Tag Archive | Odyssey

New works

Just in case you’re not avidly following my every publication, I wanted to let you know that I have 2 new Concert Band pieces out at the moment –

  1. Odyssey – published by Grand Mesa Music
  2. Chase at Midnight – published by Brolga Music

You should check them out and buy several copies for family and friends!

Odyssey – The Coda

Although I haven’t actually signed a contract yet, I expect that Odyssey will be published later this year. Woo-hoo! I thought it might be useful to let you know the process post sending it off to the publisher. So,

  1. I send the piece to the publisher for their consideration. I emailed a pdf version of the score, a mp3 generated by Finale and a brief description of the piece. Because I have a relationship with this publisher, I didn’t include any material introducing me.
  2. The publisher wrote back with a couple of minor suggestions (“have you thought about maybe doubling the Glock part on chimes”) and was enthusiastic about the piece.
  3. I looked at the suggestions and by and large incorporated them. I then sent back a revised score and a much higher quality mp3 recording generated using East-West Symphonic Orchestra samples (I’ll list details of how I did this at the end)
  4. The publisher took the score and recording to an editorial board meeting where they review potential repertoire for their new catalogue. The board liked the piece, but also came back with some further minor suggestions
  5. I looked carefully at their suggestions, incorporated some but not others. I then sent back a revised score and an email detailed what I had changed. Also, quite importantly, I detailed which suggestions I didn’t incorporate and why.
  6. The publisher replied with one last tweak, and we were done.

From here, I still need to sign a contract. The publisher will organise all the recording, publishing, marketing side of things. The first time I would see a royalty cheque would be late January 2015. So the process from writing a piece to seeing some money is roughly about 18 months.

If you want to know more detail about how I used the EW samples, keep reading, otherwise see you next time!

Using the East West Sample Libraries

First, it’s worth saying that if you are sending a piece to a publisher for consideration, try to send the best recording you can. This may just mean making sure you get the best out of your notation program (can you add some reverb?, can you tweak note lengths, dynamics etc to make it play back better?). In my case, it means using some of the sample libraries I own. Here’s what I do:

  • Create a midi file from Finale of my piece. Technically, I could use my samples within Finale (I think), but it’s really, really awkward.
  • Import the midi file into my DAW (digital audio workstation – i.e. Cubase, Logic, Digital Performer, Protools, Reaper etc). I use Cubase at the moment. DAW’s are generally a much better tool for manipulating midi data and mixing tracks than trying to use your notation program. I generally try to use the right “tool” for the job. Notate in a notation program, produce audio in a DAW.
  • Do a bunch of preliminary editing to tidy up the tracks – glue fragments together, delete midi data my sample don’t recognise, copy and paste midi data (where required) to the correct midi controller for my samples, break up the tracks into various sample patch types. This means putting all the staccato notes on one track, all the legato notes on another track etc.
  • Load up the samples from the East West libraries and press play! In my case I’m working on an old laptop that chokes if I try to run an entire band of samples. So I do sections at a time (e.g. all the clarinet parts), check that they work, render to audio so I can unload those samples and load a new set.
  • Mix the tracks
  • Add some reverb (if necessary)
  • Create an mp3 (High Quality mp3 though)

Hopefully that makes sense – let me know if you have questions.

You can read about the rest of the process of writing this piece here, here and here.

It Is Finished…Pas Deux

Yep, I’ve finished my new piece Odyssey for the second time, and this time it’s personal!  [You can read about how I started this piece here, and a progress post here]. How do you finish a piece twice you ask? To answer that, it helps to explain my writing process. (Bear in mind that this is how I tend to work, but everyone is different). My writing process goes like this:

  1. The initial idea. Where these initial ideas come from, I don’t know. Sometimes they just pop into my head out of the blue, sometimes they come from playing piano and I just hit something or play something that I like or find interesting. Sometimes they come from a kind of musical brainstorming session (i.e. write 3 melodies of 8 bars in 5 minutes), and other times its just from deciding to write a modal blues in G Dorian.
  2. Development. This is where I take that initial idea and develop it into something longer – maybe an “A” section and an intro
  3. I get stuck. Surprisingly, this is the part of the process where I get stuck. I’ve run out of inspirational steam, but I’ve only got about 1/3 to 1/2 of the piece written and I don’t know quite where to go from here. You don’t have to be Einstein to guess that this isn’t the fun part of writing. To get unstuck, I try:
    1. Drinking coffee
    2. Cleaning my study
    3. Checking email
    4. Putting my head in the sand
    5. After these don’t really help, I try:
    6. Thinking about the piece structurally – what is the form of this piece going to be?
    7. What would contrast with what I already have (loud vs soft, fast vs slow, solo vs tutti etc)
    8. Just write something and not worry too much about whether it’s “good” or not. After all you can edit it later, or chuck it completely if you want
    9. In fairness to points 3.1 – 3.4, taking a break does help sometimes
  4. The piece is finished! – for the first time. It’s not really finished, but it feels like it. At this point I’ve got the main pieces in place, right through to the end. It might be sketchy in places, but at least in my head I know what I’m trying to do all the way through. [Here is Odyssey at this point – Odessey – In Progress (concert pitch)]
  5. Refinement. At this point I edit, cut, smooth, shape, polish, wrestle, hammer, the piece into shape. Sketchy ideas are fleshed out. Often this is particularly true of percussion parts which have often ranged from sketchy to “vague notion in my head” to non-existent. [Here is Odyssey at this point –Odyssey – In Progress #2 (concert pitch)] For me, this stage is iterative – evaluate –> refine –> evaluate —> refine repeatedly until….
  6. The piece is finished! – for the second time. This time, it really is finished…almost. [Here is Odyssey at this point –Odyssey – In Progress #3]
  7. Idiot Check. This is where I print out the score (it really is easier to read on paper than on a screen) and check for any silly little errors – missing dynamics/articulations, stuff I forgot to fill in etc.
  8. Perform/Send to a publisher. I’ll be sending this to a publisher I already have a relationship with. Assuming they want to publish it, it will likely come back with a few editorial suggestions/comments. 90% of the time, you should do what they suggest.

