WISE – Score Studies

A great part of doing a project about music composition is being able to do the things that I’ve always wanted to do, but never had time to do so. One of those things is a score study.

For those who are not music experts, a score study is an extended period of time spent studying an ensemble work of music, usually done by conductors in preparation of rehearsing that piece of music. When conductors study scores, they analyze chords, learn the melodies, study the orchestration, and more. Some conductors even commit the entire score to memory so that they can conduct that piece of music without any music in front of them!

Of course, I won’t be memorizing any scores; I already have enough music to worry about without trying to commit other composers’ music to memory. But as with any other art or skill, studying and analyzing the works of the masters that came before (in my case, that would be composers like Beethoven or Mozart… Those names sound familiar?).

So, in the hopes of gaining new musical insights and knowledge, I’ll be starting my score study today with the Brandenburg Concerto 3 in G Major by none other than Johann Sebastian Bach himself, and will be doing at least three more scores throughout the course of my project, moving from classical to contemporary in genre.

Time to dive into some Bach!

WISE – Mentor Meetings

It’s been a good two weeks so far, especially jumping into the project with hands-on composing. To go along with that, I’ve had two great mentor meetings.

Mentor meetings, just like specific short-term planning, is something that I never would have planned had there been no requirements for this project. Now I’m realizing why it’s such a great thing to have a mentor with which I can check in every week.

For one, it forces me to reach my goals every week. If I know that I’m going to have to show what I did to a mentor at the end of the week, that’s extra motivation in itself. It stimulates discussion, which in turn generates new ideas or different viewpoints. This can be extremely helpful if/when I get stuck on a part of my project.

Mentor meetings can also be helpful in another way: as a resource. Because my mentor is my orchestra director, working out orchestra rehearsal planning or learning about string instruments can be done right with her. It’s really convenient to be able to talk about the project for the first half of our meeting, then have her teach me about string instruments for the second half.

Speaking of which, I got an early start to my string instrument research: during our last mentor meeting, she taught me the first steps in playing a violin! The plan is to learn the very basics of the string instruments so that I have some sense of what the players I’m writing for have to do in order to play my music. But in all honesty, learning a new instrument is just downright pure fun.

WISE – Other Projects

As I mentioned in my first WISE post, the WISE program is an English class as well as an individualized project. That means there are numerous classmates of mine who are simultaneously conducting their own research and diving into their own hands-on experience along with me throughout this semester.

Their projects range from building a canoe to launching a website. Check them out below; you never know what you’ll find!

WISE – Progress on Robot Trailer Music

After about a week’s worth of hard work, here is the fruit of my labor for the first part of my project. This is a piece composed, orchestrated, and produced entirely by me! You’ll notice the prominence of the strings throughout the piece, which should be a good indication of how I’ve prepared myself to write for an actual string orchestra.

Keep a lookout for the actual robot reveal trailer, which will be released on the 22nd!

WISE – Bernstein’s Lecture Series

I can’t believe I hadn’t found this gem of musical research beforehand: a series of 6 lectures given by Leonard Bernstein at Harvard, titled “The Unanswered Question.” Yes, he did title it after this piece.

Since they’re each more than an hour long, I’ve only managed to get through one of them, but I hope to be able to watch all six by the end of the project, since they’re extremely informative and thought-provoking. He connects uses the science of linguistics to analyze music as a universal human language, as is suggested by the famous phrase “music is a universal language.”

What was most informative to me relating to my project, however, was when he sat down at the piano and explained the structure of Mozart’s symphony. Hearing his explanations about the tonic-dominant relationship and chromaticism, then hearing it played by an orchestra conducted by Bernstein himself was surprisingly educational, especially from a symphony that was so familiar to me.

Another thing that I noticed was his conducting technique. He is a very expressive conductor, as all good conductors should be, but many times he seems to sacrifice correct posture (keeping arms low, not leaning forward) for expression. Since I have had very little formal education on conducting, this raised a question: what is good conducting? This is a question that I will be pursuing as I reach the rehearsal part of my project.

