Category Archives: Studying Music

Latest Obsession: Mozart’s 40th Symphony and Sonata Form

In the last week or so, I’ve been drawn to Mozart’s 40th. I have a student playing a piano reduction of the First Movement’s main theme, I’ve been feeling it’s quiet and raging emotions even without listening to it, and I’ve been teaching Sonata Form (the form of at least the First Movement) to other students who have pieces in that form and style.

So, before you get bored with my music theory nerdiness, go to Google, YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, or whatever to find a recording of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 and listen to it. Just the first movement is fine if you’re short on time, but the whole thing is worth your while. It is nicknamed Mozart’s “Great” Symphony, for that reason. The modulations (changes of keys) and orchestration (which instruments play what where) are particularly inspiring to me right now in the compositional realm.

Then after you listen to it, you can look at the picture below and be slightly less bewildered…maybe. This is what I’m using to show my students what Sonata Form is and also how to roughly diagram a piece of music.

And I love my new neon dry erase markers and my old mirror a little too much. I’ll try to check in again soon.


What I did last summer…Part 1

Three music for media projects during my final, thesis semester.

-Animated short film (for a film scoring contest): Virtus Vitae

Clip (not used in the final version) from the opening of a documentary about breast cancer called “Baring It All”

-Commercial/promo spot from C-SPAN: White House Week

I am Master, and I shall call you Padawan.

In August, I graduated with a Master of Fine Arts!  Consequently, I “feel” like a Jedi Master of Music or something, especially because I currently have students.

I feel like I have a thousand more ideas now too, but first I have to” work.”  I have a freebie children’s piece that I’m doing for a friend, and I have some transcribing and editing work that is paid!  I’m trying to write an orchestral piece (originally, I wanted a symphony) for a contest next month.  I’m also busy with my students, my “little padawans” as I now sometimes refer to them, with festivals, holidays, and recitals coming up.

This time around graduating, I’m thankful that I haven’t gotten much post-graduation depression, as I have in the past.  I’ve still had many ups and downs, but thanks to my many friends (mostly musical) and family, I have a lot more hope for my future of making it in the world.  I feel more prepared, but I have also learned that I’ll never feel perfectly prepared for anything worth that is trying.  So, I have to just remember my support system and take leaps of faith.  Not too hard, right?

Busy, busy, busy, but not much getting done…

Wow, it has been a while.  Sorry.  I’ve been getting busy again…new students, two student recitals coming up, more homework, past homework catching up with me, habitually taking on more than I can handle, etc…

But I finally have it posted on YouTube! (The contest’s short film that I wrote music for.)

Hope you enjoy.

Also, I’ve been seriously considering (finally) getting my own domain name.  Unfortunately, I just ordered 500 more business cards with WordPress in the domain name.  I guess that will have to wait a bit.

I never get tired of these musical geniuses.

Film Scoring…finally!

In my final, Thesis Semester, I am finally studying film scoring, my dream! I’ve kind of been studying it amateurishly ever since I started composing, but this is the first time that I will dive right into it, with the right tools (software at least), for the real deal of scoring for media.

I’m on my second assignment now, but it’s the first official one of the semester. The unofficial one was scoring an animated short for a contest put on by CINE, more info here. I am hoping sometime to be able to show that one online, but right now I can’t because of the rules of the contest.

My current assignment, the first official one of the semester, is to score the opening part of a documentary. That one I might be able to post when I’m done but I’m not sure yet. My deadline for it is next week, so I will hopefully have another blog post then.

Oh, Jazz…

Well, I did end up writing two pieces for the jazz ensemble at my Vermont residency in February, but there was not enough time allotted for me to get to hear them both.  One was an arrangement of the percussion piece that I mentioned in the previous post, and the other was a tango, which was the one I chose to hear, have performed, and have recorded.  I am still trying to put the sound files together for the mix that I want for this tango, and also for the percussion piece.  So, hopefully, I will have them available for listening this week sometime.

Between homework for my new (and final!) semester and the craziness that comes with spring for my music students, I’m kind of overwhelmed right now; hence the short blog.  But I’m going to try again, God willing, to stay more steady with my blog (and updating my online presence as a whole), even if that means this is all you get each time.  Thanks for still supporting me in my musical and life goals!

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.