Jan. 21, 2017

Getting Started With Writing, Part X

(con't from Part IX)
As soon as we finish baking (composing) a piece of our own and nothing else happens to be in the oven, the question becomes: "What do we bake (write) next?" ...
The answer is: all starting points are equally valid.
We can start anywhere.
As the borders of our field in music writing grows, one of the things we might try, if we haven't already, is producing a work in song form.
There are several variations of this form, but the one most used in the 1st half of the 20th century by respected Tin Pan Alley composers like Irving Berlin and George Gershwin is AABA, where the A sections are choruses and the B section is either a verse or a bridge.
It helps to have a short supply of blank musical scores in the home page of our online music writing application ready for the next creative moment.
There could come a time, and the wisest knows not how soon, when we just might wake up some day with a brand new, original melody in our head that shows promise for a composition.
At these times we need to open our notebook PC as soon as possible and enter it on the top line of a blank score; if it's shape isn't perfect we can always "tweak" it or reject it at some later revision or another, but at least we won't lose it this way.
Most of the time however, our music will come to us while we're staring at a blank staff; ideas will come and insights will accrete after we sit down to do our work [See blog, Inspiration, Parts I, II, III].
An example of a work in song form is Lied in B Major, Op. 15 [See menu bar, Free Stuff].
"Lied" (pronounced "leed") is the German word for "Song."
When we ascribe a title like this, any title, to our written piece, it should have some connection with its form and what's inside it; it's a disconnect from the get go if the contents of a can and its label don't match.
The same is true in music.
The ear discerns the tune of a song by picking out what's going on in the highest line of the harmony, thus, unless it's a transitional passage, the soprano line is the place for the melody throughout the piece; this is the line the singer will recognize as their part.
Organ music, in general, relies upon polyphony for its impact; its glory is determined by the counterpoint written into it, where all the parts have equal rights.
And this is true is so much music, not just organ music.
In a song however the tune typically doesn't lend itself well to the "learned" (pronounced as 2 syllables, "ler-ned") devices (inversion, retrograde, inverted retrograde, augmentation, diminution, sequencing, segmentation, canonic imitation, ornamentation, etc.) that are often employed for developing a polyphonic composition.
Instead the tune stands alone, unadorned in its simplicity, supreme in the top line, where its development demands a strongly rhythmic homophonic treatment in the accompaniment where all the other parts are strictly subordinate to the tune.
As soon as a single countermelody is juxtaposed with the song tune, we have counterpoint; think of the piccolo part in the Stars And Stripes Forever March by John Phillip Sousa; the glory of this work is the crowning countermelody written for the piccolos which soars high above the brass in the last half of the piece.
We can further enrich the harmony of a song by adding an alto voice to the top staff, but the tune ought to always be above the rest of the harmony so that, if we wanted to, lyrics could be added and the top line could be sung.
And that top line, in a song, should be singable; it should be remembered that instrumentalists can play faster than a vocalist can sing; we therefore can't write a song line with the same freedom we would use in writing a part for an instrumentalist.
The tune therefore should move preferably by step or short leaps only by consonant intervals, proceed at a moderate tempo, and be memorable.
Brief rests can be written into the score between the phrases of the tune with advantage to set them apart and give any potential singer performing it a split of a second to take a breath.
In Lied in B Major Op. 15 the song tune begins in the tonic key (B) in the top line and is 16 bars long; a solo stop (flute or reed) with or without tremolo would work well to bring out this melody.
A single moving bass line on the bottom staff and 2 more moving parts (alto and tenor) on the middle staff form the accompaniment; soft Dulciana or Gamba tone would work well for the left hand parts with soft 16-8 foot covered flute tone drawn in the Pedal.
Following the AABA song form, this A section of 16 bars is then repeated in a different key without a bridge or modulating interlude to get the singer there; the final note of the tune is held as a pick up note in case the next section is sung.
Since the tune begins on the mediant (3rd) note of the scale and ends on the tonic (1st) note, it was decided to begin the restatement of the tune using the final note of the song tune as its first note when it reenters.
