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Topic: New "orchestral" composition: Winter in Mid-January

  1. #1

    New "orchestral" composition: Winter in Mid-January

    Hello -

    I can't believe that I finally finished a composition. It's been two years since I finished an orchestral compositions of any length. To be honest with you, it really was an exercise in simply putting pencil to manuscript paper. In other words, the goal was simply to finish SOMETHING.

    I started this piece in mid-January when it was snowing outside. (We got a LOT of snow this year! Yikes!). I titled it "Winter in Mid-January" because that's when I started this piece. To be honest, the music doesn't really fit the title so the name of this piece might change in time.

    I utilized a combination of instrumental libraries, but the majority of instruments are either from GPO or JABB. All solo instruments and percussion are from GPO and JABB. I "augmented" the sound using instrumental sections from Kirk Hunter's Diamond Orchestral Library with the string section sounds from his newer Concert Strings 2 library. I've shared before that I mix instrumental libraries. To be very honest, I really like how GPO, JABB and the Kirk Hunter orchestral & string libraries mix together.

    For good or for bad, all was done in 64-bit mode. Now that Native-Instruments has its Kontakt 4 in 64-bit mode and now that Garritan's Aria is in 64-bit mode, I can now utilize more RAM housed within my happy computer. In fact, I'm thinking about doubling the RAM! LOL!

    Regarding the composition, it is what it is. I'm just happy to finish it. It's probably more of an exercise than a well written and well-developed composition. I kept the form really simple and concentrated on creating a specific mood with experimentation with melody/chord combinations, instrumental combinations, dynamic & articulation changes and tempo changes. There are a number of clear thematic melodies that I can use to create a set of compositions that can "go together" in some fashion. With this in mind, I hope to be spending more time with experimenting with compositional tools to help create a more developed and cohesive pieces as I continue on with the next set of orchestral pieces.

    My goal?? To have a set of compositions to use as gifts for Christmas 2011. That was my goal for 2010 but never wrote anything to give to anybody! LOL!

    Anyway, here's the piece. Please feel free to provide feedback to overall sound. Having JUST finished this piece today, another set of "ears" would be greatly appreciated.

    Winter in Mid-January

    Cheers. . .

    Music and humor are healthy for the soul.

  2. #2

    Re: New "orchestral" composition: Winter in Mid-January

    I believe you have very aptly named this music. I find it to be a delightful series of winter vignettes. The colors and contrasts are fresh and alive, and your use of the orchestral instruments is most appropriate.

    My orchestrations are generally much thicker, but then I love to use very large orchestras and settings. I could learn a few tricks from you...

    Excellent... really excellent work.

    On the technical side, other members will probably tell you that I am somewhat of a Luddite in that I refuse to call myself a "recording engineer," and so my criticisms are rather general in nature in that regard. The overall recording sounds excellent, but there were just a few tiny spots where I would have brought out some of the background instruments more. The sparse orchestration is rather delicate and you have handled it well, I think. I don't believe there is anything major to criticize at all here. And I cannot wait to hear more of your music.

    The use of other libraries in conjunction with Garritan libraries does not bother me at all... in the original GOS-1 days (around 2001-2), it was a must, but some members may get their noses bent over it. Just ignore them. The music itself is quite beautiful.
    Arvid Hand

  3. #3

    Re: New "orchestral" composition: Winter in Mid-January

    Thank you for the listen, bionicbub.

    Like all other members here, writing music is an important part of my life. Unfortunately, a full-time job and associated projects related to that job leaves very little time and energy for me to practice and re-fine my compositional skills. "Winter in Mid-January" is the first orchestral piece that I've completed in over two years. Honestly, it saddens me that I've allowed such an important part of my "being" to be left so neglected. So, I'm attempting to make the time (again) to simply practice putting "pencil to manuscript paper".

