As My Love for Slovenia Grows

IN-Depth Update Post, not a post on the great country of Slovenia

I believe that I have single-handedly increased the views on Ambrož Čopi’s soundcloud by 34%, and you can trust that math is correct.

Promotional PDF score

One of the beautiful things about choral music is how it transcends cultures, religions, and languages. The last piece, Otče Naš, means “Our Father” and is a piece set to religious text, and the remaining two pieces are non religious. The remaining pieces are set to Slovenian poetry, which is some of the most beautiful poetry I’ve ever read. Despite all of these factors that one might think would deter someone from appreciating music, people all around the world can listen to and enjoy music from anyone. Through this project, I have also learned a good amount of Slovenian and could recite to you some Slovenian love poetry (which is really the greatest reward of all).

No one can know better than you

Why the blood in my veins is blueish red

Why my soul yearns so loudly

What happiness should mean to me.

No one can know better than you

Why there is you and I.

Marko Margon

Ti in Jaz (You and I)

As for non-Slovenian choral music (as if there is such a thing), there has been one piece that I have been listening a lot to recently, titled Hide Thy Face. It is composed by Allan Bevan and is recorded on the album Sacred Reflections of Canada – A Canadian Mass, recorded by the Canadian Chamber Choir. (click here for the recording and the website to Allan Bevan’s website). The piece does a lot of interesting theory things that I really appreciate and the music itself is quite enjoyable. Through analyzing the piece, I’ve learned some things about how to employ very few lines of text, and how form can sometimes work.

For my own compositions, I was feeling quite patriotic and arranged my own choral arrangement for our national anthem. You can find the score here, and the audio file over here. As well, I’m in the midst of arranging the folksong, Danny Boy (known aliases include Londonderry Air, generic “British Folksong”, among others). Below is a recording of my playing of the tune. You can see how I’m trying to include some ideas for some lines and chords for my choral arrangement in the recording. https://soundcloud.com/benjaminsigerson/danny-boy (for reasons unknown, this particular track refuses to embed itself, so please click the link).

AND (I bet you thought I was done), I’ve purchased two books on harmony and counterpoint, written by composer and conductor and Harvard, the late Walter Piston. Reading these books have helped me understand some concepts and learn what certain words mean and what this progression means, and so on. Because of this, I’ve been using the terms consonant and dissonant as much as I can, not only because it makes musical sense, but also because it makes me sound much smarter than I am.

With in-depth just over a month away, there is still much I can do. You can be sure that I’ll be doing a lot more composing in the time between now and in-depth. Who knows, it might even be in Slovenian…

Regarding De Bono, I often find myself “using a concept without being aware of the concept (you) are using” (121). For example, I’ll write homophonic choral lines without knowing what in the world a homophonic line is. When I use these unidentified compositional concepts in my music, my mentor will point them out to me and we will discuss their value and their potential importance. We talked about the concept of text in choral music and the great importance of it. The concept of text in choral music leads to many other concepts within composition, such as phrasing, range, purpose of the music, and so on.

In my learning, alternatives can be guaranteed. It mostly takes place in the editing process of my composition. Just like in English, there are many ways one can say something. instead of saying “Hey Jeff, how’s it going?”, one could say “Good evening Geoffrey, how is life treating you?”, or “Yo J my man, what’s hanging?”. If you were producing an R&B album then the latter greeting may be appropriate, but if Jeff is not well equipped with street lingo and is in fact recording an R&B album in Latin, then that greeting my not be appropriate. Music is same in this sense, that the way you “say” things and present yourself have to serve the text and make sense musically. This can be difficult for me when writing music, as there can be some musical ideas that I really like but might not be the best fit for the song I’m presently composing. As well, the way that I might write something might not make the most sense for singers and can/will be altered. “Progress, energy, change, improvement, and simplification are all based on the search for alternatives” (122). My mentor will point out to me when certain lines don’t make the most sense for a part, or if a line could be improved rhythmically or otherwise.

