Project 14: improvisation on the dominant

the point of this project was for us to build up a harmony around the dominant and then resolve to the tonic key of the signature at the very end. For this exercise, I looked at modern composers of piano music such as Einaudi and Yiruma. I find thier almost minimalistic approach to harmony and melody highly effective.

In this exercise, I wrote an extended passage on the dominant (C#m) of F#m. The melody hangs these beautiful high notes of the piano in almost a style of a lament. I chose this approach because I wanted to incorporate some suspensions with my harmony as I have picked up from my listening log in Eric Whiticare’s lux arumbuque and Ben Hollings Lake of Tenderness.

Suspend 5 by David Healy-Richards

I specifically chose 6/4 as a time measure so that I could create long phrases within the piece. I chose F# minor, purely, because the dominant C# is my favourite key to work in – as I find it beautiful to listen to. The harmony of this piece though based on the dominant ventures in to Em (III of C#) Bm, (the VII) but always bases around the C# dominant. I tried to give the illusion to the listener that we are actually in the key of C# minor.

I employed the use of modern suspsensions and resolutions to vary the long phrases and even when I revert back to the original line at bar 17. I have built on the original line we heard in bar 1. The idea for that came from Yiruma’s “Kiss the Rain” I felt that even though the melody line was there the added in harmony meant that it was still just as interesting to listen to. Throughout the piece, I have, mostly, kept one line moving while one line was static. However, when I wanted to pronounce a different key I left the chord to ring through just to add contrast between moving lines and static chords. Whilst the dissonant suspensions are always moving, I only left a chord ring through if it was consonant for the listener.

Through this project, I learned about building up harmony around the dominant and then resolving on to the tonic in the very last bar. I enjoyed working with a slower tempo because it meant that I could suspended and resolve chords in the key of C# minor. I found inspiration from various modern piano composers as mentioned above, but the real foundation for this piece was to build on my knowledge of composing around the dominant and then resolving on to the tonic after having tried to convince the listener we were in a different key.


Project 13: Elaborate Cadences

Today I finished my collection of four Elaborate Cadences. In this section I focused on the Dominant-tonic Perfect Cadence. Within this project I had to disguise an upcoming perfect cadence by remaining on the dominant in the bass while allowing the right hand to tickle, tease us and to keep the listener guessing as to what is coming up next.

My first cadence was mostly entirely based on the dominant apart from one bar where I ventured out in to a different chord.

Task A in Bb major

You will see that the majority of this study the chord is heavily weighted on the F with just a bare C to G progression. This is a trick to keep the listener trying to guess what key we are in and as to whether we are major or minor. Whilst I try at all costs to mislead the listener we can tell that the weighted F in the bass asserts the key this is written in. We are in Bb Major but the recurrent use of the G leads us to believe we could be in G minor. We progress to G minor in the 3rd bar but before we know it we end up on the major triad at the end of the exercise.

For my second cadence I tried to achieve a bouncy drinking song kind of feel with the use of the 9/8 time measure.

Task B in D major

You will note that the bass line is mostly based around the A major triad (V of D major) The melody has a very lively feel and with a very limited and quick use of dissonance. The exercise keeps its lively up beat and staccato feel. This is mostly a consonant composition apart from a few very brief clashes in the melody which are used, in this instance, to subconsciously generate some more interest in the melody. We are then given a very elaborate dominant 7 chord at the start of the perfect cadence because the 7th adds the craving to get back to the tonic.

My third cadence was in the style of a waltz, almost.

Task 3 in C major

I used stereotypical waltz traits of the quick 3/4 time measure and the typical waltz beats on 2 and 3 to maintain the waltz feel. This piece rarely leaves the dominant G chord, only in a passing F# in the third bar. The melody and harmony gets nice and colourful however as the bars modulate between the second degree A minor (3rd bar), and dominant of G, D major (4th bar) before reverting back in to G major for the penultimate bar and finishing on the tonic in the final bar. I enjoyed experimenting with the different chords over the bulging G in the bass line as I felt it added a much more developed and advanced grasp of how harmony works. It added a much more interesting sound, one I should like to explore further as my degree progresses.

I saved my personal favourite until last. I wrote it in my favourite key signature (C# minor) I feel there is a serene beauty around this key and I always feel mesmerised by it.

Task 4 in C# minor

Using the mechanism of dynamics, articulation, key signature selection and harmony, I composed a brief musical portrait of un-settling anticipation which eases in to a simple C# minor chord right at the very end. The melody doesn’t leave the dominant G# until the next bar when the melody is written around a D# chord. The third bar dabbles in A major then the penultimate bar starts with the arpeggio of F major 7 and is responded with an augmentation back in to F# minor(aug). This happens while the bass line draws in back to the perfect cadence. I found this to be a pleasant surprise! The Perfect cadence felt un-expected but still worked in the context of the piece.