    Regarding the sparse orchestration. I never formally studied orchestration. Honestly, I only go by what sounds good to my ears. I'm sure that I'm breaking all sorts of "rules" related to "proper" orchestration. LOL! But I approach such "orchestral" projects a bit differently than other people might approach them. On one hand, I want them to sound pleasant and clear, almost as if a "real" orchestra is playing the composition. However, I don't ever see any of my music played by live musicians, especially by an orchestra, anytime in the near future. Meanwhile, I have all of these great sounds residing in my computer and I kind of know how to sequence. I've been sequencing music for over 20 years. I may not be good at it, but I've been doing it for a LOoooooNG time. (I feel old!! LOL!) So, I look at the instrumental software libraries as acoustical "colors" in sound and the sequencing program as a blank canvass. Would a professional orchestrator use a bassoon, a marimba and a harp player (as I did in the beginning of this piece) as consideration for "appropriate" instrumental choices in a "real" orchestra situation??? I don't know. Probably not. But my ears liked the combination. I actually do compose these more involved pieces using "pencil to manuscript paper". I have five major staff systems to each page that are titled "Wood Winds", "Brass", "Strings", "Keys/Harp" and "Percussion". This helps me to work out the melodic and chordal structures as well as give me a general idea which "section" to use at any moment in time. I then fine tune this by going to my "blank canvass" and experiment with combinations of instruments within each section to "play" the melodic/counter-melodic lines and chordal structures. This particular work-flow currently meets my modest needs in writing music for orchestra. It's probably the lazy-man's way of doing things. Someday, though, I hope to make the time to convert and further "fine tune" those "pencil to manuscript paper" sketchings into a more formal orchestral score that maybe, just maybe, be used in a live setting. Someday. . .

    Anyway. . . that's how I work. I say this out load because I want to continue on with this momentum of writing music and hopefully complete 2 or 3 or 4 more pieces for this coming Christmas time to give as gifts to family and friends. I missed doing this last year, unfortunately. It really saddens me that I missed doing this last year. The process may be torturous for me sometimes, but I really do like composing music. My track record does not reflect this, but I really do like writing.

    Thank you for the listening and for reading my rather lengthy post. Cheers!

    Music and humor are healthy for the soul.

  4. #4

    Re: New "orchestral" composition: Winter in Mid-January

    Absolutely loved that. Musically its very interesting, shades of Danny Elfman meets a more traditional film style.

    When I listen to a piece and am immediately able to visualise scenes and situtations that the music can apply to, it gets an extra nod from me.

    The rendering is really well done also, everything playing its part, nothing really sounds out of place. Probably would have liked a softer string/brass mix at times. Not sure, felt the attack of some of the instruments was very high consistently. It's hard to be sure about such things.

    I know what you mean about the orchestration, and doing what you believe sounds good. I have zero training in it, and just use my knowledge of music notation to build what I think are solid chords and harmonies.

    Great work

  5. #5

    Re: New "orchestral" composition: Winter in Mid-January

    Quote Originally Posted by efiebke View Post
    Honestly, I only go by what sounds good to my ears. I'm sure that I'm breaking all sorts of "rules" related to "proper" orchestration. LOL!
    There are no such "rules" of orchestration to break! You are doing just what professional composers would do... (and see below)...

    I've been sequencing music for over 20 years. I may not be good at it, but I've been doing it for a LOoooooNG time. (I feel old!! LOL!)
    I've been writing music for more than 40 years, and sequencing for about 15 years, but I still learn (or try to learn) something new every day. It makes me feel younger! LOL

    Would a professional orchestrator use a bassoon, a marimba and a harp player (as I did in the beginning of this piece) as consideration for "appropriate" instrumental choices in a "real" orchestra situation???
    You can bet your booty they would!!! Famous orchestrators have used considerably stranger combinations, such as Leroy Anderson, who used a typewriter as a soloist in one of the most popular pieces ever written for orchestra, "The Typewriter." Other composers have used and added whatever they believed would augment the orchestral tonal palette to make their music "come alive" and to get their musical point across. The possibilities are endless, and you have by no means done anything that would be considered strange or bizarre in any way. The art of orchestration is using those particular combinations of instruments that "fit" your musical ideas best, even if that includes an instrument that is not normally considered a "standard" orchestral choice, such as a didgeridoo, which is one of my favorites. (You might want to check out the instrument lists in the new Garritan World Instruments Library for some more ideas.)