It’s worth re-stating at this point that you should edit your work and don’t be afraid to delete things that don’t work. I went and had lunch after my last post, came back and deleted an 8 bar section that didn’t work. It has also taken a fair bit of “hammering” to get the last 30 bars to work. If you compare versions #2 and #3, you’ll see that the framework has stayed essentially the same, but the detail has changed.

Thanks for reading, I’m off to check for idiots…

A Piece Is Born – Update

It’s finished! Well, not really, but kind of…confused yet?

Since last I posted, here’s what I’ve done. I managed to spend a few hours shortly after finishing my last blog post (here it is) working on my new piece for Concert Band. In that time I did the following:

  • Thought of a name – Odyssey
  • Wrote a chorale theme to go with the opening fanfare theme
  • Decided form-wise to go straight into the chorale following the introduction. It was tempting to go into a rhythmic, march type vibe and just restate the opening melody, but I decided to avoid that approach as I’ve used it before and just felt a little too obvious in this case.
  • Setup a score in Finale
  • Sketch in the introduction and opening chorale theme
  • Decided to score the chorale for just flute and clarinets (+oboe maybe?) the first time through
  • For the second time through the chorale, I’m going to give the melody to the a.sax + cl. + f.hn. My intention is to have the remaining brass and lower woodwinds play reasonably static chords to support the melody. The upper voice of this accompaniment may effectively turn out to be a quasi counter-melody.

It has then sat idle for a couple of weeks due to life being crazy and working somewhere else on my “writing day” until today. This morning I’ve spent another couple of hours working on it and you can look at my in progress score here Odessey – In Progress (concert pitch). Here’s what I’ve done this morning:

  • Tweaked the tempo slightly from 116 to 108bpm. It just felt a little rushed at 116bpm
  • Added the brass to the second time through the chorale. This might not be exactly how it finishes up, but it’s in the ballpark
  • Form-wise, it felt to me like the opening fanfare melody should come back twice and that would roughly be the end of the piece. This meant:
    • Deciding how to transition from the chorale back into the fanfare theme. I’ve used a classic device whereby the last part of the chorale is restated in longer (augmented would be the fancy music word here) note vales. I’ve also changed the harmony slightly so that the return to a “C” pedal feels like a key change.
    • This in turn led to the quasi introduction type section at bar 31-38 with the clarinets playing a simplified version of the fanfare melody, with a “sparkly” response from the fl/ob+tpts.
    • At this point, keeping the low brass and woodwinds on the same rhythmic figure for yet another two times through the fanfare melody seems like a long time for beginners to cope with. It’s also a bit boring for the listener. So I’m going to try to “get out” of that rhythmic figure at bar 39. I’m not sure whether I’ll keep the percussion going through here, and/or whether to have the accompaniment be sustained notes or stop time type “hits”
    • Getting out of the continuous rhythmic accompaniment at bar 39, also creates more interest at bar 50 when it returns for the final statement of the fanfare theme.
  • The piece finishes with the same compositional technique that I used earlier in the piece, namely, restating the end of the theme and then augmenting note values to create a sense of the piece slowing down before the big finish.

At this point, the piece is finished…kind of. I feel at this point that all the main structural elements are in place and that I’ve got a good idea of how it will be scored. If this piece were a table, I feel that I had all the main pieces cutout and stuck together. Now what remains is to sand, polish, and add “pretty bits”. Sp my to do list for this piece is now:

  • Resolve the accompaniment at bar 39
  • Finish scoring all the woodwind and brass parts. Notice that there is nothing in the bassoon, bass clarinet or baritone saxophone parts yet. These will end up doubling bass lines already present in the trombone/euphonium/tuba parts
  • Score the percussion. Again, there is nothing on paper, but I have a good idea in my head of what these will look like. The percussion in this piece will largely augment the woodwind and brass parts, rather than supply an independent voice. This isn’t always the case and if there was a specific independent percussion part I wanted, it would be in the score by now. The percussion will likely end up with:
    • Timpani – doubling the pedal bass line. Timpani is great for this as the player doesn’t get tired in the same way that a wind player does when playing for an extended period without a break
    • Snare drum, Bass drum, Cymbals – these will play march/fanfare figures. Think John Williams Olympic fanfare type stuff.
    • Glock/Vibes – the glock will end up doubling some melodic lines. I’m not really expecting to use the vibes, but it’s easier to have the line there in the score when setting it up just in case. If it’s not used, I’ll just delete it.
    • Edit, tweak, refine until I’m happy. E.g. I’m still debating about making bar 37 a 2/4 bar (and losing two beats at this point).

Once that’s all done, I’ll more than likely leave it for a week or so, and come back and look at it again and make sure I’m happy. If not, then more refining, tweaking, editing until I am.

I’m off to have lunch…