Thursday, March 26, 2009


I've had a few false starts with that third movement to my clarinet sonata, so I've decided to put it away for a bit, focus on something else, and then come back to it fresh.

The something else is a new piece for student orchestras - a diabolical little etude that uses a lot of chromatic passages. Especially 2nd finger C-C# and F-F# combos and 1st finger B-Bb combos. It's like a tongue twister for the left hand (or, as sign-language speakers call it, a "finger fumbler") Just to make things a little more interesting, the whole thing is one giant accelerando. All that fancy fingering may seem easy at first, but the piece gets faster and faster and becomes more of a challenge. I hope students will really like the challenge of this one.

Of course, as always, the title is the hard part. I'm thinking "Accidentally On Purpose" is too long. I'd love to incorporate "Diabolical" into it - especially since it would go well with the piece's minor key.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Clarinet Sonata

I've been working on a clarinet sonata recently - I've completed the first and second movements and I'm really happy with them. Now comes the hard part: the third movement. Whenever I write multi-movement pieces, the third movement always gives me trouble because it should be fast (but not the same tempo as the fist movement) and stylistically related (but not too similar) and pick up the momentum of the previous movements. It's a tricky path to walk.

Whenever I start one of these things, I really need to use Stravinsky's trick and write the finale first. A lot of energy goes into the first thing I write, so that would make a lot of sense.

But I'm taking my time with this sonata because I want it to be perfect. I'd rather take a while to work out a third movement that I'm really happy with than just crank out any old something to complete the piece.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Doug Spata's iPod

I took a little blogging break after the Oscars, but now I'm back! I thought I'd start by sharing an iPod playlist for you. I love my iPod and use it regularly - since the weather was nice this weekend I took it out on a bike ride through the park. In warmer months I'll usually set it on "shuffle" and head out with my bike to the park, so my iPod is filled with up-tempo songs and not a lot of classical music. Classical music tends to change tempos a lot, which makes it hard to build up and maintain momentum. There are about 180 songs loaded up right now, but here are a few highlights. Please be aware that some contain explicit lyrics:

1. Jump by Van Halen. That opening synth fanfare makes the hair on my arms stand on end. And Dave's vocals rock. And Eddie's face-melting solo in the middle is amazing. Awesome awesome song all around.

2. T.K.O. by Giant Panda. I've discovered rap music rather late and have fostered an appreciation for the "new old-school" artists like Jurassic 5, Abdominal, and DJ Format. This one is a catchy little boogie.

3. Rainbow In The Dark by Dio. This one should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me through "Gauntlet." Dio is so wonderfully over-the-top that he nearly comes full circle. Another great synth riff.

4. The Load-Out/Stay by Jackson Browne. This little medley is one of my favorite songs ever. It starts slow and intimate and builds and builds and builds until it blossoms into a rolicking cover of Frankie Valli's hit (with altered lyrics). It's sad, funny, joyous, and honest all at the same time.

5. Lollipop by MIKA. Simply a brilliant, catchy pop song. MIKA is writing all the songs that Freddy Mercury never got around to and I hope his next album is as good as his first. I especially live the colorful arrangement - jazz trumpets and childrens' chorus augment the standard keyboard, guitars, and percussion.

6. Killers of the Kent County Kids by the Turnbull AC's. A fast, bright song that tells a dark, dark story. It's not often you hear a song that makes you want to dance while it breaks your heart.

7. Girlfriend (Japanese Version) by Avril Lavigne. It's the punk-pop princess's best song and it's made even better when she sings the choruses in Japanese. I like this one so much that the original all-English version sounds weird to me. The hooks, songwriting, production - this is a well-done recording.

8. Viva La Vida by Coldplay. There's so much beauty in this song - the bittersweet lyrics, the orchestral arrangement, the fantastic opening rhythm in the violins - but by favorite part is the delicious counter-melody played (very quietly) by the violas in the second verse. Listen carefully - this kind of subtlety is rare in pop music.

9. September by Earth Wind & Fire. It's my favorite EWF song. It's like they throw you into the middle of the greatest party ever. It always makes me smile.

10. Red Hot by Jurassic 5. It's not their best-known song and not from their biggest album, but this song is a highlight for me and makes me smile. It always makes me imagine a kung-fu actions sequence with Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan.