Saturday, November 8, 2008

just da lessons text color is important!!

This is me.

Welcome friends and music lovers.
you see folks I turned my text white so you couldn't see it!!--now ya can!!!

Philip Fried
1419 Hewitt Ave.
St. Paul MN 55104
ASCAP Member

Business Description:

Musician, Teacher, Composer, Choir Director, Bass Player, Singer

On this page you will find self directed composition lessons in section 1, and some stuff about me in section 2.

Site Updates: New Lesson; Orchestration and some updates on rhythm

After 9 years this page is being shut down by AOL

Until is up and running

You can find my music composition lessons on my page at the -below is my blog page

More Rants at the classical Lounge!

Just Awarded a McKnight!

Three Solo Bass Performances at Dreamland Arts in Saint Paul

Sundays at 7, Sept. 21, Oct. 19, Nov. 23

Nikki Melville, Piano CD is out!

Also Commissioned by Zeitgeist for their 30th Anniversary concerts " The Itty Bitty Symphony" Janet thinks I should call it "Not a lota Sonata"

It will be recorded!


Phils Rants

More Rants at the classical Lounge! I've got to work on that Opera! It's Done!

A New Sound file The Multitude—Really an old song arranged for Soprano and Harp

For Anna and Aaron's Wedding

The Multitude

Text; Walt Whitman

Janet Fried. Soprano Sarah Grudem, Harp

Amelia's Lament

Text; Phil Fried

From my Opera; The Dungeon Of Esmeralda

Janet Fried. Soprano Mary Jo Payne, piano

Also, I'm now at Facebook

Some Foster Willey Pics!!! see his site!

Now at Roulette's Noisy Lounge!

Look for me! I mean listen for me—oh whatever!

Now Three mp3's of my solo performances at Acadia courtesy of my space:


Upcoming performances in Minneapolis and Saint Paul


and a Foster Pic!

What was new:

March 18 Salon Concert studio z-solo bass

Friday, September 14, 2:30 PM at Northwestern University

Indigo Lounge, I perform solo bass, “A stick in the eye,” at the ISIM convention Chicago

September 28, 2007, on the Carleton College campus. Nikki Melville, Piano will premiere my commissioned piano work:I remember the 60's, or was it the 70's? Is it pandering? You decide?

a Minnesota Orchestra Centennial Commission!

Also supported by Meet the Composer's Creative Connection Grant

Read the Review!


Extreme Phil!!! October 2006

Tuesday Night at Acadia June 5—Solo Bass!

New Lesson:

Film Music and Opera 2007

Check out some mp3's!

Phil and Chris Granias perform free jazz at Studio Z

My new improvisation CD's “A Stick in the eye,” live at Acadia, and “Left for Dead,” Live at Roulette, are now available! $15 dollars includes shipping and handling. Money orders only!

“Left for Dead” is also available as a DVD for 20 bucks!
Section One:
Composition Lessons:

Lesson 1 Introduction

Lesson 2 Style

Lesson 3 Review

Lesson 4 Composing for the voice

Lesson 5 Atonality Part 1

Lesson 6 Atonality Part 2: Atonality in popular music

Lesson 7 Questions of Form

Extended Vocal Techniques lesson 8

Phil’s Style-A-Matic 2000! lesson 9

12-Tone to Serial-Rhythm lesson 10

12-tone lesson 11

kid's stuff lesson 12

Phil’s Method of composing vocal music lesson 12a

Geometry and Math June 13/01 lesson 14

Melody and the anti-romantic revolt the 1920's lesson 15

Music Theater September /02 lesson 16

Self criticism or how do I make myself a better composer, A question of accompaniment lesson 17.

Art and Technology lesson 18

Musicus Simplisticus (Nov. 2005) lesson 19

Music Drama

The inner game of Orchestration

Section Two:
Stuff about me:

All About Phil

Upcoming Performances & Current Work


About My Music

New Composition List 2008

Children's Music

Phils Rants


A reminder all materials on this site is copyrighted.
Any re-publication of this material on a web site or in print or any other form,
must have my permission. Anyway...

...How about a composition lesson?

Lesson 1

What do you want to compose? Popular, Jazz Classical, New Age, Rap etc. Why are you studying composition? That is, do you want to know as much as possible about music or do you want to limit your knowlege to what is the most practical for yourself? I don't mean original and unoriginal--just your point of departure. Since this column will be a self-teaching guide you can chose to use or ignore anyparts of it. I will work from the notion that you want to know it all. We will try to understand all forms of music composition.

Once you have decided what style you want to compose ---study the models, that is, the music you like best and least. Try to emulate the work of another composer you respect.

For Classical:
Take the tack that Rossini took. Look at Mozart Piano Sonatas copy them out by hand, just copy out the melody and try composing your own accompaniment--or copy out the accompaniment and create your own top line. Compare with the original.

For Popular:
If you are a song writer--take a favorite song and try different accompaniments and chord voicings to go with the melody.

Help! What's a melody?
What's an accompaniment?
Answer --get a music dictionary and a harmony book that fits the style of music you want to compose. I like Arnold Schoenberg's books and Walter Piston's Harmony. However, I don't want to promote any specific materials.

I feel that you should learn to read music. Be aware that notation of popular music is not so easy to read because the rhythmic nature of the melody of popular songs is often very complex.

To compose you need some things: A musical idea, ( for example a melody an accompaniment),a way to notate your ideas--notation, a lead sheet, midi, or recording, and if composing a song, a text.

Study Chords and their voicings and functions--
for this I suggest the piano. For guitar, try different strums and parts of chords and how they work together.

Well that's the first lesson.

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Lesson 2

A note about style: it is important to familiarize your self with as many different styles of music as possible. There are no rules for what you should like or dislike in music -- discover it for yourself.

An overview of styles you might try :

"In," "Out," and "Ironic"
In or Out -- I am not referring to trends of popularity, or a political meaning, these are terms borrowed from Jazz terminology.
"In" music is that music which sounds familiar, diatonic, pentatonic, tonal, equal tempered, and most often lead by a steady beat. This category includes most pop music, as well as some classical, jazz, Motion Music (i.e. minimalism), and film music. What you mostly hear on any radio station. Familiarity can change music that is initially "out" music into "in."

"Out" music refers to music that has vestiges of "In" music, but breaks through these conventions in some way harmonically, rhythmically, or in form. (I will take this up in more detail later.) This also includes composition materials such as different scales, (Many MIDI keyboards have different scale options try them out!), electronic sounds, etc. contribute to stretching the conventions of "In" music. Some of the composers and performers that would fall in this category are: Arnold Schoenberg (atonal and 12-tone compositions), Edgard Varese (atonal and electronic music) John Coltraine or Sun Ra (Free Jazz improvisation). Free Jazz improvisation may not be connected to a steady beat or pulse, a key center or any particular scale. A study of John Coltrain’s complete recordings would be a great idea!

The third category is what I term "Ironic" music. This is music that uses an idea, or several ideas (usually a textual idea) to change the meaning of the musical composition. (Imagine the picture of a hat and the caption "This is not a hat." A text idea that can become even more important then the picture, or music itself.) Examples of this would be the deceptively simple music of Erik Satie, the Opera’s of Virgil Thomson, or the rock music of Frank Zappa, look at his satirical texts in a rock music context!

But Irony could also be any external idea being used to define aspects of a music composition. For example, in Elliott Carter’s string quartets, and in other works, instruments have pre-compositional defined roles, they are not just playing the music but also playing ironic character parts. Rather than work a string quartet as four equal instruments, or as four aspects of the same voice.

I must also include quotation music in the ironic category. Alban Berg’s Violin concerto’s concerto is an important starting point.

Hold it!!! Isn’t this just program music?

Well, it’s related. Program music refers particularly to instrumental music that has a scenario, a story. The story is illustrated by the music. In that sense program music is a mixed genre composition. Program music is an Opera, a Ballet, or a play without words. Examples: Fantastic Symphony, by Berlioz or The Unanswered Question, by Charles Ives. However ironic music requires no complete scenario and is not limited to instrumental music. Pierre Boulez, in his Structures I, uses mathematics as an ironic element to define all aspects of the composition.

Of course if we take this concept too far, any pre-composition idea could be seen as ironic. Not all external ideas are ironic some are just composition choices. For example, deciding what instruments you are composing for -- two pianos, is not ironic, deciding that they will be twelve different pianos of increasing size is. Ironic music is not automatically "In or Out." In my opinion, Ironic music can only be "out" if it is musically "out" not "in", with an excuse such as a standard tonal piece given a pseudo-intellectual title to throw it in the avant garde. (I think I will expand on this idea in the next lesson.)

In literature, and the fine arts we are very accepting of intellectualism. Rock music reviews in particular are known to overlay many intellectual ideas onto basically commercial dance music.
In music and music theater, on the other hand. we will only accept literary Intellectualism if the music is In, very "In". Not the other way around. We live in a time where musical intellectualism is not valued. That is not a judgment, just the times we live in.

To Do’s
1. Familiarize yourself with three new composers of varying styles. Find out about their styles and composition choices. Listen to their music.
2. Read: Marion Bauer’s Twentieth Century Music (out of print) for background.
3. Get a piano sonatina book (M. Clementi) (this was in previous lesson):
· take one piece identify the chords
· copy the piece out by hand
· copy out the melody line and write a new accompaniment
· write a new melody/top line to go with the orignal accompanyment. Compare your work with the original.
4 Define Program music, absolute music, concerto, atonal, quotation music, phase music
Good Luck!

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Lesson 3

Review and Addenda

Lets backtrack. The term Ironic music is only justified when one or more external ideas is equal to, or more important than, the musical idea. Not all of Boulez’s music is Ironic, neither is Carter’s, or Ives (re: quotation music -- Ives also uses quotations, lot of them, pre-dating Berg).

John Cage is a composer who is known for adding "ideas" to his music. In this case, aleatoric music, or "the music of chance". For example, Cage uses his interpretation of eastern philosophy (the "I Ching") to transform the composer/performer relationship.

Typically, a composer controls their musical materials by specifying how the music is played. In aleatoric music a composer can play with the very idea of this control, by controlling, or not controlling, aspects of their musical materials (leaving it to chance). This idea of control also applies to jazz improvisation, especially free jazz improvisation, where the performer is not tied down to a key or steady beat. Lately there has been some discussion as to whether the Minimalist school is related to John Cage's work. It is just as likely that the Minimalists are decedents of the German composer Carl Orff, who's Kinder Music's style and orchestration, show a very strong resemblance.

I think that even if you don’t want to use various ideas and techniques, you must search widely, and learn as much as possible.

Ironic Problems

One of the problems of irony is that it can end up celebrating the subjects it tries to skewer. Not only can irony pass for the real thing, it can become the real thing. Zappa's song“Valley Girl” was his biggest hit. Did the record buying public get the subtext behind the “fun” novelty record, or did Frank sell out? Oddly, this might be Zappa's greatest cultural contribution as well, if you don't argue he invented rap music with “Cosmic Debris”. Anyway, since many people can chose to ignore (or misunderstand) ironic elements it cannot be the only factor to define “in” or “out”.

In film Spike Lee's “Bamboozled” does a pretty good job of ”against all flags” irony, as does Gore Vidal”s “Myra Breckenridge”.

To Do’s:
1. Look up Boulez, Carter, Cage, Ives, and Aleatoric.
2. Examine several different compositions by the same composer, decide which ones are Ironic.
3. Examine Ives 100 Songs.
Pick a song and find the quotations.
4. Compose your own "phase" composition.
5. Investigate aleatoric notation and then compose your own aleatoric composition.

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Lesson 4: Setting the text

Basic text setting

Set in your native tongue first. You know this language and its nuance best.

Words have rhythm. Music has rhythm. The art of setting the text is to make the word rhythms align with music’s rhythm and meter. Doing this will give your vocal music a natural feeling, making the words easy for the singer to enunciate and for the audience to hear and understand.

Word rhythms are understood as having strong and weak accents/stresses. In English, a compound syllable word usually has one primary stress, for example hip-po-‘pot-a-mus. In some cases the pronunciation of a word shows no primary stress because of context within a sentence. It is best to check a dictionary and to read the text aloud to hear the patterns. Musical meter also has strong and weak beats. Elegant placement of word accents on musical meter is called good scansion.

Other forms of accent:
Another way to accenting words is not by beat placement, but by duration. Generally the longer a note is held, or lasts the more accent it has. There are two ways to accent by duration.
1. tied notes, that is a single note of long duration.
2. melisma -- passage work/coloratura, a lot of notes per syllable sustaining the vowel sound.

About the voice:
First things first -- who are you writing this song for and what are their strengths, weaknesses, range boundaries, etc.? Yourself?

Familiarize yourself with the basic singing voices ranges:
Bass – F (octave and ½ below middle c) to c (middle c)
Baritone – G (octave and ½ below middel c) to f(1) (fourth above middle c)
Tenor – d to c(2) (which is notated one octave higher)
Alto/Contralto – g (just below middle c to c(2) high c two octaves above middle
Mezzo-Soprano – a (just below middel c to c(2)
Soprano – c (middle c) to a(2) but depending on the kind of soprano maybe has high as c(4)

Be sure to study a wide range of vocal music Purcell, Dowland, and Handel (for English), Bellini, Puccini, Verdi, Rossini, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Wagner, Schoenberg, Berg, Wolf, etc.

Vocal orchestration—remember the ability of a singer to reach certain pitches and extreme registers does not mean that the singer can enunciate language in those registers. Open vowels are best at the extreme ends of the registers. Avoid two rookie composer mistakes ( that I also made in my student days), (1) writing a work with too large a vocal range, and even worse, (2) expecting singer to make words understandable at extreme ranges. As I mentioned above, take into consideration the particulars of the voice you are writing for, there are many different kinds of sopranos, for example, some dramatic, light, flexible, etc. My vocal mistakes, and everyone else's, are based on a very simple fact – that a composer can't generalize what singers can do by the study of a single unique voice. The “new music” specialist singer and the opera singer usually have very different techniques but both have much to offer. Do not confuse them and your vocal works will sing. Experience is the best teacher.

The solo singer like the first violin or any other soloist is expected to project themselves up front in the mix and over the orchestra. To insure that a vocal part won't be covered up, unless that is your intension, keep your accompaniments out of the way. So, don't cover the registers you want the singers to be heard in. Also don't power up the brass to close in register to the singers

There are 3 ways to compose with vocal texts:
· text first then music (my favorite)
· text and music together—mostly singer/songwriter method
· music first than text—mostly when you are working with collaborators (ex. musicals)

You can set anything you want – prose or poetry. If you choose a rhyming text remember that a rhyming text imposes a poetic structure.

I suggest that you start using texts that are in public domain (P.D.) These texts have no copyright restrictions. Or, write your own text (make sure you get it copyrighted).

Using Copyrighted materials requires permission from the publisher. Look in the book, find the publisher, call them to locate the permissions editor (usually they give permissions to reviewers), send them your proposal etc. DO NOT SET A TEXT UNTIL YOU HAVE THE PERMISSION IN HAND. You may be given permission to compose your vocal work, non exclusive rights, but they may also reserve their right to negotiate fees, when the work is published.

Translations: recent translations of P.D materials will also require a permission from the copyright holder, if you want to translate a P.D. text you should copyright it yourself. Contact the Library of Congress for the forms.

To Do’s
Compose a syllabic setting of any poem you chose for piano and voice

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Lesson 5: Atonality (Part 1)

The move to atonality took shape because of many factors: one being that late romantic complex counterpoint gradually had the effect of chorale harmony with some ornamental filigree around it (Wagner’s overture to Lohengrin for example). The overture has the effect of the same melody repeating over and over, the other parts supporting the melody. Contrapuntal parts project a single part with another part as melismatic elaboration.

The gradual move to atonality can be seen in the use of note doublings in Debussy . An octave doubling has generally been seen as ubiquitous (and no cause for alarm), just a reinforcement of a note or an expansion into a different octave. What if you doubled a note (it parallels the primary note and has the same exact same rhythm), not with octaves but with 3rds, 5ths, or both, not as independent voices but as projections of a single note. These doublings would of course exactly follow the principal note -- since they are not independent. It is possible that complex and thick textures could be developed from basically two-part counterpoint.

A further elaboration of this idea is the technique called polytonality. Polytonality features parts in different keys at the same time. For example, in a piano work the treble part is in G major with appropriate key signature and the bass part is in a different key, say, A major with an A major key signature. This assures that there will be contrast between the triadic doublings in the composition's different parts. Polytonality is a misnomer as these resulting chords are not dependent on opposing keys but on contrapuntal voices that are doubled. Further, keys don’t really oppose each other, rather, they blend into distinctive unified harmonic formations that are projections of the lowest note.

Schoenberg’s move to atonality is not much different from Debussy’s except that Schoenberg’s doublings have more chromatic elaborations around the basic doublings, and his elaborations do not move in exact rhythm with the melody or controlling voice. They "hover" around the main notes because they are slightly offset, and there are many more surface parts to double. See Schoenberg's "Erwartung."

The two methods mentioned above seem to me to be related. Both break down what we know as common tonality practices. The difference is simply a matter of degree of surface dissonance. (To generalize the French school less, and the German School more.) As this is a practical guide to composition I will leave the question of what is tonality aside, in favor of explaining different recent composers approaches to this problem.



Compose a piano work with an independent slow moving bass and a melody doubled by major triads (major 3rd plus perfect 5th) in root position.

Take the same composition adding chromatic and rhythmic elaborations to the upper triads, to offset them. Also add associated parts to the bass.

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Lesson 6: Atonality (Part 2) Atonalism in Popular Music:

Tonality is no longer what it once was. Today, songs can start in one key and end in another. The transposition of a section by consecutive upward moving semi-tones is a pervasive feature of popular music. These transpositions, as opposed to modulations, are a technique from serial music.


In jazz harmony as well as Rameau’s (Baroque) harmony, triads (3 note chords) no longer rule. These triads are expanded. Chords are stacked to become 7th, 9th, and 11th chords. Frequently these chords omit the 3rd and the 5th of the chord. Songs no longer end with a tonic triad, but may be a 9th or at least a Major 7th chord.

Leading Tone:

If you remember your solf├Ęge, a diatonic scale goes Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti -Do. "Ti" is the leading tone of the scale bringing us back to "Do" -- but popular music tends to omit the leading tone. A study of the music of Laura Nyro would be instructive. A typical cadence is V7 to I, but in Laura Nyro’s music a cadence is described in C major as an F/G in the bass (an F major triad with a G in the bass---G-F-A-C). This could be related to an 11th chord with an omitted 3rd and 5th, G-omitted b-d-F-A-C. Which ever way you look the leading tone is gone.

Ms. Nyro’s music suggests a pan-diatonicism, which is the term the Arnold Schoenberg used to describe his own non-tonal music. In addition you can freely add to a major scale chord’s formations, notes from its related pentatonic scales. In C major: Major C-D-E G-A Minor C D Eb F-G Bb and add the Blue note F# -- notice that the leading tone is also absent from these scales. The bass motion in these progressions remains the same as traditional harmony, but in popular music the bass can freely improvise over harmonic patterns which becomes strongly accented by use of the electric bass.

Examples: To a tonic triad --CEG -- and D, or and Eb, or add A.

Resolution of Dissonance:

In popular music dissonance no longer has to be resolved at all. This is because dissonance becomes part of the harmonic formation. For example in a C major a tonic triad (C-E-G) the note A (not a member of the triad) would resolve by step down to G, a triad member. Today the note would stay as part of the chord formation, no longer being resolved. On the other hand, the note F frequently does resolve to E in C major. This resolution is a main feature of popular music.

Dance Stuff-Electronics:

Since the dance beat is primary most anything you add on top of the primal beat will work. Different expressions of the beat pattern can be mixed together, collided against each other, or used as a way to introduce a new pattern. It is common for DJ’s to mix different songs (loops) in different keys at the same time -- as long as their BPM beats per minute match up. I have already mentioned that the segues between songs are dissonant. The only limitations here are the confines of the dance itself. For example, the dance version of "Mission Impossible" was in 4/4 time when the original was in 5/4 time (3+2). The dance requires groupings of even beats. I suggest trying loops of contrasting tension and contrasting styles, classical, country, western, funk, anything. Or, try related BPM’s 100, 50, 66.6, etc

A false sense of tonality:

Consonance in and of itself does not guarantee tonality. This is because tonality is more than just the “harmony” or the use of pleasant sounds. Tonality is made up of many reciprocating parts such as; rhythm, meter, motives, phrases, harmony, form, dynamics, etc. As in my “style-a-matic 2000” to alter any one of these aspects while still retaining many other tonal features still changes everything. Through these transformations we move into new musical realms -- that is experimentation and the atonal.

It doesn't really matter that many composers and their supporters believe that their favorite works are tonal when they “ain't.“ One wonders why the word atonal is so disparaged by composers these days. One hopes its not because tonality sells, and sells big!

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Lesson 7: Questions of Form:

Find a book on the subject of musical form and study it. You should know the following: phrases - antecedent and consequent, ABA, Dance forms, sonatina, sonata, concerto, song form, strophic, theme and variation, etc. Remember not just to study the book’s diagrams but also to study the masters.

Review and refinement :

There are several ways that we can use compositions as models.

1) I have already described copying out a composer's composition by hand. It is also possible to arrange a work from one medium to another. For example: arrange a piano sonata for string quartet, a string quartet for a symphony, etc. Study the differences between accompaniments in each of these compositional types.

2) I have asked you to add your own melodies and basses to previously composed materials.

a)Copy out a Clementi, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert bass part (the first 16 measures of a piano sonata for example) then compose a melody to fit. Compare with the original. Then continue.

b)Now try it the other way around, use the original melody and compose a new accompaniment.

I would call this technique of working with musical lines linear modeling.

3) To work with and understand form, I use a technique that I call integrated modeling, which means that you compose both parts, treble and bass, melody and accompaniment, at once. Copy out an antecedent phrase, bass and treble line (melody and accompaniment), compose your own consequent phrase to answer it. Continue and compare with the originals.

4) Some composers will choose a work as a model and then recompose the entire composition.

You can combine these techniques as needed to focus in on the aspects of composition you wish to perfect. For example you could use these techniques to focus on: thematic structure, harmonic structure, phrase structure, development, etc. I suggest working with one concept at a time so you won't get confused and frustrated. Don't push yourself to fast! When you completely understand a concept then move on to the next one!

Which composers do I use for models?

Of course you can use any composer for a model. But start easy, someone like Clementi and work your way up. Mozart, Haydn, Rossini, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Chopin. Baroque, Late Romantic, and Renaissance styles are more difficult.

If you your wondering why I have not mentioned Bach, or his simpler compositions as models, be forewarned -- Bach is hard. Bach also requires a study of strict counterpoint. You should certainly include counterpoint in your studies but don't start with Bach. (Saltzer/Schacter Counterpoint in Composition and Schoenberg’s book will do).

Oh! It might be efficient if your first hand copy of the composition and your subsequent recompositions were the same size and format. That way you could overlay your recompositions on to the originals for comparison.

Good Luck!

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12-Tone Music part one:

To understand this music we will start at the beginning. You may not realize that 12-tone music has been around for a very long time (1923?), and still continues today. 12-tone music is a way of organizing atonal music in a more consistent fashion. Many early atonal works dwell on the sensuous qualities of the non-harmonic formations themselves and utilize non-standard forms. Though Schoenberg composed atonal works in traditional forms, he was unsatisfied with the results feeling that atonal music was not suited for traditional forms. Schoenberg felt that atonal music needed a vocal text for formal deliniation. Perhaps he felt that atonal music was more Wagnarian (text based), 12-tone music more Brahmsian (absolute music). Books to study Schoenberg’s essays in Style and Idea, Part V, 12-tone composition, and George Perle’s Serial composition and atonality.

Questions about 12 tone music:

Is it math?

True Schoenberg had a thing about numbers, especially number 13, look at Erwartung, measure 313! However Schoenberg’s row charts are pitch charts not number charts.

Is it all rules?

There are many rules but you can chose which rules to follow.

Does it replace inspiration?

Negatory on that.

Hasn’t this music ruined it for the rest of us?

The continued popularity of any work depends on its quality. Since personal politics tends to die with the composer, of what are you afraid?

Is there only one method of 12-tone music?

No. There is a wide variety as seen in the work of Alban Berg, Anton Webern, and Luigi Dallapiccola among others.

Assignment : Look up these composers.

I don’t like it do I have too?

No, but a composer needs to understand even the music they don’t like.

Are there any limitations with 12-tone music?

It has been pointed out that you have the limitation of only 12 notes at a time, if you feel that is a limitation.

Many 12-tone composers have changed their styles recently, what does this mean?

This question would be better answered in 12-tone part too, but anyway…

Some composers create trends and others follow them, and trends tend to change. Remember what Roger Sessions said: "composers are doers of deeds." That is, judge composers compositions on their quality not their style. Consider that Schoenberg created masterworks in 4 styles: tonal, late romantic, atonal, 12-tone.


From Style and Idea page 233, example 13, create a short composition.

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Kid stuff Composition for kids:

Think of an image, for example; daylight, ice cream, water, rain, etc. and create a composition from it.

Materials needed: an instrument, voice, or instruments, and a means of notation (paper and pencil, video camera, sound recorder, etc.)

Work on your ideas first, then try to create a plan for your composition. For example; morning- sunshine-rain-sunshine. Contrast creates an interesting composition. Then perfect the composition. Practice your composition until you think it is finished—it has a form, and you can play it exactly (or close to) the same way every time.

This is different from improvisation, which is composing while you perform. Improvisation is an important skill, just as important as composition. One fun improvisation is to have several kids have musical "conversations" using instruments and sounds instead of talking. Improvisation is much more then a compositional scratch pad (but it can be that too).

A Philosophical point:

Anyone can be creative in any number of contexts. A composer takes ownership of their talent through their work. More work more ownership and the great feelings that go with it. Less work less ownership.

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If you want to teach composition to children using this website, I pose the following questions:

Why do you want to teach composition?
Have you studied composition and want to share your knowledge?
Have you been told by the "State" that music composition is a requirement?
What is your experience as a composer? What is your knowledge of the public or private world of composition?
Are you prepared, or qualified, to give an authentic child centered music composition experience to your students?
How much ownership will you allow your students as individuals to have? Any? None?
If you are using technology assisted composition are you willing to let the computer program define the compositional results for your students?
How much artistic freedom are you willing to give your students, and how much technical guidance are you able to give?
Can you improve the content of your students work?
How much time do you have for your project?

What is the top of your compositional food chain? Symphony, Opera, Jazz, Ethnic music, or the popular song in its many incarnations. Be honest because the difference is critical.
In the real world, with some exceptions, composing classical music is an individual activity, creating a popular song music a collaborative activity.
Jazz requires not only composition but can require improvisation and group performance as well —can you do this?
The creation of a popular song from its lead sheet, to its final musical arrangement may have dozens of people adding and changing the final product and the composer may not even have the final say.
On the other hand professional singer/songwriters and popular musicians in general tend to have very little formal training.
If you are a songwriter, do you feel qualified to teach classical music?
For example: do you like experimental or dissonant music?
Would you find dissonant or experimental music unacceptable as a student's project?. Why?
As a teacher please remember that many popular songs are commercial products some of which exist not for a child's well being but to exploit them for profit.
From 12-Tone to Serial-Rhythm

The difference between 12-tone and serial music is that in 12-tone music only the pitch is given a row. In serial music all musical elements (rhythm, register, dynamics, etc.) can be, or will be govern by a row. That is, non-tonal approaches can be adapted to all aspects of a musical composition not just the pitch.

Rhythm and meter:

What is tonal rhythm?

Tonal meter implies downbeats and upbeats, strong and weak beats that are discernible, as well as metric regularity. Tonal rhythm dwells in this metric landscape. Tonal rhythm can be stretched, but not broken. Even if a down beat is only implied its still creates tonal rhythm. Composers can get around this by creating formal designs that never seem to arrive. For example, the down beat, or main point of arrival, can never reached (Sibelius, Debussy) or reached only once at an unexpected point.

Breaking down tonal rhythm:

Motor rhythm addresses this problem by creating constant accent—no weak beats. Parts of Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring is all down beats. Everything an unnotated 1/8 measure. The move from constantly changing meter groups of changing 2’s and 3’s stretch tonal rhythm but rely on tonal rhythm for their effect. Or, if a work has no point of arrival it can have no strong beats.

Messiaen with his use of bird song and Indian ragas creates consecutive uneven subdivision which also obscures meter. Rather then motor rhythms Messiaen would create uneven durations. For example, changing groups of even quarters to uneven 16ths and back—this will also disrupt tonal rhythm as the changing accents would then fall in between the metric beats.

