David Roche Blog 5:
Compositional Progression: Developing the Music for the Musicians of Bremmen
In my previous blog I chatted through the developmental processes surrounding a piece of music that I hoped to use at the top of the show… that might be there… but will still be used to structure the majority of the musical ideas in my compositions for Hansel, Gedeon, and the Grimms’ Wood even if it’s not at the top of the show… probably! In writing these blogs, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: the bulk of composing music is about messing around with ideas, testing them, allowing them to fail, picking up the best bits, and moving forward. You can set off to achieve something and totally miss the mark, just embrace it.
I tend to give myself as much time to write and come up with ideas as possible. Putting the whole piece together once I have the ideas actually isn’t too tricky (famous last words!). This is especially the case with this production as I have a scene list containing all of the different developments of music that I will need to make. I find structure a really tricky issue – so it’s nice that it’s taken out of my hands! One soon finds that there are repeated sections with minor changes and, if you have the main themes to hand, you can get the ideas developed and dressed to evoke the required sense of being for each individual scene.
One such scene that has not been so simple relates to the Musicians of Bremmen. These characters are based on the Rolling Stones, they’re all animals (literally – though they’re not far off figuratively either!), and they’re loud and brash! As detailed in my earlier blogs, I’m a rock guitarist and went straight to work on these sections – I fooled myself in to thinking they’d be easy. I wanted something a bit woodsy and folksy so I ended creating a nice, gentle chord progression (I will listening to a lot of Creedence Clearwater Revival at the time, it feels really obvious listening back to it!). Instead of being woodsy and folksy my material ended up sounding quite melancholic and determined. These characters are determined… but they’re also a bit haggard and light-hearted. There’s certainly not much melancholy in their behaviours – they’re too busy partying!
In an attempt to develop some of the oddities out of the music I thought I’d go cutesier and fluffier. I grabbed my ukulele, ditched the electric guitar, and jammed out a few tracks. I found, again, that the material seemed to be at odds with the woodland rock and roll vibes. This time my track evoked – to me – a sense of loneliness and youthful nostalgia… Maybe this is something to do with the fact it was a solo ukulele and that I run a ukulele orchestra. Either way, this new version still wasn’t suitable (you can listen to it here).
…and this is where I am at right now. I have 2 discarded pieces of music recorded using acoustic instruments – something I wanted to include in the piece that doesn’t seem to work – and not too many ideas to use as an alternative. I think getting stuck in the face of a big, scary deadline and great opportunity is one of the worst parts of being a composer. My advice, which I will be following myself, is to perk up and get to the piano (if you can!). Something will happen eventually but, in my experience, not without graft. So this blog ends a little more bleakly – oh my!
Just as a disclaimer, I’m not really worried. I’ve had experiences in the past where I’ve been stuck for weeks and then the idea just pops out on to the piano. The best (most frustrating?) example in my compositional output relates to a piece called Acoustical Anatomy. The whole thing was based on a sudden improvisation I happened to be recording on my phone while playing the piano. I made half of the whole thing up in a sitting, transcribed it, and orchestrated it. Just sit at the piano and give it some time… or whatever works for you!
In an attempt to develop some of the oddities out of the music I thought
I’d go cutesier and fluffier