Composing will always be a learning process for me, and I’m more than happy to keep learning. I’m excited to finish my arrangements I’m working on now and am also looking forward to pieces I will write not only for this project, but for a long time after.

Sing Me A Song

Continuing my competitive choral endeavours, I wrote a piece for another competition. This competition is called “Sing Me a Song” and it is sponsored by the Lieutenant Governor of BC. The purpose of this competition is for school-aged students to write and perform their own pieces about Canada, writing music inspired by this country. This theme is particularly important as it is the 150th anniversary of confederation this year. (I am getting quite good at writing music specifically for Canada’s 150). The piece I wrote for this is called “Land of Snow” and is a relatively simple chart, as it had to be learned and performed by singers in a short amount of time.

The link to the score can be found here.

(Thanks to TALONS singers Anika, Billie, Hira, Tori, and Mellissa, as well as TALONS percussionist James)

As you listen to this song, you may be saying to yourself, “Gee those lyrics are kinda ehh/weird/strange”. And you’d be correct, since I was the one to write the lyrics. I am discovering that being able to write my own poetry/lyrics would be incredibly helpful in order to write choral music that does not borrow text from another poet. That has become one of my new goals is to somewhat develop my writing abilities.

As for meeting with my mentor, we did some more editing of my previous song, just for learning and seeing how some things could have been arranged in different ways. As well we looked at some music by Samuel Barber and a bit more of Ambroś Čopi (whom I particularly like). Reincarnations by Samuel Barber is the piece(s) that we looked at and I did a bit of analyzing of. The Čopi piece, Ti in Jaz, is one of my favourite pieces of music written and, well I could write paragraphs and essays on the beauty of that piece but maybe later.

De Bono’s Many Hats

White Hat – This is employed in my mentor meetings when discussing music theory subjects, as well as looking at composers and their way of writing music. The music theoretical difference between the writing of Čopi and Bach is quite different and it’s easy to see and hear. As well when looking at certain rules in music theory, such as what intervals make sense in a chord and such.

Red Hat – I use this hat when taking initial looks at a piece of music. I’ll listen to a piece my mentor picks out for me, or I’ll listen to something on my own, and there will usually be a chord progression or passage that I particularly enjoy. I’ll look at the score and then look at it more analytically and see why I like it (or dislike it), and not just know that I do (or don’t) like it. When it comes to the arts, and especially music, initial reactions are important to both the composer and the listener, so by making note of what I like just listening it to a piece for the first time or without real analytical thought is very important and is a fundamental part of appreciating music.

Black Hat – This hat is put on usually immediately after having a purely emotional reaction to a piece of music. As alluded to before in the Red Hat section, trying to understand why a piece of music makes you feel a certain way is incredibly important as a composer and is also important to the listener. This hat is one of the more worn ones in my mentor meetings, as well as when I work independently. For example, when we were editing one of the choral pieces I had written, my mentor had stated things that didn’t make sense in the score, such as “You shouldn’t write middle voices more than an octave apart” among other smart music theory rules.

Yellow Hat – This hat is like a combination of the Red and Black hats. By looking for value in the music, you are looking for things you like, why it works, and appreciating the emotional response it elicits in the listener. In my meetings, this hat is worn when my mentor gives me a piece of music to analyse. Why would he give me this to look at and to listen to? And how can I use this in it’s most effective way?

Green Hat – Since this is the hat that helps with creativity, it is employed when I am writing music, or trying to think of ways that music works beyond the notes. What I mean by this is that when analyzing a piece of music, looking at the chord progressions and voicings is one thing, but seeing how the parts in the music serve an ultimately higher purpose that is the entirety of the song is not something that can be understood looking strictly at the intervals between notes. This sort of analyzing requires a higher level of creativity and understanding which my mentor gets me to do when we look at a piece of music. For example, we were looking at a Bob Chilcott choral arrangement of the popular Aesop’s Fables, and my mentor asked me things like “Why do you think he was able to write such polyrhythmic music and text?” and the sort of things like that, that really got me to think just beyond one or two bars in music.

