemed like a good idea at the time, such as:
  • There are about 15 seconds of Bach-like music at 7:11 of Dream Dance for solo piano;
  • There is a longer, Bach-like toccatta section at 3:58 of Steppin'Out, for piano, violin, and cello;
  • The piano figure that forms the entire basis of Julia's Prelude is taken from Bach's prelude to the Bb fugue in the Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC), book 1, although I gave it a Schumann-like harmonic treatment;
  • Variation 9 of McGillicuddy's Rant is also based on that figure (Bach, WTCI, Bb Prelude).
In none of these cases was I trying to fool listeners into thinking I was Bach; I was just drawing upon some aspects of his music as a source of stylistic inspiration, in much the same way that I draw upon jazz, the blues, funk, tango, etc., in other pieces; it's all stuff I like, so it finds its way into my music sometimes.

Before I became a classical musician, my aspiration was to become a professional jazz musician, so it is perhaps no surprise that jazz, and related forms like funk and blues, has been a major influence on me, and there are great jazz musicians I admire tremendously, such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Oscar Peterson. Here are some of my jazz-influenced pieces:
Besides the above, I have written a few other works that show varying degrees of jazz influences, such as:
  • Three Pieces for Violin and Piano (1997, ®2004).  The main theme in the first piece has a subtle reference (at least for me) to a blues-based pitch collection, even though this is a 12-tone composition, and the theme returns towards the end accompanied by a walking bass-line in the piano, which makes the bluesy feel more obvious. The third of these pieces, is more overtly-influenced by jazz, and really goes to town with a walking-bass idea, maintaining it for almost the entire piece. My apologies to all for this.
  • The 4th variation of McGillicuddy's Rant (1980-2003) for solo guitar is titled "Bluesy." A weird aspect of this piece is that the second section isn't particularly bluesy; for some reason, it reminds me of music by "The Allan Parsons Project," even though I was never a particularly big fan of the theirs. That's pretty weird, if you ask me.
  • Duck Soup (1994), for bass trombone and piano, makes use of some jazz-like material, but it is less overt than in most of the other compositions mentioned.
  • Passage 3 for Orchestra (1992), also borrows from the jazz world in sections. For a while in the late 1980's and early 1990's it seemed that almost everything I was writing had a walking bass-line at some point, and when I realized this I was able to attend a 12-step, walking-bass recovery group that gave me the courage to put a stop to this insidious practice, at least for a few years. Alas, several relapses have occurred since then, but I'm working on this, taking it a day at a time.
Another specific influence on one piece in particular (Steppin'Out) was an ensemble called the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Steppin'Out also gets kind of crazy towards the end, in a Jimi Hendrix, shredding-type way, so there's another inspiration.

Cartoons (and a now-defunct video game called have also been a source of inspiration... I wrote a piece called Toontown Follies a couple of years ago that was supposed to be a little bit like cartoon music, and my band piece, The Misty Mall of Avalon, has cartoonish moments, and a kind of TV-show feel to the main theme.

George Harrison died while I was composing I sleep and my soul awakens… for guitar and string quartet, and, coincidentally, around the same time I noticed that the my four-note opening motive was identical to the first four notes of George Harrison's “Within You, Without You,” the Indian-inspired composition on the Beatles' “Seargent Pepper’s … ” album. I have been a huge fan of the Beatles ever since I became aware of popular music — I went to Paul McCartney's concert in Halifax this past summer, and it ranks at the pinnacle of my life's musical experiences — and I had tremendous admiration for George as guitarist/composer and, perhaps even more, as a human being, so I decided to write a section of I sleep… that expanded on that four-note motive so as to make it a more evident connection to Within You… I think the connection is subtle enough that if you didn't know about it, you might miss it, but if you know the Harrison composition and are listening for it, the connection is obvious.

But this is not what I would call an example of influence; it was more a matter of inspiration, so much so that I ended up calling the longish, meditative final section of that work "Kirtan for George."

The influences of a wide variety of composers can be found briefly at various points in different compositions of mine, but I have been influenced in a more general sense by genres of music, such as jazz, rock, funk, cartoons, TV game shows, new age, minimalism, renaissance, modernism, and probably a whole lot more. I like many different kinds of music, and I guess that is reflected in the music I write.

Monday, October 5, 2009


I understand from reading student blogs that at least some of you have felt "stuck" at some point(s) during the composition process for this project. If this sounds familiar to you, here are some things that may help, beginning with a slightly modified version of the answer I gave Mary Beth:

  1. Be aware that the feeling of being stuck is a very normal part of the creative process. A common reason for being stuck is that we are putting too much pressure on ourselves, and this awareness can help you react in with at least some degree of equanimity, which in turn can help you become unstuck.
  2. Try different things; there are many ways to become unstuck, none of which work for everyone. (More specific suggestions are listed in one of the links below.)
  3. In this project you were asked to write three character pieces, so consider the mood/atmosphere that your first two pieces have, then think about what kind of mood/atmosphere would go well with them, either as a contrast or as a complement.
  4. Think about textures; what textures do you use in your first two pieces, and what texture(s) might make a nice contrast to them for your third piece?
  5. Feel free to drop by my office with your compositional sketches if you'd like suggestions that are more specific to your particular situation.

Want even more suggestions? Consider reading a couple of earlier and more detailed blogs I wrote on the subject:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Musical Influences - 1

If you were asked to name the composers who have had the most influence on your music, what would you say?

I am sometimes asked this question, and I never quite know what to say... It is relatively easy to list many musical creators in a wide variety of genres whose music I love (although there are so many that it would be a challenge to make a comprehensive list), but I have never taken the time to figure out how much of an influence any of them have had on my music.

Until now. I recently received an E-mail asking me this question from a music teacher who had heard my music in the Northwest Territories, of all places(!), and while I was thinking about my response, it began to dawn on me that yes, a quite a few composers have influenced me to varying degrees in a number of my compositions.

I will spill the beans and reveal my answer later, but in the mean-time, what are your musical influences?