What next?

The move into rhythmic serialization comes from the above two directions; from motor rhythms (i.e. meter-or letting the rhythm define the meter), a prominent feature of modern music of the Neoclassical school. This is the constant reiterated groupings of steady pulse or a single note type eighth quarter etc. Examples would be found in the music of Babbitt in his "time point system", and Carter in his "tempo modulations", or from the direct manipulation of durations (i.e rhythm-rhythm disrupts or disintegrates the meter), as in the music of Messiaen and Boulez.

The constant reiteration of a single note (duration) also implies a tempo, Ives composed orchestral works where 2 or more different tempos(related or not) exist at once.

Carter, who worked for Ives, tends to assign a particular note type(duration) to each individual part. A composition can then have any number of different parts with different note types or tempos for each part. This creates an cumulative effect obscuring pulsation.

Babbitt, in his time point system uses 12 as a way to subdivide measures into equal units of time points(attacks-he does not define the durations). These equal units are related to motor rhythms as they are uniform just like motor rhythms are-but their effect is completely different. Time points push rhythm past the concept of tonal rhythm. Since Babbitt’s music unfolds at a constant- rate, the change in measures has a drastic effect on the surface density of his music. a 6/4 measure would feature eighth notes (Calm) a 2/4 measure 16 note triplets (intense) . (These audible changes in surface density was the subject of a paper of mine on Babbitt's String Quartet No. 3).

If serial music is a refinement of 12-tone technique, where does rhythmic serial technique fit in?

Total serialization, of which rhythmic serialization is a part, was not necessarily a natural outgrowth of 12-tone music, but rather part of a accelerated nationalistic musical "arms race" after WW2. It was a matter of getting there first-and for art, first is not always best—Remember that Hauer came up the combinatorial row before Schoenberg. The most successful compositional techniques are those that mature over time.

Early attempts at rhythmic serialization are numerical groupings of motor rhythms, or durations--this causes strange musical effects in some works. Otherwise sophisticated works are saddled with a simplistic rhythmic element that seems foreign to the rest of the composition. This is not the case with the music of modernist pioneer Ruth Crawford-Seeger.

Other methods of rhythmic precomposition include; creating rhythmic relations; durations, meter, tempos, derived from the 12-tone interval set, or from a special interval series or chord (see Hemholtz), or from any rhythmic/metric design of the composers imagination.

Bartok, was fond of using the Fibonacci series to define rhythm and meter --see George Perle's book.

What is an irrational measure?

Ok, folks lets stop making sense! In music there is usually more than one way to notate anything but if we focus on uneven durations it seems only likely that uneven measures will surely follow. "2 and 3/5 quarter" "3 and 3/32 eighths" etc. These measures by their very nature obscure tonal rhythm. Tonal points of arrival are constantly reset.

An irrational measure is a way to facilitate many of the techniques mentioned above. They can be a compositional element, they can also be used to notate precise tempo changes, or to graft different rhythmic elements together. For example a "7 triplet" or a "2 and 1/3" quarter measure might work better than a 4/4 plus 3/4 or a 7/8 measure with a different tempo than the proceeding music in a given situation. They can also be used as an ossia, an alternative notation to make some notational problem easier and more clear. True, they can also be more fussy and time consuming. I would suggest that irrational measures work best in smaller groups compositions,

Henry Weinberg in his Cantus Commemberabils 1, sets a single tempo then uses his row intervals to create durations and irrational measures into a varied and intricate surface.

What is a nested measure?

Unlike the irrational measure which is a a rhythmic (durational) innovation, the nested measure is a metric innovation. A nested measure is where say a 4/4 measure is divided and subdivided into triplets within triplets within triplets within triplets etc. In a sense it is placing measures within measures. This technique can, like the irrational measure, create very precise and rapid changes of tempo with in a measure. Nesting is also a way to precisely notate several different and contrasting tempos going on simultaneously with losing control of their relationships. Though Nesting does not necessarily obscure tonal rhythm as tonal meter is still the reference though that reference could be just that. Nesting is a feature of Ralph Shapey's music.

Many serial and 12-tone works already have analyses available for study, why not consult these instead of copying these out by hand?

The irony of recent theoretical approaches is that they are not about theory at all but about certainty. The accurate retelling of a works precompositional material is a fine thing but it is not an analysis of a work any more than a blueprint is an analysis of a building. A blueprint does not describe the experience of a structure in time and space only its dimensions. Many works which use rows and or serial techniques have very similar blueprints, but their compositional effect is completely different. The question to ask is not how closely the composer follows their "system," but what are the results and the musical effect?


Find the spot in the "Rite Of Spring" where everything is accented as a down beat.

Find the Symphony of Sibelius where there seems to be no down beat.

Read Messiaen’s "Technique De Mon Language Musical"

Create your own rhythmic "set", then use it.

Think about how you would serialize "dynamics", and what would be the effect.

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Phil’s Style-A-Matic 2000!

There are a plurality of musical styles. Many of these styles are created by blending elements of different historical, foreign, and popular styles together. In analyzing all these properties of different styles, we see that we have unlimited resources for creating compositions.

Let’s take a look at a few Western historical styles and consider just four important stylistic elements: MELODY, HARMONY, FORM, and RHYTHM. (Of course there are many more elements to experiment with: orchestration, scales and tunings, improvisation, theatrical effects to name a few.)

Medieval, Renaissance, Classical, Romantic, Late Romantic, Atonal, Modern Tonal, Rock n’ Roll.

Let’s slice and dice:

Medieval Melody + Classical Harmony + Atonal Form + Rock n’ Roll Rhythm.

What would that sound like?

Rock n’ Roll Melody + Romantic Harmony + Medieval Form + Modern Tonal Rhythm.

What would that sound like?

OK! Let’s now add Eastern sounds into the mix (Asian systems’ sounds)

Classical melody + Chinese (opera) Harmony + Indian (subcontinent) Form + Atonal Rhythm.

What would this sound like??

Well there you are!!!!!

You can substitute any preferred popular or esoteric styles you wish for the ones above and you don’t have to use these 4 different elements either, just one or two, and on and on. The possibilities for exploration are endless. For those electronically inclined, gather or create the midi files you want and cut and paste as desired.

Try it out NOW! I only ask that you credit my method in your score/recording. Please feel free to send me your results!

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Extended vocal techniques in avant-garde
20-21st century classical music

Look at the vocal music of: Schoenberg, Berio, Crumb, Nono, Ligeti, Cage, Monk, and many others. Singers: Lucy Shelton, Cathy Berbarian many others.

You might divide these techniques into the following categories:

Theatrical-- adding motions, non vocal sounds, creating different characters, rituals, speaking, sprechstimme.

Visual techniques where sounds are not heard, only mouthed or seen, or signed--or supertitled--I use this in my song "Rain Chant" the final line "Far as man can see comes the rain, comes the rain with me" is only mouthed.

Sound effects ---body percussion-mouth sounds-screams- slurs, extreme registers etc.

Transfer--singers play the violin--cello players singing etc.

Electronics—vocoders, tapes, samples etc.

Crossover techniques –Multicultural: Tibetan Monks etc.

Mix-me-ups: Pop singers singing opera, Opera singers singing pop.

Motion Music -(minimalism) find a place to breathe!

Micro-tonal --John Eaton's 32 notes octave operas.

And of course, wide leaps between notes.. Perhaps I left some out?

Assignment: Create a song, or take a song already created, and develop 2 different scenarios for the song using ideas from the list above, invent some extended techniques to go with it. Don’t be afraid to completely deconstruct the musical materials.

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Phil’s Method of composing vocal music.

The addition of text to music of course changes everything.

I already mentioned how a purely instrumental composition can have textural elements added, as in Berlioz’s Fantastic Symphony or any "tone poem".. In that case a textural plot, or subtext is added to an instrumental composition in addition to its instrumental form, in this case a symphony. Even without a sung text, this text technique adds a second dimension to the music. Creating a song to a poem or any text adds a third dimension to composition because a text not only implies its own particular meaning but also implies a form as well. That is, songs can also be "tone poems". So using a sung text to compose a song as a single entity implies three musical dimensions.

There are two kinds of song cycles. In one type of cycle, or collection, a composer sets the work of a particular poet or poets, as individual songs and so does not intend a particular order to the performance. The songs can be sung in any combination or combined with other songs. This is a common performance practice. In the integrated song cycle the order of the songs must be maintained and unbroken, or the meaning is altered. The integrated song cycle, where a group or related songs created to be performed as a totality, in a particular order(or disorder), could then enter the fourth dimension of music. This is closely related to opera, yet staging an opera creates even more dimensions.

Consider the layers of meaning that can be addresses in an integrated song cycle. It is possible to be true to every text and every song setting, yet create a totality that has a completely different meaning from the original texts. I can build an indirect story form the poems themselves. For example, in my song cycle on a selection of H.D.’s poems Sea Garden—Sea Flowers . I create the story of Eddie Flowers continued survival from HIV. I also construct the order of the poems from morning to night. There is also a quotation of a cat walking on the piano as my cat Thisby liked to do. How is this different then the "ironic" concept? Well that too adds layers of meaning. For example a song about loving Mom and Dad—sung by Lizzie Borden! Irony works on your expectations----no expectations no irony Anyway ….

Practice: Find a series of poems to set to music about water then place the songs in an order by the size of the body of water; puddle, pond, lake, ocean etc. That is from small to large. Reverse the process.