Blue Hat – This hat is used at the beginning and end of my meetings. We discuss what we want to accomplish today, and then we decide on what we want to work on moving forward. This helps keeping me on task and just trying to accomplish one goal at a time, and not take on several in one go before properly understanding things that I need to know.

“Music is, for me, like a beautiful mosaic which God has put together. He takes all the pieces in his hand, throws them into the world, and we have to recreate the picture from the pieces.” – W. A. Mozart

Completing Part One of Many

Only a few days left until the submission date for my competition for the Vancouver Chamber Choir. I have run through the changes and made alterations to where I needed them and have had consultations with a couple of people that are well versed in choral music. I’ll be working on getting a piano reduction and recording of it soon, but for now the score will have to suffice. To see the finalized score, look here.

As stated in my previous posts, I am using the poem “Said the West Wind” by Canadian poet Isabella Crawford. I had my mentor go over the piece and make some suggestions on what I could edit and I have taken his comments into account. As well, I have got my mom to look it over as well, since she studied voice and has been teaching music for over 15 years. As well with making some changes of my own, I feel much better about the piece and hope it will do well in the competition. Of course, I’m not going into this competition to lose, but I’m just glad to be able to participate in a competition for choral composition. At the beginning of this project I wouldn’t have been able to do something like this, and just to feel strong enough in my compositional abilities now means that I’ve learned quite a lot, and that’s pretty good if you ask me.

As well, I recently participated in a choral workshop hosted by the Canadian Chamber Choir and spent my morning at this workshop at the Vancouver Academy of Music. At the workshop, I got to learn some singing techniques, such as how to prepare a breath, how to attack a note and so on. One of the biggest things I got was comparing your air to a stream of water coming out of a garden hose. If you need to reach a not way far in the back of your garden then you’ll need more water pressure. Whereas if you need to reach a note that’s sitting in a little pot on your windowsill, you’d better not attack it with power washer-esque force. It was perhaps more helpful more me as a singer than it was for me as a composer, but it was still interesting and informative for me to keep in mind when I am composing. At this workshop, I also got the opportunity to meet a Canadian composer named Jeff Enns. He is the composer in residence for the Canadian Chamber Choir and it was almost surreal to see him, as i’ve sung a number of his music. I went up and said hello and told him that I really enjoyed his work and that I myself and doing a bit of choral composition, and we talked about being a composer for a couple of minutes until he had to leave. It was really quite great to meet him and to talk to him and I’m glad that I did. As well, a few hours later, the Coastal Sound Youth Choir, the choir I perform with, did a concert with the Canadian Chamber Choir, so I had the amazing opportunity to sing with professional singers from across the country.

Upon getting critique and suggestions from my mentor and my mom, I employed patience in listening what they had to say and listening with intent. DeBono states that one should “…listen carefully and attentively and you should get more value than if you impatiently waiting for a chance to do your own talking” (67). Sometimes this can be difficult for me, as when I have a question I want to think about that question only so not to forget it when I get a chance to ask it, or I want to add a comment in the discussion and I can think only of my comment. And of course my mind is a drifter and has the ability to end up thinking about why the word “pants” is plural and not pay attention to the importance of voice leadings. However, I’ve been finding out there is are so many interesting things to learn that paying attention with purpose is in my best interests. As well, I’ve been trying to use the technique of repeating back what I’ve learned so that nothing gets lost in information transferring. This process has saved me a couple times when asking about certain harmonic “rules”. “…repetition indicates that you have understood what was said. It also clarifies the situation in your own mind” (71).