    You are doing everything just exactly the right way, and you appear to be naturally gifted in that regard, which puts you in a very rare category today. If I might suggest one book you may want to explore at your leisure, I would recommend "Acoustic and MIDI Orchestration for the Contemporary Composer" by Pejrolo and DeRosa. It comes with a DVD of musical examples that illustrate the concepts in the text, and the Appendix contains copies of orchestral scores that might also interest you (and the scores are also in .PDF format on the DVD). The actual text itself is less than 300 pages, and the chapters cover each "family" of instruments, just as you have described in your comments about your workflow.

    Please continue to write music just as you are doing now. The book recommendation is not intended to convince you to change anything that you are doing now... it is only suggested to increase your self-confidence in what you are doing by adding some concrete knowledge to your aspirations. In this business, there is NEVER a "right" way or a "wrong" way... the only thing that matters is what you produce in the end and whether or not it truly represents your intended musical ideas. And you are doing a fabulous job so far!!!
    Arvid Hand

  6. #6

    Re: New "orchestral" composition: Winter in Mid-January

    Graham -

    Your comments about some of the levels are very well taken! I'm giving my ears a rest from this piece for a while. After a week or so, I plan on returning to it (hopefuly! LOL!) and tweak some of the levels between the instruments. I had to add an Adaptive Limiter in order to avoid keep from clipping over 0 db. I do not like using any kind of compression or Limiters. In my mind, if I "need" them, then I need to tweak levels a bit which is a laborious task as you probably know. I agree that there are some spots where the strings/brass are a bit too high over the wood-winds, especially in the counter-melody/rhythm areas. This is where the "OCD" part of my personality takes over, I guess! LOL!

    Regarding the formal study of orchestration. . . I did take some string and percussion writing courses (a long time ago). I also took the typical type of arranging courses found in a jazz-focused school where ranges and "sweet-spots" of wood-winds and brass instruments were discussed. But, to be honest, I honestly do NOT recall there being any formal orchestration courses offered at the music college that I attended. If there was, I'm sure that I would have taken the course. What's nice about having an "orchestra" "residing" inside a computer is that it is very easy to experiment with instrumental combinations to help figure out nice sounding and not-so-nice sounding sounds. I am a firm believer in "Pleasing the Ear", especially an ear with some musical theory behind it. But I can't help thinking that the important experimentation-process of orchestration would be a whole lot easier having taken a formal course on this particular subject matter. Already knowing what generally works in orchestral combinations and what generally does not work can help shorten (but not take away) the experimentation process. To be honest, I'm totally into a "Time Management" phase of my life with lots of work and family related projects demanding time, energy and attention. Unfortunately, "time" is scarce. Knowing the "short-cuts" can be very useful. But. . . it's also o.k. to learn those "short-cuts" as one experiments, I guess.

    Regarding visualizing the music. . . I like it when music can paint a picture or scene or create specific moods. To me, anyway, that's an important function of music.

    bionicbub -

    Your comments are very encouraging. Thank you for taking the time and providing the thoughtful comments. I will look into purchasing the book, "Acoustic and MIDI Orchestration for the Contemporary Composer" by Pejrolo and DeRosa, as you suggested. Never heard of it. Sincerely appreciate the suggestion!

