Second post regarding the new VMO commission.
This piece is about 9 minutes long. I’ll tell you right away, this is the longest single movement concert piece I have ever written.
Up until now I have focused on other aspects of composition and did not feel ready for something this long.
Now I was ready for it.
I was discussing our perception of long pieces with a friend and professional musician. And we both admitted that, even though we love music on a very deep level, many long movements can really be… well, boring.
So to prepare for this 9 minute piece, I listened to tons of long pieces and had very deep thoughts as I paid attention to my own reactions as a listener.
What interested me? Where did my attention wander? Why? Did I have to work to be interested?When did I get bored and feel like turning it off?
I reached many conclusions and still many more to come. Here are a few:
- Beautiful orchestral colours, the sheer beauty of sound.
- Melodic continuity and clear form.
- Variety, limited but obvious.
- A definable arc.
- Some surprises that still make sense
Yes, these are all obvious, but they are simple yet important concepts that are badly used in general. Too much of the same during a long piece and you get bored, too much variety and the music appears random and disconnected and the audience drops out.
The piece is a journey for the audience, and the melody (or central idea) is the character that leads them through it.
Just like a story! And ever more to the point, just like a film which, like music, are experience temporally.
This is something I have thought about for years, and now I see it makes complete sense and will write some posts on how concert music (especially long pieces) can benefit from an understanding of movie story-telling.
Now back to my piece!
Still composing the VMO orchestral piece. I have some thoughts I want to put down in my blog and I’ll try to do it in short, frequent posts. Here’s the first.
I had many ideas for this piece, and being of longer duration, I had more material prepared to fill the formal plan I had in mind.
However, once things got under way, my themes would transform slightly, suggest different things and lead me somewhere else.
Sometimes I resisted if the direction they wanted to take seemed too obvious to me, and other times I would follow if the new direction made sense and wasn’t obvious. That’s the best place to be, when you write something that wasn’t obvious but makes sense, then you got a winner!
This reminds me of Elmore Leonard and how he described his writing process. First he forms the character, understands him and then he puts him in a situation and lets the character write the story.
This process of following where the melody wants to go reminds of life too. It’s good to have a plan, an itinerary, a goal to shoot for and a place to go. But if you keep your eyes open along the way you might discover little side roads and end up in marvellous places you had not even imagined when you started.
That’s what it’s been like writing this piece.