This week has concluded my project within a project or writing a piece for the Vancouver Chamber Choir’s Young Composer Competition. But I am far from being done with in-depth. I have plans to participate in another choral competition and submit to calls for scores. As well, I plan to write a piece for a side project that combines music and math in an album. And finally to continue analyzing pieces and write music for the sake of writing music and for myself.

Though one aspect of my project is complete, my studies in choral music are far from complete.

Said the West Wind

In Depth Post 3, 02/17/17

I love old earth! Why should I lift my wings,

My misty wings, so high above her breast
That flowers would shake no perfumes from their hearts,
And waters breathe no whispers to the shores?
I love deep places builded high with woods,
Deep, dusk, fern-closed, and starred with nodding blooms,
Close watched by hills, green, garlanded and tall.
On hazy wings, all shot with mellow gold,
I float, I float thro’ shadows clear as glass;
With perfumed feet I wander o’er the seas,
And touch white sails with gentle finger-tips;
I blow the faithless butterfly against
The rose-red thorn, and thus avenge the rose;
I whisper low amid the solemn boughs,
And stir a leaf where not my loudest sigh
Could move the emerald branches from their calm,–
Leaves, leaves, I love ye much, for ye and I
Do make sweet music over all the earth!
I dream by glassy ponds, and, lingering, kiss
The gold crowns of their lilies one by one,
As mothers kiss their babes who be asleep
On the clear gilding of their infant heads,
Lest if they kissed the dimple on the chin,
The rose flecks on the cheek or dewy lips,
The calm of sleep might feel the touch of love,
And so be lost. I steal before the rain,
The longed-for guest of summer; as his fringe
Of mist drifts slowly from the mountain peaks,
The flowers dance to my fairy pipe and fling
Rich odours on my wings, and voices cry,
“The dear West Wind is damp, and rich with scent;
We shall have fruits and yellow sheaves for this.”
At night I play amidst the silver mists,
And chase them on soft feet until they climb
And dance their gilded plumes against the stars;
At dawn the last round primrose star I hide
By wafting o’er her some small fleck of cloud,
And ere it passes comes the broad, bold Sun
And blots her from the azure of the sky,
As later, toward his noon, he blots a drop
Of pollen-gilded dew from violet cup
Set bluely in the mosses of the wood.
“Said the West Wind” – Isabella Crawford, 1909
The deadline for the Vancouver Chamber Choir Young Composer’s Competition is looming and, yes, I have completed a song. Using the poem above, Said the West Wind, I have written an SATB piece that I am somewhat happy with. The score to it can be found right here.With the help of my mentor, he edited the piece and gave me his recommendations on things i could possibly change. I also learned about some basic “rules” of harmony (like not having middle register voices singing over an octave away, how tuning issues could arise from certain voice parts singing certain lines, etc.) as well as what a conductor or singer would be looking for in a piece of music.
Along with doing this, I have done some listening to a lot of choral music, including works by Bob Chilcott, Matthew Emery, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Ambroz Copi.

Matthew Emery is a Canadian composer who is only 10 years older than I. His writing is quite beautiful in the way that he has a usually distinct form to his pieces, and in the way it uses text with the music. His music has been performed by the Canadian Chamber Choir, and he studied composition here at UBC. Matthew Emery is also the winner of several compositional awards from Canada and abroad.

Above is Abmroz Copi’s Three Sacred Hymns written in double choir. I particularly enjoy his writing, and especially the second movement in this set. The chords he uses are almost jazz-sounding and the chord progressions lead into places one wouldn’t necessarily expect. The sound that is produced with this double choir setup is quite memorable and enjoyable. My mentor recommended I listen to some of these pieces and he lent me the sheet music to look at, study, and analyze to see what I like. In addition to this, I have been listening to an album by The King’s Singers titled Postcards, and this too has a bunch of great music. Below is one of my favourites, entitled Contigo Aprendi, which in Spanish means “with you, I learned”.

