Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I Take Requests

Occasionally, I'm lucky enough to get fan mail. My e-mail address is pretty easy to find and I've received messages from teachers, students, parents, and even audience members who have questions or comments about what they've heard or played. It's always wonderful to get feedback right from the source. I got an e-mail recently from a student in Texas and it was a little different:
 I love your compositions, and so does my high school orchestra director! 
We play your pieces all the time and they are our all time favorites. I was wondering if for your next submission to Alfred Music Publishing, could you compose a piece that has these components:
  • Written in the style of an overture like, "Gauntlet" (ABA form)
  • Set in a minor key 
  • Quick tempo
  • Dark motifs using sixteenth note and eighth note passages
  • A slower more lyrical and expressive middle section (it would be cool if it could alternate between major and minor keys/modes), that then quickens back up into the beginning themes
  • And be the grade level of 3-4
Performing a piece like that written by you would be the coolest thing EVER!
Students frequently ask me to write something "like Gauntlet," but I've never been sure what that means. I've written lots of other overtures in minor keys with fast tempos and I'm wary about repeating myself - if it's too much like Gauntlet, then what's the point? But this was the first time that someone actually delineated what that means. And the thing that sticks out is the mention of Gauntlet's middle section (a.k.a "the hard part"). This e-mail made me realize that I'd never done a slow section quite like that in any of my other pieces. I responded:
I've written a few minor key pieces for more advanced orchestra, but I don't think any of the published ones have slow middle sections.  Still, if you haven't heard them already, you many enjoy Storm Trail, Elementals, and Agincourt.  Next time I work on a fast minor key piece for advanced orchestra, I'll be sure to include a slow middle section before the recap.
 I've always kind of assumed that students don't enjoy Gauntlet's nebulous, melody-free middle section. It is, admittedly, a weird 25 measures. In recordings and videos it's the place where counting most frequently breaks down, entrances are missed, and musicianship is lost. I hadn't considered that  the challenge of that passage of music was appealing to students.

So after thinking about this, I set out to start a new piece of music. I didn't want it to be the same ability level as Gauntlet, so it has some advanced technical demands. I'm pleased with the piece and thought I'd share with my fan what came of his suggestions:
I just finished a new piece based on your recommendations and I thought you'd like to hear it - the sound file is attached. It's a fast Grade III piece with 16th note syncopations and optional shifting, it's in C minor with a few key changes, and it uses overture form with a lyrical middle section similar in style to Gauntlet's. I also included snare drum, bass drum, and tam tam parts for this one. I'd love to hear what you think.
He responded:
Wow! It sounds awesome! The middle section sounds really good. I also really like the percussion sound. It gives color and a really cool adventure/quest sound. The intensity builds all the way to the end and that's what I love about all your pieces! Do you have a title for this one yet? 
I wrote back:
Success!  No title for this one yet, though. Writing music is easy - writing titles is difficult.
I'll send this piece off with my submissions next spring and I have high hopes for it!


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