Thursday, May 29, 2008

The New Piece Progresses

The new piece starts with 'cellos, basses, and violas drumming, Violins I playing a melody, and Violins II handling harmony. After that, everyone switches around - Violas and 'basses get melody, 'cellos handle the harmony line, and the violins drum. The tricky part is the transition between and working it out so the rhythm flows without a gap. I have to leave space for musicians to pick up or put down bows, and I think I worked out a reasonable solution.

I like to write for a few hours, and work out what I can, but an important part of my process is to walk away for a while and take short breaks. They allow me to work out ideas and then come back with a fresh perspective. When I come back, I'll ususaly make changes to what I've just done and move on from there.

I only have one theme, but in one of these breaks, I've worked out the form of this new piece. I think it will be a rondo (one of my favorite forms) with this theme alternating with a call-and-response section and a C Theme that consists entirely of drumming and pizzicato.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Started a new piece

I hope your Memorial Day was a good one. I slept in, did some gardening, watched a classic old movie ("Forbidden Planet" with a pre-ironic Leslie Nielsen) and started a new piece of music.

It's unusual for me, but I started with the title this time - "Nairobi" (evocative, no? It might change.). Young musicians, especially the basses and 'cellos, love to drum on their instruments, so I thought I'd give them a chance to incorporate that into a new piece of music. This is an "advanced" piece, so the rhythms are a little more complex. The chin-fiddles will have a chance to do some drumming too, but the piece starts with the floor-fiddles.

For inspiration, I got out my old record player (ask your parents, kids) and put on one of my favorite recordings - "Zungo!" by Olatunji Babatunde, a West African singer/drummer. I soaked in the flavors of the album to give me a direction for the rhythm and the melodies and went to work. The first 16 measures sound pretty good and I think I'll have to include some call-and-response later in the piece. I'll keep you informed as progress is made!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Got My New Music!

There are three very exciting parts of the publication process: receiving word from my editor about which pieces they decided to take for next year, hearing the recordings by the Alfred Studio Orchestra for the first time, and receiving complimentary copies of the finished music.

Yesterday, I received my music! This year's two new pieces are A Breeze In the Keys and Sleigh Ride to New Haven. Alfred used to send me two copies of each new piece, but they recently upped it to three. I've seen the music before, when they sent me proofs last autumn, but the copies I got yesterday are on the good paper with the cardstock binder. Before, it was hypothetical, now it's official.

It's been ten years since my first publication, but I still get excited over these little things and I'm always grateful and surprised when they decide to publish even more of the stuff I write. I sent a packet of new music to California two weeks ago, thus beginning the annual cycle of nail-biting anxiety and it won't end until July or August. Getting the shipment yesterday provided a nice break.

Getting the finished music means that music stores have started receiving the finished music too, so check your local retailer or online supplier. Also, it won't be long before the recordings are made available on Both are really good this year, but I'm especially happy with the recording of A Breeze In the Keys.

Monday, May 19, 2008

My New Website

This weekend I successfully updated my website! Check it out at

I noticed that it needs a litle tweaking, but everything is there - new graphics (including a cool navigation bar), links to recordings, published music, and YouTube videos, better organization, and a more streamlined, professional look. Even a few photos of me.

So, check it out and drop me a line - I always respond to e-mails.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Indian Hill Concert

I had a great time last night at the Indian Hill Middle School Orchestra Spring Concert!

My friend Candace Putz is the director and she mentioned a few weeks ago that her 8th graders would be playing Westward Motion. She invited me to say a few words before the performance, so I cleared my calendar and set my VCR to tape Lost. I got there a little late (unusual for me) but slipped backstage after the 6th graders finished to let her know that I'd arrived and was ready to speak.

"Oh, great!" she said, "Look, the kids want you to conduct the piece."

I was a little stunned at first, but said "Okay, let's do it!" Thank goodness I thought to wear a tie and nice shoes.

So I went back to the band room, quickly introduced myself, got everyone in places, and ran through the piece. I had no score and conducted with a xylophone mallet, but it worked out fine. The orchestra sounded good and several students commented that Westward Motion was their favorite piece. After the run-through, I answered a few questions and we went outside to wait for the 7th graders to finish.

The 8th graders took the stage and the performance was great. Mrs. Putz lent me her baton and there was a score waiting for me at the podium. The kids generally weren't happy with the rest of their performance, but Westward Motion sounded good. After the show everyone convened in the auditorium lobby for a reception, where I talked with several parents, who were very excited and appreciative. They seemed to like the piece.

So it was a great night and I had a great time! Mrs. Putz always does an excellent job and it's wonderful to see the progress her students make over the years.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Doug's New Opera: The Libretto

So, yes, I've written an opera. I've written symphonies, ballet scores, concertos, chamber music, and countless pieces for string orchestra, but there's one challenge for composers above all others and I thought it was time to take it on.

The first and most time-consuming task was to write the libretto - probably the most important aspect of an opera. Operas are about music, but it must have a compelling story and interesting characters. Good music can't save a bad story. I decided to write the libretto myself rather than finding someone else for purely selfish reasons. I've seen it happen before; if the libretto is good, people will focus on that and not the music. An opera is a lot of work and I want to get credit for my efforts and my vision.

I started the whole project with a concept and then organized my characters. I don't want to go into the plot details, but the libretto is based on real historical people in a purely ficticious situation. So once I decided on the concept, I had to ask myself questions: Who is involved in this story? What motivates them? How would they react and interact with each other? What do they want from each other? After that was decided, the plot fell into place.

Next, I created an outline of events and wrote the first draft of, what I felt, was a pretty good play. Dialogue was the tricky part. I wanted each character to have a unique speech pattern, like real people do. Since the main character was very quotable, I assembled as many direct quotes as I could and replaced the dialogue in my draft with her quotes. Of course, I had to take a lot out of context, but I got a good feel for her vocabulary and speech rhythms and filled in the rest of the dialogue with words to match her speech pattern. Other characters weren't nearly as quotable, so I found modern celebrities whose personalities and backgrounds matched and used their quotes as the basis for my dialogue. In total, about a third of my libretto consists of direct quotes.

Five or six drafts later, I had my completed libretto which, printed out in single-spaced screenplay format, came to 60 pages. As I set the words to music I would delete or change lines here and there and the finished text now takes up about 54 pages.
The whole writing process, from developing the concept to research to writing and editing the libretto took about a year.

Monday, May 12, 2008

New Direction

I originally started this blog as an Oscar newsletter, giving my predictions for the 80th Academy awards, but since that's over and I've been working on updating my website, I thought I'd re-purpose this blog into an extension of my website (which, by the way,can be found at I hope to put up a newly-redesigned version of my website in a few weeks, with cooler graphics, YouTube links, and updated content.

I have no set schedule for updating this blog, but I intend to check back here when I can to write about what I've been working on, share my thoughts, and occasionally discuss the opera I've been working on. Of course, in January, I'll re-focus on my favorite holiday season and dedicate this blog to Oscar predictions.

Please feel free to ask questions or make comments in any of these posts. Thanks for reading, and I hope you come back to see what I'm up to!