During the meetings I had with my mentor, we largely discussed the makeup of choral pieces and how they make sense or don’t make sense. My mentor has been really great in involving my in our discussions and getting me to critically think when we are working together. For example, we looked at Bob Chilcott’s Aesop’s Fables and particularly the first piece, “The Hare and the Tortoise”. The piece is written in a slightly unusual way and he asked me why I thought that this was the case. Through discussions like these, I was able to get to certain conclusions on my own, and we were able to discover some interesting things. As well, through these discussions, I’ve learned better ways to go about composing and understanding the structure and purpose in composing choral music.

With vocal and choral music, first and foremost, it’s the text. Not only do I need to serve the text, but the text – when I’m doing it right – acts as the perfect ‘blueprint’, and all the architecture is there. The poet has done the heavy lifting, so my job is to find the soul of the poem and then somehow translate that into music. – Eric Whitacre

When we were looking at the piece I had written, there were some terms my mentor were using that I wasn’t exactly sure about, such as messa di voce (which I now know is essentially a fancy word for simple phrasing). All in all, the conversations and lessons with my mentor have all been extremely interesting and invaluable to my progress as not only a composer but as a musician. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my in-depth thus far and am excited to continue.

Final notes, for the future, I plan on analyzing couple more pieces and doing a whole bunch more listening. Below is a piece that I really like and had the opportunity to perform last year. It’s called Prayer for a Child by Pärt Uusberg. The future is exciting, always.

Keeping Going in Choral Music

Since the beginning of this project, there are many things I have done and have been excited to do.

Not knowing particularly much about composition, I decided to just give it a whirl out of the blue. I sat down at my piano and just started creating some moving lines and sounds that I liked. I’ve been a part of various choirs for the better part of my life, so at least had an idea of what I was doing, yet the intricacies and subtleties of composition are still a bit beyond me. A link to the sound file can be found here (disclaimer, the recording is performed by highly trained robots, so the tone and sound is not nearly as good as if it were to be sung by humans). And a link to the score can be found here.

As you will notice from both the files, there are no words to the piece. The reason for this is because I wrote the piece without text in mind. My reasoning for this, is because I thought that for choral music, the words should compliment the music, not the other way around. However, I would soon come to realize that this might not be the way to go. Looking past the lack of words, I kind of like the song. Yes there are places in it where things could be changed, but in all, there are a lot of things that I like and I could change and will change if I so feel. It is slightly more homorhythmic (same-ness of rhythm in most parts) than I am used to writing, but it still was fun to do and sounds somewhat ok in some parts. For a first attempt; not bad.

Do not only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets – L. V. Beethoven

One of my main focuses for this project was to compose a piece for the VCC Young Composer’s competition, and I have begun work on this. Realizing the difficultly of doing music first as opposed to words, I have decided to pick the poetry that I will set music to first. I have narrowed it down to two poems: Said the West Wind by Canadian poet Isabella Crawford and Hecla, My Heart’s Home by my Grandpa.

At night I play amidst the silver mists,
And chase them on soft feet until they climb
And dance their gilded plumes against the stars;
At dawn the last round primrose star I hide
By wafting o’er her some small fleck of cloud,
And ere it passes comes the broad, bold Sun
And blots her from the azure of the sky,
As later, toward his noon, he blots a drop
Of pollen-gilded dew from violet cup
Set bluely in the mosses of the wood.
Lines 33 – 42 of Said the West Wind

Photo by Thomas Fricke. Church in Hecla, next to a cemetery.

The reason for these poems is that they both speak to me on different levels, as well both have some meaning that revolves around Canada. The Crawford poem about the nature and beauty of Canada, and my grandfather’s poem is about being a settler in Canada and living here.

 

To cap it off, I am in the process of writing another song that is more melodic, and I hope to be able to perform it before the end of this project.

