Composing Block

Maybe it’s because I was just never meant to write piano pieces, maybe it’s because this piece is for someone important, or maybe I’m holding my music at too high a standard, but I just can’t pump out this piano piece I’ve been meaning to write.

Inspiration seems to be far and few between during these hot summer days. O Muse, where have you gone?

A Quote from Hans Zimmer

For “This Land” – the whole Lion King soundtrack is really me dealing with my father’s death, which up to that point I had never really done, because children suppress things, and I was rather surprised that, in a cartoon with fuzzy animals, I was suddenly confronted with my past. The other thing is, because I wrote it for my daughter, it connected the generations over time through music.

My favorite composition that I wrote…I find fault with all of it, nothing is ever finished, that’s why I carry on writing, and part of what I like is influenced by the people I am working with. So some of my favorites have more to do with process than the actual end result. So a Zack Snyder or a Chris Nolan seem to bring out some pretty good things in me.

For Man of Steel you can expect hope. Hope and no cynicism. The opposite of The Dark Knight. Trying to celebrate hard-working, simple, blue-collar people in the Midwest who never get celebrated.

– Hans Zimmer, from his AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit.
Who knew that the music of Lion King was Hans dealing with his father’s death? It adds a much deeper layer to appreciating the music.

WISE – A Formal Invitation

You are all invited to come join me for my WISE presentation, where I’ll be giving a 45 minute presentation on all the composing and conducting that I’ve done for the past semester.

  • Where: Ithaca High School orchestra room (located in the back of the Performing Arts Center)
  • When: June 11th, noon – 12:45pm
  • Who: Anyone is welcome!

And with that, the WISE posts must come to an end. The journey has been well worth every droplet of sweat spent, and it was a fantastic addition to my senior year of high school. I highly recommend the course to any movitavted future senior.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

WISE – Nearing the End

A quick update for these final stretches of the project:

  • The presentation preparation is well underway. I’ve had two mentor meetings discussing and refining the different parts of my presentation, which have been very helpful. However, the majority of the work still has yet to be done.
  • We had our first rehearsal for the brass chamber piece, read more about that here.
  • I just finished editing and exporting the final video recording of the orchestral piece as recorded by our high school orchestra. Come to my presentation to check it out!

WISE – When In Doubt, Compose More

If you have taken a look at my Timeline recently, you may have noticed the addition of a brass chamber group post-project opportunity. Five of my friends from band have graciously agreed to perform a small piece I wrote just for them at my presentation. The actual composing of the piece went by quite quickly, it’s a shame I didn’t get a chance to document the process. Instead, here’s a sneak peak at the score:

Can you guess what the title is from the last two letters that you see above?

Come listen to the live premiere of the piece at my presentation on June 11th at noon, in the Ithaca High School orchestra room!

WISE – Happy or Not, Here I Come

One of the main reasons I chose to take WISE, as I often tell, is because I loved the idea of doing music as schoolwork. Pursuing my passions and getting school credit along with it. For the first time ever, I could go into a course knowing I would be happy doing the work.

Now, as I near the end of this WISE journey, it’s time to ask myself the inevitable question. Have I enjoyed doing the work for WISE?

I recently read an article in class discussing the topic of happiness and how it is not something we can achieve by striving directly for it, but rather something we must achieve by throwing ourselves at difficult tasks and working hard to succeed. “The best moments in our lives,” says the article, “are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… the best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

When I look back, there were times during my project when I was getting by with very little work actually being done. These times, however, are far from the happiest times of my project. Instead, I associate moments of accomplishment, such as when I finished the very first draft of my orchestral piece, or moments of responsibility, as with when I led the rehearsals, to be the most enjoyable moments of my project thus far.

Of course the project hasn’t consisted of these gratifying emotions a 100% of the time. The article has a word for this inevitable back-and-forth sway in and out of happiness: flow. This concept of flow struck me as a very articulate way to describe such an intangible state of mind. Drawn in the form of a graph, flow is described to be the happiness achieve through the balance between the challenges faced and skills available. When the challenges are too great for your skills, you become anxious and there is no flow. If your challenges are too trivial for your skillset, you become bored and there is also a lack of flow. Only when the two are balanced do you achieve flow.

Surprisingly, such a concise and simple graph is quite an accurate model. To learn a musical instrument, for example, you must first push yourself to meet the challenge of playing music even without the skills to play that instrument. As your skills grow, you become more and more proficient. But you can’t keep throwing difficult challenges at yourself: you must take time to practice what you’ve learned until what was once difficult becomes easy. When you feel that your skills now outweigh your challenges, then you can tackle new challenges once more.

To bring myself back to the question above, I can now say for certain that I have experienced this “flow” within the course of my project. And as this article seems to suggest, that would mean that I have achieved happiness within my project as well.

Good Ol’ Pirates

A few days ago in band we sightread a Pirates of the Caribbean medley. Generally loved by the public, the music was fun to sightread. The arrangement could have been better, but this is one tune from that day that stuck with me. I had of course heard the theme previously, but I gained a renewed appreciation for it after playing the syncopated accompaniment part on the bassoon.

WISE – Luke, the Harmonica Player

It’s one thing to be the very first presenter, no matter what the school project, but it’s another to have the entire WISE student body present for the presentation. Despite all this, Luke, a good friend of mine and a fellow WISE student, set the bar high for the presentations to come.

Each year, one WISE student volunteers to give their presentations in front of the entire WISE student body as an example to kick off the WISE presentation season. Luke gave his presentation about his experience learning to play the Harmonica in our school’s lecture hall, in order to accommodate the unusually large audience. It may seem as if the odds were stacked against him to perform well, but Luke, as I know personally, is a natural stage man and breezed through his presentation without a hitch.

His Google presentation was a nice compliment to his explanations, and as I expected he used the harmonica extensively to demonstrate the technique or melody to which he was referring. He led us through some history, music theory, techniques, inspirations/mentors, and even the construction and repair of a harmonica. He concluded the presentation with a blues performance, joined by guitarist Adam.

You see, I’m no stranger to good WISE presentations. I attended what I now know was a top notch WISE presentation by a friend of mine during my freshmen year. I often attribute that presentation as what convinced me to join WISE. Now, it’s my turn to put on a presentation of my own that will hopefully inspire others like me to join WISE.