A singer could then begin on that pick up note and quickly move into the new key.
The restatement of the tune, in this work, is therefore in G Major, an unrelated key which nevertheless connects smoothly with the tonic key (B) in this case by means of the song line.
This chorus, for the sake of variety, is treated as a trio with never more than one note in the right hand (soprano), one in the left hand (tenor), and one in the feet (bass); never in this section do we hear more than 3 notes sounding, simultaneously.
This 2nd section does not have to be sung and could be used as an organ solo.
You'll want to use different stops for this 2nd chorus and bring out the melody with something else besides what you just used; if you started with flute tone, then use color reed tone (Oboe, Orchestral Oboe, Clarinet, Cromorne, Cor Anglais, whatever the instrument has) in the trio; if you started with reed tone, then go to flute tone.
You could even use principal (diapason) tone if the sound was right; your ear will guide you on this; just make it different with each chorus so you're not sticking with the same sound, over and over.
The B or bridge section of 4 bars which follows is very simplified and consists of nothing more than 2 solo lines, one (in the bass) echoing the other (in the tenor) where both of them outline the inversion of the first 2 bars of the song tune with no change in tempo.
This B section here is therefore nothing more than a transitional passage in single notes which functions to bring about a return to the tonic key (B) for the reentry of the song tune for the final time.
An additional bar with the proper pick up note in the tonic key is included to make it easier for the singer to find their place.
The tune is then harmonized in 4 parts by adding an alto voice on its final entry, and a short coda of 4 bars at a mezzoforte dynamic with the inclusion of a 5th voice and an augmented penultimate chord is used to round out the ending, recalling the chromatic compositional style of Vierne [See blog, Homage/Photo Album 2].
This coda is based upon the first 3 notes of the song tune derived by segmenting it [See blog, Segmentation].
The student will note that, on this final reentry of the theme, the pedal line carries the tune in imitation at the interval of a 3rd for a few short measures.
We have imitation when one part follows after another using the same intervals with which the first part began, but without any regard to the scale or mode in which the parts move or the position of whole or half steps.
Not all notes of the part that enters first is taken over by the imitation; that would be the function of a canon, not of imitation.
This can occur at any interval from the unison up through and including 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, 7ths, and the octave.
There's an explanation for why this device was inserted in the final entry of the theme ...
In previous postings [See blog, Prism, Getting Started With Writing, Parts II, VI, VII] the suggestion was made to take your thematic material and shine it through it through the prism of your own life's experiences and let this symbolism give it a shape.
This composition is dedicated to my brother who, very sadly, died at the age of 6 months from an incurable congenital illness.
His life in this world ended practically before it even started.
This imitation, which starts out sounding like a 2 part canon at the 3rd but then ceases after 4 measures, attempts to describe in musical terms that little life of his which ceased to exist before he was even a year old.
The theme of this work itself is very suggestive of an infant's lullaby, or cradle song (photo).
And yes, knowing what this experience put my mother through, and how I've tried to give it a happier face in musical terms, it's almost heartbreaking for me to listen to this piece ... my own work.
But these kinds of things put power into your writing by conjuring up images to which other people might also relate in some way or another.
If you're already a singer or instrumentalist, guitarist, or play in a band, you don't have to harmonize your song idea on 2 or 3 staves; you can just write the melody on one staff in the treble clef and include a chord symbol (e.g., C, F, G, Am, Dm, Em, etc.) above each bar or beat as you want the harmony to change.
This is called a lead (pronounced "leed") sheet and guides you and the rest of the band as to what harmony to supply under the tune.
It's the way many professional singers, songwriters, band members, and jazz musicians work, and you can do the same; it's easy.
There's music inside everyone who can whistle a tune in their head; unfortunately it typically stays there and most if not all of it never sees the light of day, which deprives the world of what they've got.
You don't have to be lucky, gifted, talented, or rich to write a brand new song or piece like this; you just need to get over any fear you may have of trying [See blog, The Lizard Brain, Parts I thru VIII].
(con't in Part XI)