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Geometry and Math

Geometric shapes have been in music since it was first notated, and perhaps even before, in the guise of tone painting. For example; waves, the sign of the cross, high/low, etc. are all pictures that can be drawn in music. Interest in mathematical approaches to music has been around for some time. The Schillinger Method of Music Composition of the early/middle 20th century takes this point of view in a traditional tonal melody and harmony context. After WWII, with its focus on pre-compositional, and/or non-tonal material, it became possible for more literal projection of geometry in music. For example, to hold a single note, or cluster, for 3 hours would project a straight line. European interest in compositional possibilities of timbre and density over melody and harmony create a perfect platform to use geometry, or shapes to create formal design. Consider your compositional space by registers (top high, bottom low) as a large blank rectangular page, pick a shape within; say a side view of a volkswagon bug. Consider that timbre and density can be thematic objects. Timbre; by making all other musical aspects indistinct except for timbre. For example, an orchestra's violin section can be divided into single parts, each playing its lowest 4 notes in a slightly different heterophonic rhythmic formation so only the timbre stands out. Density; by increasing the register coverage or altering the speed of the above formations (faster more dense), or by thinning , fewer notes say 3 or 2, or by thickening that is adding more notes, or by switching from chromatic to diatonic formations. Articulation and bowings can also create contrasting timbre.

Practice: Now using timbre densities and register draw a triangle three different ways; create the walls (connect the dotes) fill in the triangle itself, then combine the two. Try music painting a car your "bug" —it probable will be most dense in the center then gradually fade away (though the wheels will project into the lower registers).

Melody and the anti-romantic revolt the 1920's

We think of melody as –the leading part of a composition-, as the single top line of an instrumental composition, or the vocal line of a vocal work, supported by the accompaniment and the bass. The lack of melody -- the anti-romantic revolt is an important aspect of modernism of the 1920's. In Stravinsky’s early atonal style we find the use of discrete motive formations that retain their identities (imagine different birds singing at once, their individual songs retain their identity) even as the whole creates its own sound picture. Stravinsky's melodies do not lead as much as they seem to accumulate and then explode. This tendency continued in the work of Varese and Shapey. True, melody can be construed as a tonal technique, yet non tonal works can have melody as well.

A Radical approach -- ditch the Melody.

Some of Stravinsky’s techniques can be found in the early work of George Antheil. His first violin sonata is an entry into modernism by a work which omits melody (as well as tonal harmony). Don’t I mean omits traditional or tonal melody? No I don’t. Melody the leading part of a composition is omitted, and why not? Does a composition need melody to be successful? Generally, melodies are made up from small motives. These motives can remain as a unifier if the melody is removed. Why then, are these new angular formations not a new kind of melody? I would argue that the lack of contrast between the countrapuntal parts interferes with the idea that it becomes a new kind of melody. The parts here are interchangeable. Perhaps they are not contrapuntal parts at all, but what we now call layers. The nature of melody is that it is not restricted to any register but it is always contrasted against the other parts. A simple rule is if it sounds like a melody it probably is. Shenker argues for a two-part main texture, a bass and a melody with the difference between them being that the bass leaps and the melody moves stepwise.

Instead of melody in Antheil's “Sonata No. 1 for Violin” we find motor rhythm/ostinati, which are an expansion of the accompaniment figures. The ostinato (ground bass) is a contrapuntal variation technique however, it is not used in this manner by Antheil but is rather a discrete element that that keeps their identities and are combined and repeated “a la Stravinsky.” Of course motives can still operate as a unifying feature. By placing ostinoti with motor rhythms into all parts the melodic formations are denied.

Our notion of melody is from the Romantic era it is no wonder composers looked to older contrapuntal music to find a new way.

Without melody for delineation, parts can be defined by timbal differences, that is by the use of different instruments. A violin will sound different from a piano even if the materials are the same. This works well for instrumental music but always not always for the voice especially where textual understanding is important. Mr. Antheil's opera “Transatlantic” shows these weaknesses. The use of motor rhythms in the vocal parts limits the possibility of expression, and the poor scansion (mostly syllabic) not only makes the words impossible to understand but also sounds silly. (It makes one wonder why an opera company would commission a work from a composer with no vocal experience). Other composers such as Bach and Handel who use similar melodic formations for both vocal and instrument music do not have this problem. They carefully craft text settings incorporating melismas and the use of recitative for action.

Antheil's text setting in "Translantic" make the story incomprehensible. Is this what he intended?

Lessons: find five recent composers who don't use melody.

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Of Opera and Musicals and New Music theater

The general definitions are these; opera is a sung story, and musicals are a plays (book) with songs. (Test yourself operas have musical interludes that can stand on their own, musicals have underscoring that heightens the spoken drama).

We might ask this; why does the most popular living “opera” composer, Philip Glass, compose neither of the above yet is acclaimed for writing opera? Mr. Glass's works, as well as Robert Wilson's, seem to be tableau with music rather than opera. In their works visually stunning imagery is featured rather than character interaction or understandable sung text. These stage pieces are similar to his work as a movie composer where Mr. Glass showed his ability to enhance visual images. “Let's go to the tableau” would seem an excellent marketing phrase. Why not call their works tableau? Why does Yanni claim his concerts represent the “new classical music”. It must be remembered that Mr. Glass himself calls his theater works operas and went to the trouble of renting the Metropolitan Opera in New York for his first production! Well, is there any advantage to calling something an “opera”? Lets see.

Opera, the magic word

Sgt. Peppers Beatles and George Martin was considered the first rock concept album. Though the concept was unclear and unstated, it featured the some of the best rock music at the time. Others imitated -- Spirit's 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus and many others including the Who. The Who's Tommy preceded by their own “a quick one while he's away” was billed as the first rock “opera” (though I believe there was a rock n' roll Carmen that preceded it). Tommy featured the Who at the top of their game and some great songs and was very successful. Its true that Tommy had something of a story line but it was constrained by the conventions of rock music. (Rock music conventional? Did I say that?) If the operatic nature of Tommy was not particularly clear from the music or song lyrics the LINER NOTES EXPLAINED IT ALL!! This is the benchmark of what is opera. In the world of visual art, in museums today you will find recent works of art that seem to be afterthoughts to their written explanations by their curators. These explanations, liner notes, give the work of art its meaning and are far more important than the art itself. Any work of art is merely an example of something far more important -- the editorial. The stranger and more unintelligible the work is the more straight forward the editorial will be. For this reason the motion music composers are much closer in language to rock music than classical music.

The point??

Ok. The question is this; did the Who gain any cultural significance by calling Tommy an opera rather than a musical (which it eventually became) or a concept album? You bet they did!!! The term “opera” gave the Who a degree of serious credibility among music critics that art rock bands with classical training like ELP never had. Opera is a magic word -- tableau and concept album are not. Opera has history, institutions, fans, money, and an artistic cachet that tableau, concept album, or even music theater lack. back to top

Who composes opera??

One problem with music theater today is that career paths for composers have been institutionalized. A Ph.D. in composition from Yale does not compose musicals, they compose opera. (Apologies to former theorist Maury Yeston, and I suppose that Ph.D.'s in literature don't write trashy novels either?) So composers who are on the academic track and might have a talent for musicals don't try or wouldn't consider it. This is strange thinking because I for one can't think of any significant American operas composed recently, but I can think of many important and interesting musicals. Of course there is a great deal of difference compositionally between opera and “Broadway”. Its also true that the French, Les Six combined popular and serious styles before many of us were born. Sphor the serious composer is forgotten while Sir Arthur Sullivan's light comedies live on ( Sullivan's serious music is also gone).

OK opera composers are supported by different institutions (university, non profit) than theater composers (Broadway —profit) and at least for appearances opera composers are more high class than theater composers. Really??? Well for one thing its not true – for example has any recent American opera come close to Sondheim?

So what is up? It is this: you must be true to your style. As Menotti is. Ambition does not imply ability, and the knack of getting performances does not necessarily create artistic achievement. On the other hand, so called lighter music needs no apology.

We continue to live in a time with a plurality of musical styles, and in music nothing, in theory, is impossible. That said, unless the theater composers find the right medium of expression their works are destined to fail. Schoenberg and Berg have both entered the operatic repertory so even if you despise their music they can't be ignored. That is, their innovations of character and music can't be displaced. Younger composers ignore this to their peril. Yet many composers are commissioned to write operas precisely because they don't know or understand Schoenberg or Berg.

This answers another question: Why do so many recent operas sound like musicals, (bad musicals at that)? None of these kinds of works would exist if it were not for gate keepers and music directors who keep commissioning them. All of these half baked musicals marketed as operas would never survive a day on Broadway and they only exist because the public does not directly pay for their commission,creation, and inception. At best, these administrators and composers believe that their job is too bring in the audiences, not to challenge them -- “make 'em happy.” Familiar is what they desire, even at BAM where the same pieces and composers are played year after year. At worst, they create and dispense power, reward friends, and create alliances so mediocrity is ensured. Great opera would be beyond their control.

New Music theater

Many folks these days also draw a distinction between Opera, Musical Theater and New Music Theater. Generally, Opera is tradition based ( meaning based on other Operas) and is performed in Opera Houses. Music theater is performed on Broadway and off, and off-off Broadway. For New Music Theater it ain't necessarily so. Anything can go and be performed anywhere. Composers and creators of NMT can come from any style or tradition not just musical. See my musicus simplisticus lesson. It can also be a reaction to the difficulty of getting an “opera” performed. Look up the Once Group and the early days of the Minnesota Opera. Many people who compose New Music Theater call them operas. This is either because they are not familiar with the terminology or for marketing purposes.

