Response to a Quora query: "What is some good, practical advice for a beginner in music composition?"
"I have very good relative pitch, I can play any melody I hear and am able to improvise all day long.
1. WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. This is the start of the creative process. Don't worry about how you notate your melody...this is the time for actual creativity, before it can be refined. As for a melody sounding overly familiar, don't worry about that yet either! Our brains seem wired to certain combinations of notes; consonances, dissonances, resolutions, etc. In fact, I was once told to develop my themes branching off from whatever I was listening to at the time, if only for inspiration. Keep fragments of whatever you write around; they might be useful someday.
2. WRITE WHAT YOU FEEL. This is what makes your music unique; the way you yourself deal with the emotions behind your music...everyone handles emotional impact in a different way. In every case, the way a composer or songwriter expresses their emotion through their work shows the listener who they are. Speaking of which...
3. FIND SOMEONE TO LISTEN. Anyone. Composers have to find a happy medium between writing purely for themselves and for public consumption. An audience, whether they are friends, family, experts, non-musicians, etc., will easily give you feedback on what they hear. A more diverse audience means more diverse feedback as well!
4. KEEP WRITING! As soon as you have a new idea, repeat these steps! Who knows? You might discover something that fits in your piece or you might decide to write a new one based around that idea! It's all up to you! All of these steps can be accompanied by studies in theory, form, arranging, and orchestration; these tools will help you on your journey to wherever your mind takes you! Have fun!
No one instrument has experienced more recent growth in its repertoire than the euphonium. Since its use as a solo mid-range voice in the Sousa/Fillmore/King bands, the euph has been recognized for its tone, timbre, and versatility; in the words of a vocal music teacher friend of mine, "The euphonium is like the cello of brass." Outside of the military and British brass bands, however, the euphonium hasn't quite cracked the ceiling set by the orchestras and jazz big bands where, with some exceptions, they generally aren't included. But the euphonium always has new music being written expressly for it.
And, perhaps more importantly, the euphonium also has Steven Mead.
An English euphonium virtuoso, Mead has perhaps done more to advance the instrument than any other musician, through his solo artistry, teaching (he has a studio at the Royal Northern College of Music), and, most importantly, premiering new works for his instrument. Already, he has premiered works by exciting modern composers such as Philip Sparke, Martin Ellerby, and Vladimir Cosma, as well as arrangements of existing orchestral work (my personal favorite being his recording of Friedrich Gulda's Cello Concerto). Numerous works have been written for Mr. Mead, and he is always in great demand as a recording artist and clinician. However, this particular project didn't start with him.
Like the old cliche says, it started with a dream. Mike Waddell's dream, actually. Mike and I were undergrads at IUP together, and he always had the drive for performance. During his time at IUP, he performed in master classes with Oystein Baadsvik, James Jackson, Jim Self, and many others. Mike won both the Johnstown Symphony Young Artist Competition and the IUP Wind Ensemble Concerto Competition, and currently studies with Adam Frey at Georgia State University, but his accomplishments speak for themselves: Where he stands apart from the rest is his inexhaustible desire for new music: During his time at IUP, he commissioned many new works from friends of ours such as Reed Hanna, Derek Cooper, and most prolifically, Anthony O'Toole.
It was for this reason that he founded EuphoniumCommissions.org. Mike envisioned an independent commission website for new euphonium music, seeing as it's a growing field and as fast as the new repertoire is coming, new players are emerging even quicker. Establishing an independent partnership between players and composers is the right way to go, ensuring things are done without any external bureaucracy. Another major step in the right direction was the commissioning of Frank Gulino. Frank is a composer whom I've gotten to know over the past few months since the commission started, and he excels at versatile and lyrical solo work, having written for numerous low brass performers at the Peabody Conservatory, where he received a Bachelor of Music Degree in Bass Trombone Performance. His chamber work, Tornado, for euphonium and brass quintet, was most notably premiered by Steven Mead in 2010. It was only natural that Mr. Mead premiere this milestone work for euphonium, which Frank titled "Infinite Escape." He's joined by Gail Novak on piano, at the University of Arizona's Low Brass Boot Camp 2012.