    You've provided a lot of food for thought. I want to comment on this one thought that you shared:

    In this business, there is NEVER a "right" way or a "wrong" way... the only thing that matters is what you produce in the end and whether or not it truly represents your intended musical ideas.
    First, I hold very fond memories of my music college years. It was fun being young and learning lots of stuff that I enjoyed. During my last semester in college, one instructor made the bold statement about all of the "Rules to Music" that we learned throughout the four past years. He basically said that those rules that we now know are meant to be broken, or not. He further added that there really are no "right" and "wrong" to music. Heck, in another class, we recently just discussed the composition, 4' 33" by John Cage. Talk about "breaking all of the rules on music"! LOL! This really brought to me a welcomed sense of freedom to when it comes to writing music. However, and this is a BIG "however", the second part of your quoted statement also rings true to my heart: ". . . the only thing that matters is what you produce in the end and whether or not it truly represents your intended musical ideas." This implies a certain level of knowledge and ability to comfortably utilized and manipulate that knowledge to one's liking; it implies control. So. . . as it's been said many times before, "One has to know the rules in order to break them."

    I marvel at the composers that can write a very specific "Period Piece" or a very specific sytle/genre of orchestral composition. There is a part of me that longs for that kind of knowledge and control. There are more than a few composers that seem to have that high level of knowledge of music theory, music history and control who found right here on this very bulletin board. You're probably one of them! Yes. One can go as far as to break all of the "rules" and create a composition like 4' 33". And, to be very clear, I sincerely respect and even admire that kind of creative thinking, wishing some level of it for myself. However, I also hold great admiration to those composers that still toil over ensuring that they "Do not create parallel fifths and octaves in their compositions" in order to fine-tune an already well thought-out, great sounding composition. I guess I want control over my freedom, or the freedom to control. To me, though, it all seems to require some kind of knowledge base and understanding of music theory and history. I say this as I look into getting a Masters in Music Composition. I would LOVE to be able to do this. Then, I look at the price of credits and college fees and just get really, really discouraged. (But that's another topic for another thread for another time. LOL! )

    Ohhhhh. . . . I'm ranting. . .

    Peace and Happy Composing to you all!

    Music and humor are healthy for the soul.

  7. #7

    Re: New "orchestral" composition: Winter in Mid-January

    Just a side note --

    Since you mentioned parallel fifths and octaves, I would like to clarify something that has led to a great deal of mental torture and confusion over what the musical "rules" are.

    All of the so-called "rules" of music theory are pedagogical tools -- they are for teaching purposes only, not for actual writing purposes. Just about every composer, even during the Common Practice Period (roughly 1650 to 1850) on which these pedagogical rules are based, has ignored the rules in actual practice.

    Prohibitions (or "rules") against things like the use of parallel fifths and octaves is meant to teach the student good voice leading, and in this particular case, it is meant to show how harmonic movement in the lower voices can conflict with a good melodic line in the upper voices. In actual practice, however, the conflict is not nearly as great as it appears to be on paper, which is why these rules are strictly pedagogical.

    The same thing applies to counterpoint. The so-called "rules" of sixteenth century counterpoint are held as the most artistic and sophisticated examples that can be used for teaching purposes, but they are only that -- teaching tools, not "rules" for actual practice in the real world. The "rules" are extracted by music theorists from examples that are considered to be the apex of that style of writing and as such, they are to be emulated by other composers if they want to achieve that kind of sound or use those techniques in their own writing, whether in harmony or counterpoint.

    The use of parallel fifths and octaves is a well known (and valid) technique for injecting an Oriental flavor into musical harmony and has been used to great effect, even by Mozart and Beethoven and every composer since the days of Wagner and Rimsky-Korsakov for that purpose, so much so that it has become somewhat of a cliche in musical style. (Want to make your music sound Chinese? Just sprinkle in a few obvious parallel fifths and there you are.) But most composers today use them in a much more subtle way that really is not obvious at all. Richard Rogers is probably the most famous composer for utilizing this technique of parallel fifths and octaves in his scores for the extremely popular 1950s television series "Victory at Sea," which was a two-year documentary on World War II in the Pacific.

    But the confusion over so-called "rules" is caused by people who don't understand that those rules are strictly for teaching specific harmonic, melodic and rhythmic techniques that have been used to good effect in past centuries, and that today's composers are free to use -- or NOT to use, as the case may be. Knowing those rules is a good foundation or starting-point from which to depart, and they are by no means meant to be used as straitjackets that composers MUST use. It is useful knowledge, something to be added to your musical toolkit, and that is all that it is.

