“So, I’m composing a dance suite.” “Oh, with an Allemande and Minuet?” “No…it’s…um…Ballroom actually.”
Finally, I have posted the Ballroom Dance Suite that I worked on in the last six months (this last semester)! It is five dance movements for Piano Quintet (2 Violins, Viola, Cello, and Piano). You can listen to all the movements here (whether or not you have a MySpace account): http://www.myspace.com/annachapman
Here is a little bit more about them.
Foxtrot-“Don’t Know What To Do”
Since this dance was invented in the early part of last century, it’s typical music has a big band sound and a medium slow swing tempo. This was the dance that I did not have specific musical ideas for. But I was helped by remembering the sounds of dance orchestras in the early part of the century (and in the old black and white movies), especially the string sounds. After much trial and error, I finally came up with two flowing swing melodies, off-beat piano accompaniment, and a whole step key change. The two themes then just take turns and dance around each other in bouncy delight, at least that was the intent.
Samba-“Do You Know How To Samba?”
This dance is the most percussive of the ones that I chose. I tried some special effects on the string instruments that I “hoped” would be percussive enough (without making the musicians too upset about hitting their instruments). In the result, the sounds were percussive but not loud enough to balance well with the piano and full violin melody sounds. This might have been the most difficult movement for me to write. It is the dance that I know the least out of this grouping, but the layers of rhythms in the music were also a mystery to me until I did some in-depth study of the Samba.
Rumba-“So It Does”
Surprisingly, I’m starting to love this movement more and more even though it was the last one I composed, and I was very rushed to get it done. However, I do feel the need to, at some future point, change the instrumental texture that is under the melody. Once again, I have the strings playing quieter effects against the louder timbre of the piano, which isn’t always a good mix. I used some of the rhythms that I learned for the Samba in this movement too because they are similar Latin dances whose main (and most obvious) musical difference is tempo.
Tango-“March of the Tango”
I soon found out after composing this movement that “Tango” can mean several different things to different people. For me at the time, I wanted it to mean smooth and staccato, affection and tension, and cohesion and conflict…opposites for the most part. That became a tall order very quickly, but I finally formed it in my mind and got it written down. I was very proud (and still am proud) of it and what it represents in my compositional journey.
In contemporary classical music, the Waltz does not seem to be a standard or prevalent form of music. In Ballroom Dance, the Waltz is is considered one of the classic standard dances. In both cases, I identify the Waltz as old-fashioned, not modern, but still valuable because it is a past form. When I originally wanted to write a waltz, I had thought that I could “update” it for the contemporary classical era. To do that, I thought I would have to abandon much of the standards present in the most famous and popular waltzes that I knew of. However, the most essential part of waltz music for dancers is the rhythmic stability that it has, so I needed to keep that. I also could not truly depart from the beautiful and classic/romantic harmony and melodies that the vast majority of waltzes have. But I did have to keep the tempo slower than many of the famous Waltzes to fit the true Ballroom dance style of the Waltz.
One week later than promised, but here it is…
My second semester project is complete, and my first year of graduate school is almost over. Quite a feeling, mixed feelings actually, but mostly consisting of happiness and contentment at the moment.
My project turned out a little shorter than I expected, and much shorter than I wanted, but I met the 10 minute minimum requirement of music for the semester. I am excited about that; it is the most music that I have ever produced in half a year! I am exceedingly proud of myself, but I also look at (and listen to) my fellow students’ work and immediately see how much I still have to learn.
It is hard for me to describe what I wrote this semester; I feel the need to explain the dances because each dance movement that I wrote is connected so much in my mind to it’s specific dance. But I’m going to try not to take up space with that, unless I really need to. If you want to know about each dance, please look them up; there’s plenty of information online and off. My music (the instrumentation that I chose), I very quickly found out, is unconventional for most Ballroom Dances. The usual music is more percussive and like pop music than my chosen medium of string quartet and piano (piano quintet). Therefore, my dance movements sound much different than typical Ballroom dance music. But I still attempted to capture the musical styles and techniques used in the typical music for each dance. Each of the five dance movements that I wrote will be recorded during my residency in August, and I will post them as soon as I can afterwards. Until then, I will try my best to describe the music.
Some (especially dancers) have asked why I chose the five dances that I did, since two of them are classified as “smooth” dances and the others are classified as “rhythm” dances (just as different in look, character, and music as their categories imply). I have two reasons. For four of the five dances, I had specific musical ideas in mind. In my dancing experience, I did not have any musical problem with “smooth” and “rhythm” dances being next to each other in a dance line up. And I wanted it to be a sort of line up, but more actually a “suite,” like it could be a little dance party in and of itself, like dance suites used to be, especially in the Baroque Period. So, I chose the dances and ordered them in the best way I thought possible, musically, rhythmically, and so as to not purposely fatigue the dancers. Consequently, the mix seems a little random, but I have thought it out and am happy with it. The order is Foxtrot, Samba, Rumba, Tango, and Waltz. Stay tuned for their descriptions.