Friday, July 31, 2009

I Take Requests

As I continue to write for school orchestras, my goal is not only to create interesting music that will keep the attention of young musicians, but also to reinforce lessons and teach important skills. For example: "Gauntlet" is an etude for low 1st finger notes; "Elementals" drills extended finger patterns; "Crusader" gets students familiar with a variety of 16th note rhythms; "Porcupine Pantomime" lets beginners practice rapid switches from bowing to pizzicato. In fact, every piece I've had published is an etude for some aspect of string-playing technique and my publishers and the teachers who buy these pieces have told me that they appreciate my efforts.

So with that in mind, I'll ask: what techniques would you like to see reinforced in a concert piece? Some fingering, bowing, or technical challenge, maybe? A tricky rhythm or position change? Maybe you'd like to see a specific style of music represented in the school orchestra literature? Some concept that you or your students need to practice?

If so, I'm always looking for ideas and inspiration, so let me know. Thanks!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New Music Selected!

I just got an e-mail from Richard Meyer, String Editor at Alfred Publishing - they've selected three of my pieces for their 2010-2011 catalog! I'm super-excited! This is the best birthday gift for the 12th year running!

I submitted nine pieces back in May (including two re-submissions) and am proud of all of them, but expected a few to stand out. As usual, I'm surprised (though not at all disappointed) by their choices. I thought that my piece for combined orchestras would be a big hit, that my Bachata would be an exotic choice, and that the piece that lets students improvise would stand out, but none of them were selected. I stand by those pieces and I'll give them another shot by re-submitting them in the future.

So what did they take? First, they were charmed by "Sneaking Suspicion," an all-pizzicato piece for beginners. It's cartoon tiptoe music. Next is "Storm Trail," a firey minor-key piece for intermediate players. It's this year's "Gauntlet." Finally, they selected "Star Of Valor," a triumphant major-key overture for intermediate-to-advanced players. This one was written for Chris Doemel and the Mabry Middle School orchestra of Marietta, Georgia - the same folks who commissioned "Westward Motion." I originally submitted this a few years ago in two forms - I gave Alfred the option of publishing an all-string version or the full-orchestra version that premiered in Georgia. This year, they opted for the strings-only version.

I'm extra super happy and, to be honest, very relieved. May through July is a tense time for me as I wait to hear what the selection committe has decided. I think they picked some really good ones that have the potential to be really popular.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Latest Compositions

Here's an update on what I've been working on recently:

Earlier this month I finished an advanced piece in A Major that focuses on jete bowing (a percussive bow-bouncing technique). I can't wait to hear it performed by a real orchestra - it should sound like a team of horses galloping across the stage. And one of the best parts is that it looks a lot more complicated than it really is. Lots of ink on the page, but not terribly difficult to play - good for a young musician's ego.

Just this week, I finished a simple little tune for beginners. The main theme is in D Major, the secondary theme is in B Minor, and it's all pizzicato on the D and A strings. I enjoy exploring the Latin styles (I've written tangos, a bossa nova, a mambo, and a bachata) and this one is a little samba. I also added optional parts for claves and cabasa. I think younger kids will really enjoy it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Joined Technorati

I just joined Technorati - sort of a blog search engine. Hopefully, it will get this blog a little bit more exposure. Add to Technorati Favorites

Monday, July 6, 2009

Doug Spata's Desk

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is "how do you write music?" At first it seems like a daunting question, and my head swims, trying to decide where to start. College, performance, and teaching experience? Various books, influences, and techniques? It could lead to a long, rambling answer, but here's what most people are looking for: I use a computer.

I use a program called Finale, familiar to many student musicians and pros alike, because it's the industry standard for music notation software. Finale allows a user to play a keyboard and have the music transcribed automatically on screen, but I don't play piano that well and have gotten good at keying in the notes one at a time. My computer's audio card and external sound module can approximate any instrument and play back what I've written.

Most of my sketches and notes are done on-screen, but I keep a few pages on my desk to jot out a few notes. Here's an example:

Music theorists will immediately recognize what this is. I've been negotiating a few key changes in my latest pieces and have used these little charts to identify pivot chords. Here's another page that I keep on my desk:

I've mentioned this here before - it's a chart that lets me keep track of what I've written and what I need to write to balance out my portfolio. It includes titles and keys (though you'll notice that I'm two titles behind). Looks like I need an Advanced piece in a major key, a beginner piece in a minor key, and a few novelty selections.