WISE – A Note on Research

Much research is already going on well before the “official” research period of the project, and I imagine the same will be the case after the research period has passed, while I’m composing or even rehearsing the orchestra. As our teacher made clear to us (and as I’m fully aware), the research I conduct for this project is not at all like the research I would conduct for an English paper. It’s an inseparable part of the project from day one to day fin, and it’s an inseparable part of my life because it’s what I like to do in my free time.

It’s true. I love this kind of research. The YouTube videos and articles I have open right now can attest to that.

WISE – Long Term Plans

What is absolutely and undeniably crucial to the success of a 16 week long project? Long-term planning.

  • Current: Code Red Robot Trailer music, due 2/22.
  • 2/22 – 2/27: Adapt robot trailer music for TwtrSymphony, due 3/1
  • (2/28 – 3/2): out of town
  • 3/3 – 3/6: Research chords and progressions
  • 3/7 – 3/9: Research compositional techniques
  • 3/10 – 3/16: Ear training
  • 3/17 – 3/23: Composing – brainstorm
  • 3/24 – 4/2: Composing – structure
  • (3/28 – 3/30): out of town
  • 4/3 – 4/9: Composing – orchestrate
  • 4/10 – 4/13: Composing – revise
  • 4/14 – 4/15: Composing – prepare parts

And that’s the plan right up until the four weeks of rehearsal. I have yet to solidify the details of the rehearsals with the orchestra, not to mention preparing for the final presentation that concludes my project. Those details will come later, but for now, this plan should keep me on task without much problem, barring unexpected circumstances.

WISE – Changing Gears

It hasn’t even been a full week into the project and I already have a change to make. It might get a little confusing, so bear with me.
Two new opportunities have jumped out at me, and I plan to take advantage of them: the Code Red Robot Trailer, and the TwtrSymphony.
Our robotics club, Code Red, is nearing the end of its six-week build season, and that means our robot is close to being complete. As we do every year, we are planning to make a movie-style trailer for the revealing of our robot. This is a trailer that will be shown to robotics teams from all around the world, so we are putting quite a bit of work into it.
That’s where I come in. While two of my friends in the club are working on the video, I have been recruited to compose the music for the trailer. I thought it would be fitting to make this a part of my WISE project, as it is a great way to start composing right away using the knowledge that I already have. This would also allow me to experiment with string instruments, which are instruments that I usually never compose for. After all, WISE is all about stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things.
Then, I’ll take the music that I write for the robot trailer and submit it to TwtrSymphony’s Call for Scores. In short, the organization TwtrSymphony is holding a composing competition for orchestral music. I’ve always wanted to submit a score to a composing competition as it’s encouraged by so many great conductors out there that young composers do so. This Call for Scores is a perfect opportunity for me to try submitting my music to a competition, that I’ll already have written for the robot trailer.
Thanks to these two opportunities, I’ll be hitting the ground running instead of easing into the project with research. This is good not only because it allows me more hands-on experience, but also because it acts as a baseline assessment. I’ll be able to compare the composition I write for the robot trailer/TwtrSymphony to the composition I write for the school orchestra and see the improvement.
So, if you followed all that, props. This is what will keep me occupied until the end of February. Deadlines are as follows:
  • Robot trailer: Feb. 22nd
  • TwtrSymphony: March 1st

Plans regarding my project from March and beyond will be solidified shortly. Wish me luck!

WISE – Musings

A discussion about contemporary classical music and its inaccessibility to laypeople came up yesterday between me and a friend of mine during robotics club, of all places. He said that he was not a fan of how contemporary classical music was taking a more and more atonal approach, because it makes it that much more inaccessible to laypeople who have difficulty comprehending or appreciating those types of music.

Ives, as I indicated in my previous post, was a huge fan of atonality, polytonality, clusters, and everything else that characterizes “inaccessible” music. That got me thinking: where do I lie on this spectrum as a composer?

I know that there’s no rush for me to find my own musical voice, but I still think this question is very relevant to my compositions. How much of these “inaccessible” techniques am I willing to put into my own music? Is it more important to me that people can easily enjoy what I write, or am I more concerned about the complex inner meanings of my music?

These are all great unanswered questions. And I imagine they’ll remain unanswered for quite a long time.