The piano opens the piece with block chords, evocative of church bells or Russian choir, before establishing a restless rock beat after which the solo enters, playing over a now-cascading piano. From WHAT is he infinitely escaping? Halfway through, a rest is established, in which the soloist celebrates with a cadenza. The piano enters, creating a sense of joyful peace, a sense that the world is open for new possibilities. And that echoes what Frank and Mike have done. I'd like to thank them for establishing an ongoing journey of new music, as well as Mr. Mead, for his lifelong devotion to the instrument and the art.
"Infinite Escape" has been published by Cimarron Music Press (Frank's longtime publisher, and now my new publisher as well).
Unless you've been living under a rock, or in a commune, OR under a rock LOCATED in a commune, you've noticed that the American musical genre is back.
All over the place, it's becoming a fiscally and socially relevant form of entertainment again, as popular songwriters like Elton John, Bono, and The Edge are flexing their muscles with written stage musicals and shows like Glee and Smash are bringing you what are essentially hour-long jukebox musicals every week (hell, I'd even bet that Cop Rock could've been a hit this year!). My concern, though, is that there's no inspiration behind any of these musicals; just an excuse to put a recognizable property like Spider-Man or Disney's Newsies onstage. For every quality theatrical product (FINALLY a revival of Merrily We Roll Along!), there's another jukebox musical rehash or movie transferred to the stage...maybe Michael John LaChiusa had a point after all. Musical theatre needs to embrace uniqueness and every piece must have its own voice.
But on May 8th and 9th, at 8 PM in the Waller Hall Studio Theatre, we got it, as two of Indiana's greatest minds transformed an easily-recognizable film property into something of their own...
...Yes, Joe York and Anthony O'Toole got their hands on Die Hard.
You may ask yourself, "Didn't Dundore just say he's not into 'transferring movies and recognizable properties to the stage'? He's a pretentious hypocrite!" To which I'd proceed to make a fist (WITH FISTS!) and floor you with it. Joe York (book and lyrics), who previously brought us the musicals Black Friday and Discovering Eden, was apparently the only person who noticed that Die Hard was screaming out for a musical adaptation, and decided that Anthony O'Toole was the perfect musical collaborator. He couldn't have made a better choice: O'Toole's work is fast and professional, and his tunes are driving and catchy. Most importantly, he speaks Joe's language: As the Glen Kelly to Joe's Mel Brooks, O'Toole takes Joe's chanted lyrics/air guitar solos/whatever else he throws at him and fashions them into a tune...it's an awesomely inspired partnership that come along only once in a while...face it, for every Rodgers and Hammerstein, there are about 10 of the Glory Days guys (which was an interesting flop in and of itself, but that's a story for another day).
The newly minted team of O'Toole and York decided to put on a staged reading of Die Hard, where I and the rest of the audience could see where this differed from most screen-to-stage adaptations. Rather than a transplanted rehash of plot, like the Disney stage adaptations, they took an irreverent tone to the plot, and every member of the cast played the script with tongue firmly in cheek. The spontaneity was such that we expected any random line to lead to a musical number! With the movie's iconic lines, that was what we got, as York employed the catchphrases of John McClane (played by Caleb Feigles, an IUP stage veteran) in loud, boisterous songs.
Not only did the show deconstruct the plot of the movie, but the songs themselves were a near-perfect send-up of current musical tricks (the power ballad, villain song resembling a power ballad, 11-o'clock number ALSO resembling a power ballad...and a rap, courtesy of office pervert Ellis). Joe's goal was to pay his way to NYU's Musical Theatre Workshop, and he's proven that he deserves every cent of it. More importantly, he and O'Toole have proven that there IS legitimately inspired musical theatre out there, no matter what package
I remember it like it was yesterday...