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Harmony and Content

Or why recent tonal operas fail

Opera is not for the facile anymore. If your harmonic language is based on popular music and your presentation is melody and (ostinoto) accompaniment, your attempts at opera will fail. The work will sound like a musical with an excuse. Dramatic content requires more then a lot of “melody” with a little dissonance to spice up the tense parts. These half baked musicals would never survive a day on Broadway. You say, “What about Richard Strauss?” Though most composers write one work at a time it is a fallacy to say only the last compositions count. Strauss had knowledge of Schoenberg and Berg and he made his own choices. Without Electra there is no Four Last Songs and not without Mahler either). You can argue the importance of Bernstein's “serious” works but which of his music is most loved? Or performed? The exception to this is George Gershwin. A pop musician who composed “serious” music as well. His opera, Porgy and Bess, had the kind of failure (124 performances) for which every composer I know would die. It was called a failure at the time, by Virgil Thomson and others, but it still gets quite a lot of performances (more then Mr. Thomson). Gershwin was on to something but the work is at its heart a musical as the songs overwhelm everything else. Then again why can't a musical can be just as important as an opera anyway ? So, if your musical language is based on Rodgers and Hammerstein, musicals are your best bet.

10 rules for being a successful opera composers

1)get the commission

2) get the commission

3)get the commission

4)get the commission

5)get the commission

6)get the commission

7)get the commission

8,get the commission

9) get the commission

10) get another commission

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It seems on the above paragraphs that I'm getting to some point or other. Perhaps it is this. It is very likely that operas judged artistic failures will still be seen as successes. How can this be? Today it is so difficult to get a work produced and presented to the public by a major or minor company that the performance in itself is a success. That is undeniably true. Further, once you are part of the system, your name will come up again, failure or not. So it's easier to get your second work done then your first even if the first one fails. Of course who judges the work a failure is important too.

Also, something else comes to mind. In many of the operas out today the music comes last. It is the least important part of the show. The job of the music is not to get in the way of the text, author, or concept. Or to recycle the familiar, the popular, or the trite.

On Opera Librettos:

Literature is too big a subject for this page so I offer the following information. The opera libretto is a form of literature that has fallen from its once (revered) position in the art world. At one time Wagner publish his librettos separately form his music and they had public readings to great acclaim (though they are not so prized today) . Many poets of past also wrote opera librettos. The stage play and the opera libretto were very similar entities but most are forgotten. It is only through the music that most operas are remembered, with the exception of Faust. Opera was created, or reinvented by a group of Italian music lovers, the Florentine Cameratta, who knew that Ancient Greek drama was sung, not spoken. They developed a new style of singing (sing-speech) called parlando, what later became recitative. The parlando would allow singers to become characters who would act while they sang.

• On the practical side a libretto has 2 parts the scenario and the text.

• A libretto can be original though they are mostly adaptations of other works or based on fairy tales, folklore, etc.

• The scenario is about the scenes, characters and what will happen in each scene.

• The text is what the characters and the chorus will actually sing.

• "Senarization" is common to all literature including plays, screenplays and musicals. There are film directors who only work with scenarios as they have their actors improvise the actual text. (i.e. Topsey Turvy). This could work in opera as well it worked on Broadway with a Chorus Line.

• The traditional operatic text rhymes just as the poetry of that time did and as our popular music still does.

The conventional approach to opera is to adapt a well known story, keep some of the plot, add or condense as needed. The scenario can stay close to the original but the singing text is usually altered.- as it must rhyme -tends to change a lot. Wagner changed the end of Lohengrin. He has Elisabeth die for dramatic effect and to create closure. Stories are often adapted for opera. Many of these stories and plays are mere trifles so we hardly care if they are changed. Usually the change and the addition of music is for the better. We consider a libretto good when it keeps the spark of the original story alive. Consider the many operatic versions of Faust and Shakespeare. There was a time, and a style, of opera when their wasn't much interest in the story at all, just in the Olympic nature of the power and coloratura of the singers. In this case the Opera just had to have Arias express a single strong emotion and have plenty of open vowels. Modernist writers: Joyce, Pound, Hemingway, Steinbeck, to name a few, create new challenges for opera creation. Their text is so important and individual that to adapt it in a convention way does violence to the writers art. The Grapes of Wrath made a fine film yet all of the prose was cut out, the essence that made it unique as a work of art.

How to Change Minds

Many think that if you want to change minds in a positive way you need familiar music with a strong accompanying message. To me thats just preaching to the choir. If you want to change peoples minds change their ears too. Prejudice must also be confronted sonicly.

Self criticism or how do I make myself a better composer ?

A question of accompaniment

One of the problems we face as composers is that sometimes our technical ability as performers too strongly informs our composition. In the realm of song writing todays accompaniments tend to be very uniform in nature that is very similar. This is because song writers, even successful ones, are not encouraged to create anything more then a melody and a simple chord accompaniment. One reason for this is that advent of the professional studio musicians and producers who can transform bare bones lead sheets into a fully arranged and accompanied songs. It is the studio musicians job is to improvise, read charts (or some of both) to create a finished musical accompaniment to a song in the desired style. The producer picks the musicians or creates the arrangement or remix themselves using electronic instruments and computers etc.

In the theater, there is a precedence for the composer not composing their own accompaniments That is, being separate from the arranger. Because of time, composers rarely orchestrated their own works for the stage (even Bernstein), so accompaniments were to some extent the work of others. This used to be the job of orchestrators and arrangers. As this is no longer the case it should not be surprising that song accompaniments have become much less interesting, especially if one does not have access to studio musicians.

Counter melody and the “fill”

Besides basic style production which includes Instrumentation, vocals and backup vocals, counter melodies and fills are what arrangements are all about. Popular music at this time doesn't use counter melodies all that often except for classical, some Broadway, and the so called “art rock” 1970's 1980's. A counter melody can also be a strong riff or ostinoto, separate from the bass or melody that repeats throughout a song. The guitar part in the Stones “Satisfaction” for example. All songs have fills of one kind or another, bass, drum, keyboard, guitar etc. Fills usually lead to downbeats and go with the rhythm. If a fill is too constant and breaks the rhythm it is too busy. The classic example of the too busy bass is the bass line of Melonie's “Candles in the rain.” On the other hand one might ask can a hit song be wrong? Listen for the minor bass fills against major chords in Bette Midlers Friends. Anyway, Jack Bruce and Paul McCartney were experts at filling, placing major 9nths and 6ths just right. Ringo Starr's drum fills are widely imitated and sampled. Florid melizmas are the character of vocal fills. Too many fills of the same type can get dull in a hurry. Listen widely, chose well.

The Transition

Nothing is more the purview of a composer then the transition.

Though melody and accompaniment or common to all musical styles, the transition is not. It does not lend itself easily to inspiration even though Brahms transitions can be the most beautiful sounding part of his work. A transition is a musical construction that is designed to fit between sections so that the change between them is smooth. They can be very short or a section to itself.

Songwriters don't need them, music theater types tend to make them very short and use harmony almost exclusively. In theater stage action effects time so sometimes a transposition or key change will do.

Since most compositions are different each transition will also depend on the materials at hand. The simplest way would be to use some of the old section's musical materials, transformed, to overlap into the transition and then into the new section. This creates continuity. In vocal music transitions can also depend on the text or the vocal form; aria, song, ABA etc. In instrumental music it is all design.

How are fills and transitions different?

One can certainly hear some “fills” in Mozart. It is not a new idea to embellish a composition with attractive details. These ideas are related in that both the fill and the transition are composed, both are used between sections. But the fill only effects an instrument or two and the transition effects everything. Also, the fill is usually created by somebody other then you.

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Creative or resourceful?

Again and again I read and hear about the need for more “creativity.” How to teach it etc.

Yet on closer look I find that it is not creativity that is desired at all (as creative answers are always difficult or seemingly wrong) but merely resourcefulness. Being resourceful is to be able to synthesize a correct understandable answer to a problem from knowledge and experience. To be creative is to answer correctly, or partially, a problem that has not yet been asked and may not as of yet not be understood. Its no wonder that creative people are not valued. For example, it was creative for the McDonald brothers to invent their fast food restaurant. They were despised by Ray Kroc, who with resourcefulnesses created an empire through them. Creative marketing is not creativity. Creative people invent institutions resourceful people run them. Since we live in a capitalist society a few words on the subject of business may be revealing.

Investors (curators, impresarios) can make the rules.

Since all artists must market themselves one way or another projecting personal “creativity” is a good thing. Yet, being artistically creative can be bad for business because creativity doesn't always fit the desired profile. Since Vincent Van Gogh is the most valuable artist around, Investors go looking for anyone who might fit his artistic profile. Since his art did not sell in own his day and he was self destructive and acted out, this also becomes part of the required profile. Do we judge books by their cover or what? Ironically, this search tends to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. It creates a lot of career pressure that Van Gogh never had. Art take time to develop and nurture.

For some, creativity in business seems to be nothing more than finding new ways to game the system. For example; Enron. So it seems odd then that business people still persist in forcing a business model on the public schools (which are never used in the private schools that their own children attend).

Resourcefulness is by its very nature safe, creativity can be dangerous.

Its just as true for the arts and the so called “creative” fields. Much work is now being done to remove creativity from the teaching profession, and in the name of creativity itself! Consider the arts. The fact that a profession is “creative” does not automatically make its practitioners so. One would think that all professional composers were creative people. Actually, it depends on the question that a particular composition is supposed to answer. A commission is a question. A composition is the answer to that question. What is the answer? Is it resourceful or creative? Creative visionaries like Varese and Shapey are idolized and then ignored. Resourcefulnesses becomes the currency of the day when familiar answers are the only ones requested and familiar answers the only ones given. You can be artistically unique as long as your part of the team and you don't interfere with comfort zones. That is, as long as your not unique. Join the club people! As Emily Peck once wrote; “Everyone parrots be yourself be yourself, what is this precious self anyway?”

