Sunday, December 28, 2008

One More For The Year

Oh, my but it's been an eventful year! I finished my opera, got three pieces into next year's Alfred catalog, expanded this blog, renovated my website, had some great premieres and good feedback on my Tuba Concerto, and completed thirteen new pieces of music to submit in upcoming years.

I finished number thirteen just this weekend. I took a fragment that I had started ages ago and finally completed it. It was originally intended for a commission, but after coming up with an ostinato and a main melody, I realized it wasn't what they wanted. So I came back to it and expanded it into something quite nice. It's a Grade 3 piece with lots of shifting - in fact, it's possible to play all the melodies in third position. The scherzo style should be very appealing, but my old problem persists - it remains untitled as of yet.

This is my last post of the year and I'll be converting this blog back to "Oscarwatch 2008," so happy New Year, all - be safe and have a great time!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Don't Rush Gauntlet!

I went on YouTube recently, looking for new videos to link to my website and, not surprisingly, most of the performance videos of my music are of Gauntlet. It's still my most popular piece and it gets a lot of attention. However, while I was looking, I found an odd trend and wanted to comment on it. YouTube allows viewers to post messages and quite a few of them looked like this:

"honestly, i thought this song went much faster...really slowish"

"why do you play it so slow ? we play it waaay faster at my school ."

"its suposed to be alot faster"[sic]

One of the most prevalent problems I hear with performances of Gauntlet is that they're too fast. Gauntlet isn't a race and shouldn't be played too fast. Some young musicians even brag about how fast they can go, but speed isn't the point of this piece. I'd rather hear a performance that's too slow where dynamics, intonation, and expressiveness are taken into full consideration than one where the orchestra rushes through it. In fact, rushing through Gauntlet ruins the opportunity for expressiveness and negates the "dark" quality that people find so appealing.

The recording by the Alfred Studio Orchestra (which you can hear here) is still the best I've yet heard. The tempos are spot on, the intonation and style are perfect, and I've never heard the "hard part" (mm. 56 - 80) sound better. Sure, these are professional musicians playing, but it's an ideal that student musicians can aspire to achieve.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Where's Doug's Website?

I got an e-mail from my web service recently that they needed to move my website, so I now have a new address - you can find my site by clicking here

I also took the opportunity to do a little updating, so look for links to ten new YouTube videos on the "Music/Video" page and new maps with new pushpins on the "Contact" page.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Improv Piece

I spent a lot of time this past weekend working out the details of my latest composition. As I wrote earlier, I wanted to have a piece with an "improv" section, where students could take turns improvising solos. The trick, I decided, would be to make everything as simple as possible. The easiest way to improvise is with a pentatonic scale (wherein it is impossible to play "wrong" or dissonant notes and students don't have to worry about conforming to chord changes). The easiest key for young students is D Major. I wrote out a very simple 8-bar accompaniment over which soloists can improvise and made sure that the last two measures have a definite cadence to indicate a stopping point. I even wrote out two solos in case students have a hard time coming up with their own. I have high hopes for this one and I hope it will be popular!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Breeze in Columbus

More good performance news - the Sycamore Jr. High 7th Grade Orchestra going to perform the Ohio Music Educators Association conference in Columbus and they've selected two of my pieces: "Gauntlet" and "A Breeze In The Keys!" I attended Sycamore Jr. High, so it's even more special. Also, with this performance in January and the one in Chicago at the Midwest Clinic in a few weeks , it's looking like "Breeze" is becoming a breakout piece. Hopefully all this exposure to orchestra teachers will inspire them to go out and buy it. So far, I've heard positive things from teachers and students about it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Improv Piece

Thanksgiving is over and it's back to work!

I think for my next piece, I'd like to write something that allows students a chance to improvise. It's an important skill and is one of the MENC's standards of music education, but I've never seen a piece that integrates improvisation into its structure. I have two ideas to start with: a standard blues structure (always a classic and very appropriate for improvisation) or a Debussy-like pentatonic style.

In either case, I think the best way to go about it is to give soloists a note set and instruct them to improvise using only those notes. This, of course, will be easier with a pentatonic scale and more of a challenge when dealing with the chord changes of a blues structure. In either case, it opens up a whole set of problems to solve:

1. The piece will have the usual written melodies , accompaniments, and bass lines and the improv section will be the middle section of the piece In order to maximize flexibility, I think it would be best to have two lines for each part - an accompaniment part (with a walking bass and horn-style hits to help keep an even beat) and a solo line with the note sets mapped out. This way, directors can assign solos of any length for any of their players. Hopefully, it won't be confusing to read.

2. If the piece is in G major, I should specify "start on G" and "end on D" etc. Young students usually don't figure out on their own how to make a musical phrase sound "complete."

3. Maybe a set of suggestions at the bottom of the page are in order. Or a blank line of music so kids can write in their own solos.

At any rate, it's going to take a lot of thought and testing out with groups.