Composition - Spontaneous and studied

After a very long blog absence, a new city (still in Hungary) and new sources of inspiration, I have taken to creating a YouTube channel on which I wish to promote and share my compositions.  The link is here:  http://www.youtube.com/user/danthecomposer?feature=mhee - I currently have two compositions which I worked on during my time in Budapest.  Unfortunately, I did not have the correct cables/software to upload onto the computer from my digital piano, so I had to record using my phone and save the file on my computer.  Please forgive the quality and try to listen to the content!


For my blog, therefore, I wish to talk about what goes on in my mind when composing a piece, how I approach it, what I think about and what I try to aim for.  I hope you will find it enlightening.

Of course, I must begin with my Jazz passion and you might be surprised to read that, when composing, I try to stay as far away from Jazzy-sounding things as possible.  Why?  Because Jazz composition, in my opinion, is overdone.  Far too many people write Jazz songs or Jazz melodies and they all follow the same chord structures, the same kind of Jazz 'ornaments' and it is all a bit boring.  For me, maybe you will agree, all the best Jazz has been written and all we have now to do is to interpret those songs and modify them as we feel suitable and required.  I enjoy Wynton Marsalis's compositions, but I find them all a hugely wasted effort because nobody will ever remember them or want to play them; they're very 'heavy', a bit like Beethoven's music was.  Maybe they'll be remembered in 200 years as masterpieces - who knows!?

For me though, composing is not about sounding Jazzy or sounding anything for that matter, it's about recreating emotion using a large bag of 'tools' and a big head of knowledge.  I hear people who say that they compose from 'nowhere', that it just 'comes to them from nowhere'.  Well, I agree to a point, it does comes from nowhere, melodies just fall into my mind, but I take this free-falling as food to be presented well on the plate, not just dumped on it randomly.  For example:  I have a melody right now.  I don't know where it came from and I don't know why I am thinking about it, so what do I do with it?  Just play it over C major and F minor?  No.  I need to analyse the PURPOSE that I wish each note to serve.  Chopin is the best example of 'writing from the heart', because he really, really did.  His heart was even repatriated back to Poland when he died, his heart (!), because it belonged in Poland as far as he was concerned, and not Paris.  So when you play or write 'from the heart', just think how truly much this applies to Mr Chopin.  Truly incredible.

Thus, when I have these melodies, I first must be faithful to the purpose of my writing (just as I have written before about having purpose in improvisation/song selection - everything is purposeful in life and music for it to have value).  My melody has the note 'E' in it.  My purpose of this piece is to sound mellow and thoughtful; not sad, just mellow and thoughtful, as if by the window with candlelight looking over the River Danube in Budapest, for example - I want it to be gentle but not sad.  I want it to be positive but not joyous and happy - just mellow and thoughtful.  How can I handle this 'E'?  I could place him as the 6th (of G) but that sounds a little bit too 'smooth jazz' than smooth mellow/romantic.  I could make him a minor (of C#) but that's too serious.  The major 7th (of F)?  No, too sexy smooth.  Let's try an extension:  the key of D - E is the ninth.  Yes, that's it.  It's nice and distant and open; it's thoughtful.  Now I'd probably play this with a D minor chord of some kind, I mean, of course there are lots of options, but what I have done is found a physical solution, a physical, hands-on representation of my purpose for this E in my song.  Now I just need to keep doing this with all the other notes of various melodies which 'come from nowhere', and 'intelligently' put them in place.

Is this artificial?  Absolutely not - it's genius.  Artificial would be to find notes, see how they make me feel and create a song which 'forces' me, the composer, to adjust my feelings as I write: weak and artificial.  I am interpreting my feelings from my purpose and representing them intelligently and musically on my piano.

Rather than right a huge, endless (probably) list of techniques I could use in my composition, I'll simply say that techniques also bring about feeling (and the notes add even more emotion) so I can use a particular technique to represent a particular feeling.  One example, (I promise, only one), is that of the broken arpeggio:  it is a time filler, it isn't really used as a melody but a backing so it lays down a kind of steadiness, a kind of backbone for a particular passage.  Perhaps I'll arpeggio my D minor chord in a 3/4 time (Waltz), play it slow (1D 2F 3A 1D (octave D) 2A 3F and repeat... ... ... ...) and my E being played (as an octave too, perhaps, or as a broken octave as in D then octave D just after but almost at the same time).  Now, go and play that on the piano, I dare you and I urge you, and tell me you don't feel like a deep-thinking, pondering individual who is looking over the Danube at 2 in the morning with a candle for your light!  This piece of music could really go anywhere from here...

I shall conclude with the idea of and principle behind my YT.  I wish to compose music based on peoples' stories.  I want to create a portfolio of compositions, each with name which represents that person's story which served as the inspiration for my composition.

Do you have a compositional idea for me to write some music to?  Let me know and I'll see what happens.

I don't expect fame, but I love the idea that I am doing something different.


Until next time,

Happy playing!