It’s finally here! Have a look and listen to Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon performed by the ever talented Ensemble Françaix in Hanason Dyer Hall, Southbank.
I had a rehearsal with Contralto Emma Warburton today and a live performance of Thoughts on Rain may be closer than we think! I played through the violin lines whilst Emma sang and offered advice on the score. The suggestions Emma made have been noted and its good to know that nothing musically has to be changed, just visually. The changes are simple things like slurring and accents – when to use them and when to shelve. These alterations will be made in conjunction with editing and printing the individual parts.
Here is the exported MIDI from Sibelius of Thoughts on Rain. I had to use Pro Tools to shift the pitch from A=440 to A=415 because it seems Sibelius is incapable of using different tunings when using their pre-loaded library Sibelius Sounds. Pitch shift is possible on Sibelius if you are using the General MIDI setting. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have found a work-around for this issue as it would be handy on future projects!
I have also included a PDF copy of the score for viewing with the MIDI mock-up.
Until next time, stay creative! 😀
Why read when you can listen? Here is a recording of my reflection on writing more pianistic music in my Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon. This discussion arose from my composition teacher playing my piano motives and exposing the fact that the music was not suited to the instrument.
Further reactions to Dr McCombe’s question as to what is the purpose of the piece and why bring it into the world. This reflection relates to Thoughts on Rain.
I just met Jordi Savall which was amazing and incredible. He signed my copy of Bach’s unaccompanied partitas and sonatas. He was in Melbourne for a concert and while he visited he opened the early music studio in Conservatorium. During his opening speech he said some really great words like music being the one thing that is truly understood by any language – the emotion of music and what it does, it transcends borders and beliefs. I love that train of thought.
Another interesting point he made was that in life, the greatest thing you can do is something that makes you happy but also brings joy to others. In his opinion that was the meaning of life. This comment really hit home because this is what I’m trying to do with my new compositions. Because I am playing so much baroque violin it brings me an immense amount of joy, by composing for this medium then hopefully others can be moved and find joy.
After further contemplation of Dr. McCombe’s question as to what is the purpose of the piece and why bring it into the world. This relates to Thoughts on Rain.
I’ve decided that to do something meaningful is to do something where your talent lies and where your heart lies. My heart lies in playing baroque violin, I spend many hours playing and listening to baroque music so it makes sense to actually compose for that style of instrument. The main performers I know personally are all members of the baroque ensemble and they are the ones most likely to play the music I write.
In a conversation with Shane Lestideau, guest director of the MCM baroque ensemble I was advised that her group plays and commissions new works for period instruments which is very exciting to me and a prospect that I love the sound of.
It has become obvious to use the baroque ensemble for its texture and colour. Thinking of composers like Corelli I remind myself that he was chiefly a violinist, now he is remembered hundreds of years later as a composer. It makes sense to me to bring both skills into one.
Before beginning the composition Thoughts on Rain, I was prompted by Dr. McCombe to consider a question;
what is the purpose of the piece, why bring it into the world?
I love playing Baroque music on violin, traditional Irish on violin and Chinese music on erhu. Playing with friends and family, in bands with friends, the very act of playing is extremely enjoyable. When I come across a piece of music I like, that is the most rewarding part of the compositional process. As composers, how do we bring into the modern-age something original when many musical-milestones have already been written. We’re trying to be state of the art and original.
The majority of the time, I want to play something that is fun. Music that sounds good to the person in the street or in the concert hall, wherever it is played, it sounds good to the audience. I want it to be fun for the musicians which compels them to play more, but also have a higher meaning and become art.
- sounds good
The original concept for Thoughts on Rain (TOR) was to be a song that would hark back to the days of Handel, an aria that would last around 10 minutes. This Aria was to be called “My Sweet Mage” and was planned to have similar instrumentation as Thoughts on Rain – the only difference was My Sweet Mage was to feature mandolin and steel-string acoustic guitar in the continuo section, instruments that were shelved for Thoughts on Rain.
I began by experimenting with ideas that made use of intersecting parallel 4ths and 5ths running through an octatonic scale, which gave an incredibly dark and supernatural sound. This otherworldly feel was perfect subject matter of one professing their love to a mage – a mystic sorcerer whose practices are a mystery to common folk.
The direction that My Sweet Mage was taking made me think of the exclusivity or rather, the possible exclusion of participants in the performance. To go into detail about this, please consider this scenario – My Sweet Mage continues to form into the brooding and somewhat risque piece, this leads to the subject matter causing offence to members of religious communities, which in turn limits the possibilities of performance. I believe that it could have been limiting because the majority of performances of baroque ensembles are held in churches – My Sweet Mage was the wrong piece for the venue.
The driving motivation behind composing Thoughts on Rain was to use an ensemble that was readily available and already in widespread use. The historically informed performance community is strong in Melbourne and throughout the world, with many ensembles looking to expand their repertoire and find new audiences. Composing for a baroque ensemble seemed logical because a performance of the work is a near-guarantee
I played in the baroque ensemble for the entirety of my studies at MCM and made some life long friends, this has also increased my skill as a violinist enormously. I have met legends in the Early music field and even have had an epiphany about composition due to my endeavours in HIP, all forming the notion that composing for Baroque ensemble is not only rewarding, it enriches the lives of others.
