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David Roche Blog 4:

Compositional Progression: Developing the Main Theme

Following on from discussions of the basic materials and processes I use when composing music, I thought it’d be fun to cover some of the issues that tend to occur a little later in the compositional journey. Hansel, Gedeon, and the Grimms’ Wood is a long production and, so far, I have been deeply occupied with finding musical ideas that are analogous to themes and technical aspects of the show itself. Doing so will unify my music and, I really hope, strengthen the production!


Over the course of the next three blogs I will discuss 3 pieces of music that I am developing in different ways. I’ll chat about what I wanted to achieve prior to their composition, what I did to get to the stage I’m at now, and where I think they’re going to go. Everything is still a work in progress… but progress is being made!


The first of these compositions is a piece of music that I’ve labelled as the ‘Hansel and Gedeon Main Theme’ (click for the audio and score). Starting out, my idea was to create a composition for the top of the show; something that would grab your attention, something Christmassy – it’s the Christmas show after all, and something that contained a musical theme central to the entire production (I talk a little more about this theme in earlier blogs but you can hear it here for reference). I’m still pretty certain that the theme I wrote is something that will make it to the final batch of music in some form. I recently created a draft to showcase the music to the entirety of Hijinx Odyssey and the group seemed to positively respond to the material – which is key – but I also feel that it really sticks out as something balanced and beautiful. The theme has the potential to be a big, epic idea dotted throughout the production.


In fact, its grandness has proven to be an issue. The music has to fit appropriately to whatever is happening on stage and there really isn’t a lot of space for huge, sweeping themes… so this really limits where I can use it! A bigger issue discussed as part of my mentorship with John Hardy was the clouding that can occur when both music and voices accompany the same musical ranges or share similar timbral characteristics. The extreme ranges of the main characters voices – one very high, one very low – means that this music really isn’t suitable as backing for their scenes. Bizarrely, this ‘relegation’ has pushed the theme in to a more important musical role as it has to be used in sections that don’t contain speaking. These are the most musically important sections! 


The bigger question for me at this juncture – where I find myself wanting to have a piece of music as the theme for a whole work but also finding myself unable to use it in most settings within the work for which it has been written – is how do I spread the essence of this theme throughout the production? Once I’d firmly decided that I was going to use this musical idea, I wrote it down as sheet music to see if I could pull it apart and make smaller, useful motifs from the resultant material. This seemed to work and I’m currently using this material to produce a series of canons for the entire show. Because each of the characters are associated with a motif derived from the main theme, it works as a banner for the whole show, encapsulating the diversity of the woods. Very tight, very poetic – lovely!


The canons mentioned above are a relatively new idea. I was sat in rehearsal trying to vaguely transcribe the way some of the actors spoke, I wanted to understand the timbres of their voices (see the dreadfully rough sketch here – give me a break, I was typing as they spoke!). Eventually we reached a scene with seven similar characters, I’d heard this amazing piece of music earlier in the day, and I suddenly thought that canonic writing could be a huge unifying feature for the production. The entire show is about influence, following, relationships, and development – canons really encapsulate this!


This takes me nicely in to thinking about where I am going next. Well, I’m quite happy with the opening music (we do need to decide where it should be used) so I am making sure I work these canons in to the show… or at least trying to see if I can make them work! It would be great if the initial idea at the top of the show acted as a source from which the rest of the music was built. So I’ll keep experimenting in this manner!


I hope that gives you an insight in to the midpoint of my composing process. I’ve got two more blogs in this little series before I wrap everything up with a discussion of the finalised music!


The music has to fit appropriately to whatever is happening on stage and there really isn’t a lot of space for huge, sweeping themes…

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