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The inner game of Orchestration


Read Berlioz's book --but with his own examples not Strauss.

For a general study any recent orchestration book will do.

If you want to know about today's general outlook about the whys and wherefores read Adam Carse's book. Mr. Carse gives you all the orchestrational old wifes tales; Brahms bad, Wagner good, the French, bizarre etc. etc. It never occurs to him that orchestrating for opera might be different then for symphony.

The rhetoric of orchestral writing is different than others genres

First compare how accompaniments are notated (orchestrated) in the piano sonatas, string quartets and symphonies, by the same composers. Mozart for example frequently uses Alberti bass in his piano sonatas but very infrequently, if ever in his symphonies. Also examine different musical eras to see the changes in instrument techniques.

Consider the differences between heterophany and doubling. Especially true if you are interested in spectral composition. Some times one must construct discreet parts out of contrapuntal lines to create fullness and texture. This is also a good way to avoid the hard edge caused by too many unison doublings.

Instruments and their Persona

The use and techniques of instruments have changed over time but what remains is this:

Instruments also represent persona--a trumpet is not just an instrument but also a character that plays a role of trumpet in the orchestra. The trumpet is always in the lead and is always a solo even when it does harmony. For the trumpet, as in all the instruments, you can orchestrate for type or against type but the "type" is there no matter what. All players and instruments have a slightly different history and a tradition. Learn this. Would a first violin naturally be more musically assertive than a second violin or a viola? OK, before I feed you too many stereotypes that might be wrong remember --these are things you must discover on your own through listening and study so you can develop your own approach.

Register can have a strong effect on an instruments persona. Extreme notes on any instrument change its character and its strength. The flute can be more pervasive as it get higher in pitch, not the oboe. Some instruments have more than one persona. The piano, for example, is the instrument with the most persona, it can accompany, be a soloist, or blend with other instruments in many different ways. I will discuss the laptop a little later.

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Art and Technology

The problem with great art is that it is sometimes hard to understand and not widely advertised, if at all. On the other hand technology is
ubiquitous. It is constantly making news and becoming part of our lives.
To be technical; it is the bus and the signal as well, that is, it
advertises itself. The problem is that many people mistake a technological
advance for an artistic one. Similar to my ideas about language and music
(fewer people understand music then understand texts for example. Everyone
is familiar with technology and if they don't exactly understand every
aspect of it, they still use it as tools. As a culture we are obsessed
with technology to give an edge to keep up with the Joneses etc. So it
seems that art and technology is a natural combination. Of course if we consider
the cell phone-its tendency to disrupt live concerts and invade other
peoples spaces (that's half the fun I think),. It promises instant contact, shows that we
are never alone and we don't have to plan. To shop without a cell phone is
so 20th century. The cell phone is so wonderful that we forget that you can't
understand your bill. Also, having an ipod is cool and all that, but it
does not imply taste. We can now create virtual albums of music but then is
all popular music just made of hits?

Technowise popular music has been concerned with the new sound since
the 1950's . Thats also when popular music started to push classical music off the map.
In this case the new sound also made commercial music cheaper to produce.

Was this a goal or a by-product? Talent is expensive (as are orchestras) so generic performers who can be made to sound great are cheaper and easy to replace.

Technology has a dirty secret; that its ease of use has a cost and those
costs remain hidden. Its not just the implied lowering of standards. Hi tech can
win a war but not the peace. That takes people.

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Musicus Simplisticus

Represents a kind of composition that requires an avoidance of any standard musical compositional materials. The word "traditional" musical materials is the preferred term used by these composers themselves and is in general use, but it is not quite correct. This is because major elements of traditional composition remain. It is based on an interpenetration of arts techniques. In this case theater and dance into music. It is related to music concrete-- an early electronic tape technique where different natural sounds are accumulated (recorded and spliced) to create a composition, rather then just notes and pitches. Notes and pitches are not excluded. Simple consonance is preferred but dissonance, mostly as sound effects, is not excluded. One kind find these and related techniques in “performance art” and also in “noncom” rock music.


Compositions are generally created from simple created sounds and vocal improvisations on a topic or buzz word. Love, happy, sad, morning etc. -- Though unusual for musicians, this is a standard theater school technique for opening up. Movement can be used exactly the same way. It typically involves group collaborations. Specifically, this is because a single person can only come up with maybe 5 or six different ways to express a single idea, use say 10 people and you have 60 ideas to chose from. Time is also an issue on when putting a collaboration together for performance.

There may be text or not, but the words do not have to make sense, in fact the phonemes are better released from any context other then their sounds. That way the sounds can be connected to any concept. It is the sounds or vocalizations that must be shaped to describe feelings or an idea. It is easier to mold the incomprehensible otherwise its a “reading” of material. If a real text is used it is usually rendered down to short catch phrases to make it subservient to the overall concept. Similar to my concept of textual context.


This can be combined with sound processing, loops etc. via a laptop using various programs such as Ableton live (check out the free demo): It could be commercial dance beats or just sonic explorations.



or many listing:

The site below has to too many different programs to count (but watch out for the very annoying ads and pop ups) -

What does the composer(s) do?

The composer puts the collaborations together and in a form. They map out the topics and decide what realized ideas will be used and in what order to place them. Who they pick to be their performers is also important, as this can set the style of the music. In the performance, it is possible to have collaborations and not use any performer at all on stage by using prerecording, or video. For example, you could “sample” sounds beforehand and then the performance is the mix in “real time”. You can also let your collaborators provide the material and then you can perform the composition yourself. Or you can just direct the performers. It is important that the proper contracts be signed etc. Since many performers want experience it will be easy to find collaborators who will let you run the show and use their ideas.

In some way this kind of composition is most controlling of all. It requires performers not just to give their time and talent but their inner selves as well. Also, this kind of performance requires extensive rehearsals as they must be choreographed down to the last detail (and in real time) usually without any supporting performance notations.

In musicus simplisticus the simplicity is strength and the weakness Since collaborators tend to constantly change the material is always the first and the freshest concepts--a certain sameness will occur that is why topics must change all the time. On the other hand as we all have shared ideas about certain feelings- a lack of professionalism or a lack of skill is no barrier to providing material to make successful compositions.

Since these compositions represent a first step into the unknown, these materials though abstract are also very easy to understand. Once one moves into incomprehensibility, where its just a matter of soft or hard sounds, what they mean as an experience is dependent on the composer and the experience of the listener. If one starts with incomprehensibility its meaning is also just a matter of the composers definition. I do worry about the tendency to so strongly identify a composition with a political idea or concept that one does not know whether the political idea or the composition is being experienced or responded too.

This kind of activity can have several different results. For example; the creation of theater groups, performance groups, or bands. This is where the collaborators build on their experiences. However, some chose to go it alone. In this case the leader (the sound wrangler) builds up their own personal portfolio of others experiences. In that case there must be high turnover of corroborators and frequent travel since since freshness requires new people every time. I suppose some folks might object to being “used”. Here increased musical knowledge does not help the “wrangler,” but expertise, as in all arts, is still the point. Rather, they are experts at: production, organization, editing, directing, stagecraft, choreography, eliciting,controlling, choosing, and sometimes entrepreneurship.


Get some friends together; using sound and movement describe “the worlds
most boring music teacher”--take turns (each friend must be in charge of the design once) putting together the vignettes. If you feel you must add political content make it; “the worlds most boring fascist music teacher.”

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Gesture composition

A precursor to Musicus Simplisticus is gesture Composition.

Gesture composition is a subset of the Cageian world, which uses alternative notations to create musical works. This type of composition is a cross-over technique borrowing from theatrical stage directions and visuals, dance choreography and timing, visual arts etc.

Gesture composers confront the "tyranny" of music notation and seek new ways to interpret the main building blocks of music - harmony, rhythm and melody. This explains their interest in extended techniques. They also question the implied relationship of "composer" to "performer" where the "force" of notation tells the performer exactly what to do. This leads to a music, though still notated, that is "improvisational."

There is a type of gesture composition I call “sound wrangling” where the composer arranges sound samples, either from a created pallet or improvised, live and/or recorded, created by the performers. Even in visual art the “curator” is now given equal billing with the “artist” whose works they arrange around a space.

Gesture composition and free improvisation

Much of this notated, composed music focuses on extended techniques, which oddly enough is also the focus of “free jazz.” (please note: I will call this music free jazz, or free improvisation for this article. I am a player not an academician so my language may be out of date. This page is for all to read and the use of specific jargon would be counter-productive ) The difference: free jazz is improvised, and gesture composition is composed. Overlaps between these two different types of music frequently occur. For example, even in free jazz there are composed compositions, not all of free jazz is improvised. Gesture music has a wide range of composer-player relationships, that is the amount of control bestowed by the composer on the performers. This can leave a lot of music up to the performers.

Improvisation, is of the moment, composition is of reflection. Gesture composers try to have both by giving up some control as composers. Free jazz comes to its gestures by emotion and listening, and by its history. For me, great free improvisation has the same effect as a great combo or chamber music, orchestra or jazz band without a text. It also questions the various roles and personas of the instruments and the players themselves. As you see both points of view have very similar aims but different departure points. “Jazz” builds on its history, “Gesture”, though now old enough to have its own traditions, is a re-invention.

How did gesture composers become free improvisers?

Perhaps it happened like this; noticing the vitality of the free jazz scene it did not take long for gesture composers to discover their similarity with free jazz. This led them to codify their gestures. Using their own gestures and others they created teaching methods and curriculum so that a “free improviser” could be created with training without any experience with the outside world of improvised music.

In a sense “free jazz” is reversed engineered by gesture composers.