The turning point of the piece from My Sweet Mage to Thoughts on Rain was now in effect. The subject matter and tonality of My Sweet Mage was abandoned (it will be reworked for another project) and the subject matter of Drought was adopted.
Good news, everyone! Ensemble Françaix are set to perform my latest composition – Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon in a concert hosted by Zinia Chan, K. Travers Eira, and your humble-blogging-host, Sam McLean. The concert will feature the recent works of Zinia, Travers and Myself on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 in the Hanson Dyer Hall, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Southbank, 7.30pm.
“It is humbling to listen to musicians who love performing music as much as composers love to write it, that is why it is a privilege to work with Ensemble Françaix, an ensemble who put so much into their playing” – Sam McLean.
We rehearsed Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon for the first time today and it was just incredible to hear the music performed. What was also nice was that the trio had only rehearsed it once before meeting and they were already well on the way to bring the music to life! The notation I had written was logical to follow, even the sections that I thought may be tough to count seemed to be no problem for them which was encouraging. I really think the audience is in for a treat on Wednesday!
Ensemble Francaix are: Nicholas Young – piano, Matthew Kneale – bassoon and Emmanuel Cassimatis – oboe. You can check them out here;
My piece ends with an extended piano passage and the way that pianist Nicholas Young interpreted it was nothing short of spectacular. I wrote that passage in memory of Cyril Scott, a pianist and composer who I pay great homage and admire deeply, so to hear the music played with immense sensitivity and expression really did make me happy. If you would like to have a listen to the MIDI mock up then the check out the audio below. If you are interested in performing this piece yourself the please feel free to leave a comment and I can make the score and parts available.
If you’re free on Wednesday then come along and have a listen to some new music by my composing-buddies and Myself! Until next time, stay creative 😀
Finding inspiration when composing can seem tricky. Most of us will have techniques that expedite the creative process, especially when a deadline looms and there is no time to waste. One very helpful technique I have stumbled upon is the archaic musical device known as mensuration canon. Also known as prolation canon or canon by augmentation/diminution, mensuration canon can be a very powerful tool in a composers artistic-arsenal. The experience I have gained from doing my own experiments with mensuration canon has been of great importance to my development as a composer and if you want to know more about this musical supplement then please let me share my findings on the recent rhythmic resurgence.
Mensuration canon is nothing new and early examples can be found throughout history, with documented pieces dating back to the Renaissance. In my opinion mensuration canons feel like they predate the word music and from my experiments I have had some great epiphanies and formulated some unsubstantiated theories. Who doesn’t love an unsubstantiated theory, right? Beside my own personal beliefs that are nothing more than an observance and lay in the imaginary realm of possibility, mensuration canon has an inherently artificial quality to it. Artificial because it is quite a cognitive process to make one. By describing the canons as artificial, I am not implying that they are unmusical, in fact some of them seem so perfect that it is hard to imagine a series of notes in any other way. So what is a mensuration canon? Let’s take a look!
Mensuration canon’s fundamental principle is the notion of multiplying or dividing the rhythmic duration of a melody or phrase. It is true that mensuration canons do not need pitch and can be played in a purely percussive manner, but in the interest of sharing my experience I would like to demonstrate them using pitch. It is up to the composer to decide how the divisions will occur and there are no real rules governing this – the only rule being that the subdivisions divide evenly or the additions are perfect multiples of the original. By adding to the duration, we achieve augmentation and by subtracting we have diminution. I have found that I use both of these techniques at the same time, probably because I have composed short motives that fit somewhere in the middle. I don’t lock into the fact that I will use all addition or all subtraction, I just experiment with the material by expanding and contracting the rhythmic values. Remember that besides being a largely cognitive process, the result still needs to sound musical.
An initial example could be shown as such.
Notice in Example 1 that the original is quarter notes, the diminished is eighths and the augmented is half notes. All of the lines contain the exact amount of melodic information. I generally use modes or limited pitch sets when I am creating these canons, as I have found they lend themselves incredibly well to this style of music creation. I think this is from thinking in a minimalist way, where diatonic clustering is utilised and adored.
Making musical passages from such a crude method of composition is helped by using a Resultant Melody. Resultant melodies are a melodies or phrases built from the information supplied in the canon. By systematically working through the material, a melody can be developed that in essence was always there – we just articulate certain beats to make it more pronounced.
Example 2 shows the resultant melody with highlights indicating where it was taken from. Notice that the length of the melody may change, as long as the initial pulse is synchronised with the material. Of course, these rules are more like guidelines to make early experiments work and like anything, rules can bend or be broken.
The time it takes for a mensuration to complete its cycle is dependant on the rhythms used. In Example 2, we see that the length of the cycle is two bars. If we were to augment the original by 1.5 (turning the quarter notes into dotted-quarter notes) then we notice that the cycle takes 3 bars to complete.
