Friday, February 27, 2009

Final Project

Hard to believe, but there are only 5 weeks and 3 days of classes left in the semester (starting Monday). Our plan had been to spend about 5 weeks on the first project and 7 weeks on the second, but we must now adjust that plan somewhat to factor in the extra time we spent on the first project, the time it has taken to prepare for performances of this project, and the delays we experienced due to weather-related cancellations.

Here is the situation: I had originally proposed writing a piece for wind band as the second project, about 5 minutes in length, but last week I said you could write for a chamber ensemble of your choice (but run the idea by me first, please) instead, or write for string orchestra, or even a small symphony orchestra. While writing for concert band is still a great idea, it is a very ambitious undertaking, and you need to be practical and ask yourself what the likelihood of completing it will be, considering that we are approaching student recital and jury season, end of term projects, exams, etc.

If you still want to compose for band, however, I will support your decision and help you in whatever way I can. Here are some suggestions for how to approach writing a band piece, but they can also be used if composing for any other type of ensemble:

  1. Compose using "short score" format. Essentially, this means writing something that looks like it could be piano music (i.e., written on treble and bass clefs), or possibly 3-5 staves per system, possibly assigning different staves to different groups within the band. This gives you better control of the composing process. It's much easier to get a sense of the form and create longer lines when you can see more of your music on a single page (such as 4-5 systems of music on one page), as opposed to one humungous system per page.

  2. Write annotations on on your short score that indicate the instruments you think should play particular sections or lines of music. For example, you could write "clarinets and flutes in octaves" over a line, or "brass" over a chorale-like chord progression.

  3. I've had teachers insist that it is best to begin 'orchestrating' ('bandating?'  'banding?' 'bandifying?') your score after you have completed the previous two steps, but there is no rule about this; there are advantages to orchestrating as you go as well (i.e., composing a few pages in short score, then arranging them for band, then continuing the short score version for a few more pages, then orchestrating, etc.).

  4. Don't overscore. There is nothing wrong with having sections of your band piece with rests in the majority of the instruments.  Overscoring — writing a dense and confused score — is a mark of an inexperienced/insecure orchestrator, so try to be bold and consider including at least some thinly-scored sections, so that tutti textures will have greater impact when they occur.  On the other hand, thinly scored band music can sound less effective than we had imagined because it is more challenging to play; weaknesses within sections are more exposed, something that is a consideration when the performers are at an intermediate, amateur level. 

  5. Since you have a fairly wide variety of instruments at your disposal, consider using colour, texture, or density as organizing principles.

  6. Remember that most music fits into foreground-background roles (prominent-supportive), or foreground-middleground-background roles. Work hard at not confusing the listener as to what they are meant to be hearing most prominently.

  7. Are there some techniques or styles you've heard (or heard of) that you'd like to try? Minimalism, world music, fusion, klangfarbenmelodie, etc.? Sometimes a good way to begin is just to pick something you're excited by and then try writing a composition that uses some elements of that style or technique.


Jenn Vail said...

I don't know if you receieved my e-mail or not, but what are the chances I can write for SATB (2 singers on each part) and a brass quintet?

I'd like to write a "Crucifixus".
What are your thoughts?

Kim Codner said...

I'm gonna go for concert band. I have a cool rhythmic groove set by the percussion so far. It kind of sounds like jungle music (which wasnt the intention... haha but still sounds cool)

I've played in concert bands alot before but haven't written for any so I'm ready for the challenge!

Concert was great last night!

Jill A. said...

I'm definitely going to try concert band! I know it will be a challenge, but I am really looking forward to seeing what I can come up with.

Kate Bevan-Baker said...

hmm, I like the technique idea. Maybe I should pick one or a few and try to incorporate them into my piece. Perhaps something like world music would be neat! I'd like to try things that aren't usually done with string instruments and see what I can come up with. I'd love to use more extended techniques, like using our instruments more percussively. This blog post has really inspired me and got me thinking about some good ideas!

Jon Rowsell said...

Although writting for concert band seems like it would be a good experience, I think I'm gonna stick with brass chor because of the time constraints. I also think that the idea of a constantly changing color would work very nicely with the material I have. Especially since brass are capable of so many subtle color changes as an insturment family. :)

saird.larocque said...

I am doing a piece for concert band! I think it is easiest to write a short score and orchestrate as you go. That is what I am doing and it is going well. I play in bands and really like some of the colors that are possible with the ensemble.

Michael Bramble said...

I agree with saird. Writing in short score does wonders for the concert band composer. So far I've been writing my parts in 4 or 5 staves. I find it works wonders when coming to orchestrating later. Also one thing I found helpful for tone colour is to have a brass stave, a woodwind stave a sax stave, etc. That way when one has an idea of the sound they would like then can put it in the respective area.