As for my mentor meeting, I had an incredibly enjoyable and informative meeting with my mentor, Joel Tranquilla. He is the conductor of the Coastal Sound Youth Choir, which is how I knew of him. He is also the director of choral activities at Trinity Western University, associate conductor of the Canadian Chamber Choir, among many many other titles and roles in the Canadian choral world. At our meeting, we spent a lot of time looking at some scores, particularly looking at the music of Matthew Emery. We analyzed some of his music and let me borrow some to take back. Also studied were a bit of Bob Chilcott, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Ambrož Čopi. Looking at, listening to, and analyzing these scores have been really quite fun, but also incredibly helpful in writing more pieces.

I found myself intrigued and agreeing with what Joel had to say regarding choral music. It all made sense to me and it is clear how much experience and understanding he has on the topic. I went to the meeting to simply learn from him, as he is a true expert in the field of choral music, so what he said I often found made sense and seemed logical. I didn’t find myself to be in a position to disagree, as I was there to learn and I am in no position to have any other real opinion on choral music. As for differing, there was really no case for that, as he was showing me things that I now appreciate and enjoy, and I simply didn’t know existed before.

All in all, the time from my first blog post to now has been incredibly productive and I have really learned a lot. I am very excited to meet with Joel again and to continue my studies on my own. Things are really picking up and its becoming quite fun.

Choral Composition

Music composition is an absolutely vast field of study. There is an impossibly huge amount of knowledge on the subject and an astronomical amount of works written for another infinite number of ensembles. As someone who wants to learn about composing, knowing how huge the study of composition is can be quite daunting. So, I decided I will focus in on studying choral composition for In-depth 2016-17. 

Coastal Sound Youth Choir, Indiekör 2016

Another reason for me choosing to study choral composition, is that there are more opportunities and people I know in the choral world that can help me in the project. I am a member of the Coastal Sound Youth Choir and volunteer weekly with the Coastal Sound Boychoir, and my mom is a manager of the choir, along with having many connections of her own in the choral society which I can tap into. Studying choral composition makes most sense for me in terms of finding a mentor and since I am constantly surrounded with choral music. It is the most accessible to me, and it is something that I have been wanting to do for a while. As well, choral composition is an incredibly interesting and challenging topic and that it’s something that I’ve always thought I could do, but never have. It is something I think I will greatly enjoy learning about and will benefit me in the future for recreational purposes, and if I ever decide to go into music post-secondary.

As far as mentors go, I would like to meet with them at least once a month, no matter who they are. My mentor would help me learn more about musical theory, teach me on how to use certain chord changes or voicings, as well as critique my work as I go along. I plan for my mentor to be someone who is a part of the choral community in Vancouver who can offer me insights as to what works and doesn’t work in choral pieces.

<http://www.vancouverchamberchoir.com/images/CHOIR_LOGO.jpg>

To give my project a goal, I am working towards submitting my completed choral piece to the Vancouver Chamber Choir’s Young Composer’s Competition. The submission date for the competition is March 15, 2017, so I have a solid due date as to when I have to have my project completed by. It is a competition for young composers, both locally and abroad, and has a theme on “Canada” as it is the country’s 150th anniversary this year. A pdf of this year’s competition can be found here.

By the end of this project, I hope to have a better knowledge, understanding, and appreciation for choral composition and be able to apply this knowledge to other compositional endeavours I may pursue, whether it be for instruments or voice. By the end of this project, I also hope to have gained a better work ethic and developed my own method of concentrating and working that will not only help me compose for this project, but carry on into school and other work. Finally, by the end of this project, I would like to have a better appreciation for music. Seeing all the effort and time that it takes to create music will give me an appreciation for what composers do and how much they put into it.

“To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist.”
– Robert Schumann

In conclusion, I am very excited to be doing this project and I believe that with a good attitude and work ethic, my goals will be easily achieved in this project and it will be enjoyable to do. I am excited to see how this goes!

PS. if you are interested, <here> is a personal blog I will be using to post my experiences, feelings, joys, distresses on composition and music in general. This blog is casual and will be updated more frequently.