    The same can be said for the so-called "rules" of orchestration. They are teaching tools only, not rules for everyday practice. Those who can put many of the well known orchestration techniques into their musical toolkit can call them up any time they are needed, and that is the sign of a well-prepared orchestrator. But the rules themselves are nothing more than tubes of paint to an artist -- something to use if and when you decide to use them -- or NOT use them.

    I hope those who are reading this thread can get something useful out of this monologue, because the controversy over rules is not really a controversy -- it is a misunderstanding of what the "rules" actually are intended for. And I hope I have contributed a tiny bit toward correcting that misunderstanding.

    [ADDED: Just an anecdote about one very famous composer, George Gershwin, who was naturally gifted in writing songs and terrific melodies and harmonies, but was an absolutely horrible orchestrator. He went to study at the Paris Conservatory, but he left Paris prematurely, without finishing his education there, extremely frustrated because he just couldn't "get it" when it came to orchestration. Fortunately, Ferde Grofe, from the Paul Whiteman Orchestra ("The King of Jazz") (which premiered many of Gershwin's instrumental works), came to his rescue and either orchestrated Gershwin's music for him or "supervised" (corrected) Gershwin while he tried to do it himself. Grofe, of course, went on to become a magnificent composer in his own right ("The Grand Canyon Suite," etc.). In his later years, it finally dawned on Gershwin that, having seen Grofe "break" all the formal "rules" he had been taught, those "rules" were just a standardized way of talking about specific techniques. He had been trying for many years to abide by the "rules" because he thought that was the path to becoming a great composer (and that his works might be "judged" by his adherence to those "rules"). When he finally saw through that charade, he did end up becoming a more competent orchestrator, although still somewhat naive about it. Unfortunately, he died about that time before he could blossom into a truly good orchestrator. Most recordings of Gershwin's music today will acknowledge in the album notes somewhere that either Grofe or someone else orchestrated the music, not Gershwin. But for those who believe they are poor orchestrators, please don't give up! Gershwin proved that you don't have to be a good orchestrator in order to become a great composer. It's the musical content that counts most -- not the particular dress it happens to be wearing that day!]
    Arvid Hand

  8. #8

    Re: New "orchestral" composition: Winter in Mid-January

    Well . . . . maybe my use of the word "rules" wasn't quite the most appropriate word to use within my rambling post. LOL!

    Your side-note on clarifying the term "rules" as it relates to teaching music is well taken. Thank you for taking the time in providing clarity on this subject.

    At this point in my life, as I realize how important writing music is to my life, I'm looking for ways to further my ability to compose and orchestrate. Formal learning in a college setting would be my preferred path to take to achieve this. I've been experiencing a minor but real emotional crises as I realize the prohibitive cost in both money and time in committing to such a venture. My response to your post was, unfortunately, a somewhat guttural display of this "emotional crisis". In a very round-about way, I was venting my desires and frustrations toward towards the prospect of going back to some kind of formal music college setting. As much as I wish it would, it ain't going to happen, at least not now.

    I've established in my mind that I need to set aside some time and energy in my life to at least continue to write something. I'm very rusty in sitting down and thoughtfully compose music that's too my liking, using whatever emotional inspiration and knowledge base I have to guide me. It is, at times, a very torturous process for me. As I look at the ever expanding list of projects and responsibilities (related to family, work, church, community, etc.) and look for that extra time and energy to write music, I get that knot-feeling in my stomach.

    Yet. . . I finished this particular composition. Finding and making the time and energy to write and sequence this particular piece was kind of torturous as I found myself exercising atrophied "compositional muscles". (Oh yea. . . I need to exercise my REAL muscles too!) Exercising those "compositional muscles" was really painful at times. But the momentum has now been re-started and I'm working to keep it going.