(How's THAT for a cliched opener?)
It was freshman year, I was on the band bus, and we were on our way to whichever away football game it was that we were playing that Friday. As always, I was sitting next to "Injun" Ted Conley: baritone, partner-in-crime, and eventually my co-section leader. Injun had spent the last bus ride talking up one of his favorite albums, Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick.
That night, I'd finally get to hear it, and my ears were opened. Up until then, I knew what kinds of music I liked (Barenaked Ladies, Elvis Costello, Santana, and Paul Simon took up most of my CD collection, and to some degree still do), but Tull was something different entirely. This was prog-rock with organ instead of synthesizers, folk with flute (and sax, AND trumpet), Renaissance meets rock. I was hooked instantly. Tull's leader, Ian Anderson, was a troubadour for our time, a Minstrel In The Gallery!...
...yes, I had to drop my second-favorite Tull album in there too.
According to Injun, the song was written by Anderson, under the guise of Gerald Bostock, an 8-year-old English schoolboy from St. Cleve (no such place, for those of you keeping score). Gerald wrote the poem for a local poetry contest and won, but was disqualified due to the subversive nature of the poem, according to The St. Cleve Chronicle and Linwell Advertiser--and let me digress at this point--the newspaper is one of the best things about this album. As its cover, it sends up the trivial small-town paper and proves pretty subversive in its own right, but I don't think you should take my word for it: Here it is in its entirety...and yes, I know what Fluffy the Duck was looking at...come on, you guys. The newspaper established a separate universe for the song, grounding it in some inside-joke version of reality.
The album itself was a send-up, satirizing the overblown concept album and its focus on large, "big-picture" concepts, complete with often-obtuse text and virtuosic solos from Martin Barre on lead guitar, John Evan on organ, and Barriemore Barlow on all percussion, not to mention Anderson out front on the flute (and sax, AND trumpet, and you get the picture). Together with Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond on bass, this was the band's lineup for the early-to-mid 70s, often considered their best ever.
TAAB became my favorite album, and I had to keep going from there...thanks, Injun. I purchased the follow-up, A Passion Play, and was again, struck by the cover. Ian and the gang had set this concept album as a play complete with program, apparently set in the same St. Cleve/Linwell area. It occurs to me that this concept behind the two albums would lend itself to a surreal film project along the lines of Across The Universe, but unfortunately, no one has caught on. However, A Passion Play is a story for another day. The first time I heard Thick As A Brick, it was on my cheap Aiwa portable CD player in the fall of 2000, the album was almost 30 years old, and the casual listener might have thought Gerald Bostock was a real person, if they cared.
Today, the album is 40 years old, I listen to it on my Asus laptop, and listeners are asking, "Whatever happened to Gerald Bostock?"
Well, according to Ian Anderson, Gerald Bostock is 50 years old, and his life could have gone five different ways, as shown in Anderson's new album, Thick As A Brick 2. First things first, this is NOT a Jethro Tull album; it was recorded and released as an Anderson solo project, and Martin Barre, the only other member of the band left over from TAAB, is absent, presumably due to work on his own solo projects. Current Tull members David Goodier (bass) and John O'Hara (keyboards) are on the album, which also features drummer Scott Hammond (Doane Perry is Tull's current drummer) and lead guitarist Florian Opahle. Secondly, as I mentioned, the focus is of the poem and on Gerald himself, or rather, five of his possible futures, exploring "what-ifs, maybes, and might-have-beens." Whether he's a decadent banker, a gay homeless guy, a soldier dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a bullying fire-and-brimstone preacher, or just an ordinary shopkeeper, you sense that his life was affected in some way by his poetry, and the new lyrics serve in the same spirit as the original: still a satire, but moving its focus from the life of man to the life of a man.
And while St. Cleve might have discovered new forms of media, the tone remains the same...heh heh...
Composition, theory, history, and daily life....this is a series of both fact and perspective. I'm Mark Dundore, and this is what I'm about.