You can see from the picture of Example 3 that it now takes three measures for the cycle to complete. I have also dropped the augmented voice down two octaves and dropped the original voice down one octave. A reason behind dropping the voices is that it frees up space and less clusters are heard – this is a double edged sword because diatonic clustering works best in registers above middle C, so take caution when dropping parts. Too many notes in the bass registers will sound muddy and won’t have the same effect as when they are played in higher registers, this is because human hearing responds better dissonances at higher pitches. By making a resultant melody (Example 4) with the new material, we now have another phrase to the canon.
Notice that the resultant melody in Example 4 borrows the material from any register and assigns it wherever it works to make a convincing melodic idea.
As you would have noticed, I have only used an original phrase with uniform note values. An experiment that I still have to try is using unequal note lengths in the original but for now, I’ve found that using equal note values is a quick way to make some convincing minimal or post minimal music. Using mensuration canon is also a great way to create accompaniments that have a motor and become the engine room of the music. Try using your favourite chord progression in a mensuration canon and you will be amazed at how the music begins to write itself – which gives way to all sorts of philosophical ideas. Use this technique as part of your compositional practice but don’t feel restricted to stay in the confines of the rules, use it whenever and wherever your artistic judgement calls for something of this nature.
So the above examples worked as a quick demonstration and introduction to mensuration canon, but how does it sound in a piece of music. Can this technique be used to create a compelling listening experience for the listener, unaware of the cognitive puzzle-play of the composer? I have written a piece for String Quartet to let you be the judge. Mensuration canon is everywhere in this piece and is the foundation for the entire work (for the most clear example of it, take note of bar 53).
Thanks for reading and stay creative! 😀
On Thursday the 30th of August, I had the pleasure of attending the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performing the world premiere of Carl Vine’s 8th Symphony, The Enchanted Loom. As well as playing Vine’s latest musical offering, the MSO also performed Holst’s The Planets Suite. Vine is the current composer in residence for the MSO and his latest symphony was the result of a commission from the orchestra. The Enchanted Loom is a programmatic work depicting musically a discovery by Sir Charles Sherrington, an English neuroscientist. Sherrington theorised that the human brain weaves together our perception of the world, much like the way a loom weaves thread. The loom reference was analogous to the Jaacquard loom – a machine that was unsurpassed in engineering in the early 19th century. Vine’s 8th Symphony is in five movements, which are seamlessly linked – another tip of the hat to the loom.
Carl Vine Symphony No.8 The Enchanted Loom
- The loom awakens
- The social fabric
- Sheer invention
- Imagining infinity
The five movements all have meanings to Vine, who describes these in detail in the program notes. The loom awakens describes the brain making sense of the universe and weaving our perceptions into a recognisable structure. The social fabric describes our relation to each other within the world in which we live. Sheer invention is a topic that is held dear to Vine, and he draws inspiration from the writing and research of Oliver Sack. Sack studied hallucination, subject matter that has been of interest to Vine in recent years, inspiring his work Five Hallucinations for Trombone and Orchestra. Euphoria describes the elated states that our brains grace us with and Imagining infinity is a tribute to the fact that the human brain can conceptualise something as vast as the edge of our universe.
The MSO have a Contra Forte instead of Contra Bassoon, and this was the first time I have seen one of these instruments performed live. The contra forte shares much with the contra bassoon and was developed in 2011, with a mission of improving the contra bassoon. In certain registers the contra bassoon can sound weak or start to break up, the contra forte is anything but weak – it filled Hamer Hall with the most menacing low range tone I have heard from an orchestral wind instrument.
As well as hearing the world premiere, composition students from Melbourne Conservatorium were graced with the presence of Carl Vine himself, who discussed in detail the methods he used to compose The Enchanted Loom and Five Hallucinations for Trombone and Orchestra. I was so inspired from Carl’s talk and to see a modern composer who appreciates tonality like he does was well overdue.
We had a chance to ask questions throughout his demonstration and I managed to ask a question that had been haunting me for two weeks – how do composers find their voice? My composition lessons with Dr. McCombe challenge my ideals and I do appreciate the way that she tries to pry me from my comfort zone – the last lesson I had I felt as if I come across as insincere with my compositions. McCombe explained that she wanted to hear the real me, not a film or game composer. I thought I was here all along, and this comment had me soul searching for the past two weeks. Every time I would try to compose, I felt these words resonating and became almost unable to write a note, thinking that I was not using my own compositional voice. After asking Carl Vine how he found his, and if there in fact was such a thing as ‘a voice’ he responded that he had put together works of his spanning decades, side by side and found that there was a common thread linking all his compositions – his voice. There was my light bulb moment, my voice was there all along.
I am not suggesting that I simply wallow in one sound forever, people change, their voice may change too but at the core of someone is their beliefs, and no matter how hard you try you will not change the way someone views their world. This comes back to The Enchanted Loom and the idea that we make our perception of our own reality. My perception is different to many other composers and my music represents this, that is why my voice is here to stay.