    In the meanwhile. . . I realize that bulletin boards like this one can serve as some kind of support for people like me, seeking and working to re-fine composition abilities. I recently re-joined one music-focused bulletin board that could very well lend itself to providing such support as I continue on with this momentum. It sure ain't the traditional class-room setting that I would LOVE to see myself in. But using this type of support is, quite frankly, financially free. All it costs, in return, is commitment, involvement and sharing support back to the bulletin board community. Of course, now I'm back in that 'ol "finding the time and energy thing". (Ouch! Just felt a slight knot in my stomach!) But there are way too many times when I find myself WIDE AWAKE at 3:30 AM in the morning with nothing to do but type on my computer keyboard and create lots of words and sentences for people to read. LOL! Being awake on lots of "3:30 AM in the mornings" was when I wrote this particular piece! (I normally work nights, by the way, so being awake at this time of night is not a bad thing for me.)

    I've been involved with THIS particular bulletin board, on and off, since 2004, just before I purchased my first version of GPO. Along with the other music-related bulletin board, NortherSounds is a fine source of support. This particular bulletin board has a long history of being very friendly.

    So. . . here I am. . . again. . . at 3:30 AM in the morning. . . . typing lots of words and sharing lots of thoughts! LOL! It's a familiar and nice place to find oneself, especially knowing that this community houses some very supportive, very talented and very knowledgable individuals. While I'm here, I want to give back what I receive in terms of thoughtful comments, suggestions and encouragement. It will most probably take place at 3:30 AM in the morning, on my nights off from work.

    Let the learning continue. . .

    And bionicbub. . . thank you for sharing some knowledge, insight and encouragement.

    Happy Composing, folks!

    Music and humor are healthy for the soul.

  9. #9

    Re: New "orchestral" composition: Winter in Mid-January

    I went back to college in 2002-2003 for a couple of refresher courses, one of which was a course in conducting by a world-famous teacher.

    But overall, my experience was negative. From what I saw, the academic standards that I expected from my previous college years had been lowered to such a degree that I saw people actually sleeping through classes, barely passing their courses, and graduating when they couldn't even spell their own name the same way twice. And the tuition and fees were so horrifyingly stiff that I depleted my entire savings account in just that one year. I will not be going back to college again, unless someone can kindly provide the financial backing for me, because I surely cannot afford it again on my limited retirement income (Social Security).

    I have found, however, that there are a tremendous number of FREE tutorials on every subject under the musical sun available. The Rimsky-Korsakov-based orchestration course here in the Garritan Forum is just one of them. They are scattered all over the Internet, but for that reason, you must exercise extreme care in choosing them. Like the course I just mentioned, you should only choose those courses (tutorials) that are presented on sites that are primarily devoted to professional music production, as is the Garritan site. You are likely to get the most help there.

    Also, I worked for 14 years on a night shift editing a daily newspaper until all hours, and seldom went to bed before the sun came up. But during that same period, I created some of my most ambitious musical projects.

    Where the will to learn is, there will appear the means and the opportunities. Please don't feel discouraged by your situation. There are many of us who have gone through some of the same stages you are now experiencing in life. Facing what we believe to be great obstacles builds our character, and finds its way into our creative work as well, which in this case is your music. Self-discipline, hard work and that elusive "can-do" attitude will carry you as far as you really want to go.

    Hang in there! You have a great deal to give to the world in your music. And it is greatly appreciated.
    Arvid Hand

  10. #10

    Re: New "orchestral" composition: Winter in Mid-January


    First of all welcome back to the listening room!

    It’s wonderful that you keep on writing in spite of life’s circumstances.

    There’s no one way of composing well, and rules are just rules
    and experimenting and learning are what’s important.

    Your ears are the best tool you have and I like what I hear
    in your composition.

    A lovely introduction with a very enjoyable instrument combination.
    You come up with playful motives that enhance the whole piece.

    I also like the way you shape the passages between parts.

    The feeling one gets from the music is actually of joy and sweetness
    mixed with wintry moods.

    Continue with this momentum!

    ~ Yudit ~

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