Monthly Archives: November 2012

A “Dual Nature”

“I don’t know what the world is coming to when your Masters degree homework is on YouTube!”

My Mom said that to me when I told her that I had to go get on YouTube to transcribe a hip-hop song for my homework.  Yes, that is what I chose to study this semester: Hip-hop rhythms.  (Big thanks to one of my fellow students who reminded me to “follow my heart,” so to speak, in choosing what to study.)

It’s always been a surprise to the people around me when I reveal that I like hip-hop, or at least the pop/rock versions by TobyMac, possibly my greatest contemporary musical influence.  (Seriously, look him up.  His latest album hit number one on the charts!  And I got to yell, scream, and sing along while seeing him live in concert this week!)  I am a quiet person most of the time, but when I get to know you well enough, my “alter-ego” can’t help but start to come out.  I’ve recently been learning to be able to express myself more easily, especially in music and dance, and I’ve been told that I have a “dual nature.”  However, my strongest personality trait is still my reserve.

In school, it was no different.  In undergrad, I had kept the knowledge of my most favorite music away from my peers and my writing because I wanted to be a classical composer and learn from the best (you know, all the great, dead composers).  But in grad school this last residency, I had been playing around with jazz rhythms and harmony so much that my secret musical love just had to come out.  So it did.  I asked to study hip-hop, and from what I heard of the reaction from most of the faculty to my new musical direction, it was pretty much the same reaction I’ve always heard: “What!?  Where the heck did that come from?”  Fortunately, they humored me, and so far this semester is going even better than my first two did.

My great ideas for the semester were and are: to get a new computer and new music software (recently achieved!) to gain experience with digitally writing and rendering music, to study hip-hop rhythms (and possibly the hip-hop genre) and apply them to my composing, and to write for both of this semester’s ensembles (jazz ensemble and percussion ensemble)(I may even make it to three total pieces instead of two!).

The first order of business was to study, study, study, which mainly meant transcribing a hip-hop song.  My professor and I meant for me to transcribe more than one, but I only have one done so far.  However, the first transcription has helped my ears to be better acquainted with the characteristic sounds and how to analyze them in the other hip-hop songs that I’ve listened to.  By the way, transcription is the process of writing down a song from just hearing it (in my case, having to hear it many times), without any other musical references.  Fortunately, I only needed to transcribe the rhythm of the song, and I didn’t have to worry about the melodies.

I started with Jamaican hip-hop and transcribed the rhythm in a song by Junior X.  From my results, my professor and I chose a specific rhythmic pattern to use as an exercise.  My assignment was to compose with the rhythmic pattern in it’s original form, in variation, and in the retrograde of both.  This is how my percussion piece started, using some small ideas that came out of that exercise.  Through many revisions (and there are many more to come), it has become a piece that has begun to evolve in a new direction (for me, and I like it) using a marimba, percussion drums and cymbals, and an organ.

Stay tuned for more updates.  My piece(s?) for the jazz ensemble will be in the next installment.