Perhaps it was just part of the so-called uptown/downtown split, since both free jazz and gesture music would be labeled “downtown”. (Thats where I played "free jazz", but I did not meet any gesture composers during my active years in NYC).

Differences remain. The most important difference between gesture composition and free improvisation is in the form of the works. “Free Improvisation” uses a beginning, middle, and end, an “Arch form, or an “Aural” form,” gesture composition may or may not. Also in free improvisation the music comes first, in gesture music anything goes. Music may be part of a multimedia presentation and not the center of the experience.

From a purely musical point of view, Gesture composition’s avoidance of formal concepts invariably creates a weaker musical tapestry. This can be augmented by visuals and other multimedia, but it also relegates music to a small cog in the wheel of something more important: “concept”.

In a purely musical terms these works, unlike improvisations, will tend to go on too long. Not because they are bad or slow works, but because a composed gesture that would seem aurally calling for, or, creating closure is ignored as specified by the composer, or concept, and we lose interest in the music. In "free improvisation" a gesture for closure is usually followed by all.

For some gesture composers the concept is primary as the music is only a means to an end.

Oopsey a problem, and a question of authenticity.

A certain resentment occurs when “jazz” folks who have worked all their lives at a technique suddenly find that their sound has been duplicated by “gesture” folks with whom they have not associated. Questions of race and also privilege occur because of color and the advantage of being part of the “academy.” At this point in time the academic study of music can encompass so many different possibilities that almost any stylistic approach could be called as a pejorative; academic.

There is also the issue of gender as many gesture composers are women. On that point the academy has been much more supportive, to my knowledge, than the public music world. There is also questions of Nationalism, interest and self interest, and “outside,” non-musical interests. There are also those who see music as a basis for social reform. Then we must ask who's reform are we speaking of?

The following is also true: most gesture composers are associated with academia, and most improvisers are not. (Perhaps I should say were not). In a University setting one also eliminates the risk or rewards of discovery, rejection and its social implications. There are those who wonder whether the academy is preserving a style of music or replacing it with something else. The Academy might argue that its influence on the public arts scene is at best limited, yet one finds that almost all of the performance spaces for this type of music are University affiliated.

I defer on all questions of race to George Lewis and the AACM.

I defer on all questions of gender to? I'm not sure yet. Please E-mail me!

True, many “free jazz” musicians are now professors and doing excellent work, yet questions remain as to where these disjunctions will lead.

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The Wall of sound is usually associated with the work of John Cage and the gesture composers, but as Robert Morgan's description of "wallpaper music" implies one finds many examples including; serial, electronic works, Motion music, drones, cross-over exotica, electronica, the once group, Musicus Simplisticus, and in my own Man and Machine series. Though classical types use the WOS as a texture within a larger work, many others use it as the entire work.

Perhaps first experienced in Bruckner's 9th symphony third movement climax, the WOS can be understood as a point of complete musical incomprehensibility. So much musical information at once harmony, counterpoint, and volume, that the parts become indistinct and blend into a WOS. On the other hand Schoenberg's "Colors..," from his Five Pieces for Orchestra, is another example in a quieter context. WOS is not always about power, but it is about musical parts being equal and indistinct. WOS can also be achieved with a single instrument as a drone.

In vocal music a similar approach is to reduce all text to phonemes, words out of sequence, or several speakers/singers at once, or to have instruments unbalance (cover) the vocal sounds. It is interesting to note that the human voice (with words) has a tendency to predominate any texture. Though related to and confluent with "non-linear" technique, referring to the fact that a "story" may not have a sequential beginning, middle or an end, I would call this textual incomprehensibility or TI when the "story" can not be understood by the performance alone. Like recent visual arts it needs the "editorial" and in plain language to explain it.

The fact is that WOS and TI are not difficult techniques, This is in part because electronics and commercial recording software is available on every MAC. An electric guitar left in front of an amp turned on high will cause feed back without the need for it to be actually played -- bingo WOS. Take any text and reduce it to phonemes and -- bingo TI Also, WOS, even with very different approaches, have similar results because the ear only notices the big picture: Is it loud, Is it soft, Is it a drone, etc.

The Sound Artist

Many of these techniques are so easy to achieve (They can even be found objects.) that a whole new category of artists has arisen: the "sound artist", "multimedia artist" etc. I have mentioned the problems that arise over issues of ownership of a style and/or a sound; for example: free jazz/gesture. Similar problems arise between the trained and untrained composers. On a closer look we see that the training issue is a red herring. It is really a subject of what "kind" of training, because sound artists and visual artists who primarily use text as a medium are in fact extremely trained just not in music or in creative writing. The artists learn their craft at arts schools. .

Art Looks Ahead, Music Looks Back

Though both the art and music worlds are beset with trends, the sound artists, multimedia, textual, and instillation artists are mainstream for the art world. In the America classical music scene mainstream new work is "who will be the new Bernstein". That is; the art world does look ahead for new mediums, the classical American music world looks back to maintain. Music theater and opera straddles both outlooks as it includes music and visual arts. Preset outlooks can be stifling. Breaking out of the mold is difficult for both worlds. In both cases a great deal of excellence and importance that does not fit in to this specified mold is overlooked. For example, Varese is a composer who appeals across both worlds but was overlooked by music history. If we consider the many differences between art and music; the orchestra is a living thing, and a gallery is just an empty space. Also, consider the different relationships of "patrons" to the different arts. You can own a painting-you can't own Beethoven. This subject perhaps needs its own lesson.

Speaking of Varese, what of electronic music? The discipline of electronic music should be a way to bridge this gap between the trained art world and the trained music world. Yet one finds that the "off the shelf-ers" [users of commercial software] and the commercial DJ's [experienced practitioners] have done an end run on schooled electronic composers as well. In a result oriented world where money=power no one cares if you wrote your own software. In fact those who composed for the 4X at IRCAM now find that their music is now unplayable because this machine no longer exists. They can still play their old recordings if they made them.

Film Music

I think the title says it all; in film the “music” does not come first. This is why film music was held in such low esteem by my, and past generations. When I talk about film music I mean the melodrama or what is also called “under scoring” in the theater. This is the art of heightening a scene with music. Though theatrical, the melodrama is primarily an instrumental form. When film music makes its way into concert music its usually for composed sections that have no dialog (are silent). Here the music can at least hold half the interest or more for example; Elmer Bernstein's “The Magnificent Seven”. For the techniques of film composing I would direct you to David Amram's autobiography “Vibrations”.

Opera and Film

Operatic gate keepers have of late have turned to pop musicians and movie composer to create works. Film composers have financial success and glamor if not the high profile household name of the pop composers. The challenge for the film folks is that Opera, unlike the melodrama, is not an instrumental form. Opera is not just about the theatrical voice and its expressive abilities its also about the characters. The history of opera is filled with composers who specialized in this form as they knew how to do this. Brahms, who composed lovely songs did not compose opera. Wagner's symphonic works are a question and his songs are few and very operatic. Composing for the theatrical voice takes experience and practice. On the other hand each successful opera composer also created their own distinct vocal sound and type. Of all the recent opera and concert work I have heard this fact seems to be the most neglected. The history of music is not standing still. Many recent and older “advanced” composers take the Puccini voice as the operatic voice of choice even though their accompaniments never have the same kind of line-only the voice has it. The voice then sounds as a fish out of water never quite integrating into the texture. This perhaps has more to do with the composers access to important singers then to the composition of opera. Also, I would not consider the transfer of popular, miked, singing into opera as the same kind of originality unless the microphone did something other than amplify or use the voice as a purely instrumental object.

Formally speaking Opera, unlike Film or Broadway requires some musical integration, which film does not, and not just reprises at that.

Another difference between instrumental composition and film music is that in instrumental music the form organically flows from the mind of the composer. Film music must be designed contextually to illustrate the visuals, so its form must outline the action.

For example; an angry man walks 10 paces then turns to look in a window.

The music also depends on how fast he is walking and what he might see.

Whether the changes in the action are musically motivated or not does not matter-the action must be highlighted. In fact an organic approach would not work in film as it would distract from the images. So film music is based on musical gestures rather than on organic materials. There can also be wide time separations of these gestural fragments. This is why most of the film music you hear is re-arranged for concert performance.

Actually, there are many melodramas from the 30's and 40's that could be turned into operas simply by turning the dialog into melody or patter that would fit into the underscored music. Some work would have to be done to expand the composed score.

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Music Drama

One of the considerations for composers and librettists is this; how are ideas revealed in Opera?

To illustrate the various possibilities lets consider a simple situation. Our young soprano has just discovered that her zipper is broken (which zipper I leave to you). We can reveal this to the audience in any the following ways, all of which can be combined with each other.

She may know but the audience may not

She may not know but the audience may.

She may not know but the other characters may.

She may know but --oh forget it.

1)vocal and text

Our soprano sings "my zipper is breaking, but not my heart"

Another character sings "your zipper is broken, but not your heart"

The Chorus sings "Her zipper is breaking, but not her heart"


Our Soprano acts out or mimes a broken zipper as noted in the stage directions, or another character can act out noticing her zipper... etc.


We see the dastardly Baritone put crazy glue in her zipper.

3)Music, aural

A musical cue tone paints or describes the zipper breaking.

A stuttering Ratchet would do quite nicely.


A musical cue tone paints or describes her reaction to her zipper breaking.


The super titles reveal that our soprano's zipper is broken.


The broken zipper is revealed while our soprano is focused on something else.

a)As our soprano runs towards her hero her dress gets caught yet she doesn't notice this.

b)As our soprano sings her song of love she is blissfully unaware that her betrothed is trying to take liberties. She is saved as her zipper is stuck!

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©copyright 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003,2004, 2005, 2006, 2007,2008,2009 Philip A. Fried. All rights reserved.

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