Walking in the Shadows of Giants

In the early 19th Century, Gothic Architecture was still around in great abundance. However the community wanted a church so they raised funds to start building this church in 1827. The man in charge was Decimus Burton. However by 1974 the church was labelled as redundant to pastoral needs. The church was left abandoned and once again the community did not want to waste this beautiful building. The Tunbridge Wells Civic Society raised a petition to find a better public use for this building. They were granted 6 months. Within that time it was decided that Trinity would be a Community Arts Centre and a whopping £50, 000 was raised to fund the cause. By 1977 the lease was signed and the transaction complete it was now the Trinity Theatre.

In June of this year I set up, with the help of my Wadhurst Brass Band committee, a concert in the historic Trinity Theatre in Royal Tunbridge Wells. This theatre has seen the likes of Westlife, Take That and Rodger Waters (song writer for Pink Floyd) The concert was a programme of show-stopper tunes from the west end and was hosted by Louise Stewart, Former BBC South East political editor and a dedicated advocate of CRUK.

This was to be a reward for my Band for all thier work and input that helped us achieved yesteryears success. The opportunity to play in such a prestigious venue where we can put on a full show with lighting and sound technicians was such a temptation, I simply couldn’t resist!

Trinity auditorium

We were fortunate enough to be joined by three very talented singers for the occasion. Two of whom had performed in many a variety of concerts including a regular spot in Glyndebourne Opera House. Many Thanks to Tom and Charlie Snee and George Tero for thier incredible performances throughout the night.

From a conducting point of view there was an additional layer I had to think about while performing. I had previously been one of two conductors where there had been a choral master leading a choir and myself leading the band. As we had solo singers I had to look at the musical aspect for the singers as well as my band.

During the concert we asked Louise to talk about her experiences battling cancer and her parents who also suffered at the hands of this horrendous disease. In the middle of the second half we had a poignant dedication to all those who had ever suffered or lost thier battles with cancer. The band played “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with all the singers at the front. The audience joined in instantaneously and the whole hall united in a show of defiance against The Despicable cancer. Once again, music brought everyone together with a common purpose.

Firstly, while organising combining the band and vocalists, I had to make sure that the singers where happy to sing in the key that our music was in. In order to do this I had to prepare a vocal sheet. This meant taking the melody line from whichever instrument had it wherever it was in the score. In doing this, it also made sense, in some cases, to add the lyrics. This meant researching the lyrics to make sure the band phrasing and the lyrics matched up.

Secondly, whilst I was conducting the band – I had to make sure I was really clear to the singers when I cued them in. Any ambiguity in my beat pattern or body language could have lead to a catastrophically obvious mistake! luckily that only happened in a rehearsal leading up to the concert! In some cases I had to give the vocalists some vocal advise which was a stretch beyond my comfort zone (as I should not be allowed to sing, ever) however help was at hand when one of the bandsman, who was far more vocally adept, was able to run through a particularly trying piece with one of the vocalists.

Wadhurst Brass Band Perform “There’s no Business like Show Business” from “Annie Get Your Gun” arr. Goff Richards.

As part of the hire fee for this beautiful venue we were provided a technical manager who could advise us as to how to get the balance right for the singers it was difficult to tell from where I stood what was the best thing to do to get the best sound from our singers. I am glad we had our technical manager Katie, who turned out to be an old friend from my school orchestra days. Many thanks to Katie for her help with the lighting and sound.

In this project we managed to earn a further £2, 500 for CRUK it certainly developed me as a musician in that I learned about leading vocal soloists with a band. I learned what the necessary steps where to ensure a successful performance in this context. The production of the vocal lead sheet was a necessary tool in order to communicate and work with the Vocal soloists and discuss thier concerns if they had any. Over all, the thanks goes to the Wadhurst Brass Band, Ian Morgan chair of Cancer Research UK in Tunbridge Wells, The steward team at Trinity and the Technical Manager, my vocalists, band manager and Louise Stewart.

Listening Log

Lux Aurumque – Eric Whitacre

Today, I listened to a mesmerising piece by Eric Whitacre which had me in a completely different dimension for 4 minutes of pure listening pleasure. After hearing this piece I wanted to try and work out what chords he used to produce such an enchanting listening experience. The following post is my analytical memoir of this beautiful music.

When Eric Whitacre was interviewed about this piece of music he so eloquently spoke of this piece as a “breathing exercise” and that is instantaneously relatable from bar one as the music crescendos and diminuendos or “expands and contracts” like ones breath in a state of meditation. You can feel the phrase begin down in the tenor and bass and the low register of the alto, to start with, as the breath comes up through the body, starting from the diaphragm before it is joined by the nose and throat opening up to inhale the oxygen that allows us all to breath. This most relatable composition mechanism occurs throughout the whole piece.

The harmony is so rich and beautiful. We open the piece we start with a C# minor chord that gently transitions in to a beautiful C#sus4 for the first 4 bars. I likened this to a breath of the most delicate tranquillity. It is because of so much tranquillity and tenderness that I had to create a new term “tranquilicious.” Lux just means “light”, the opening four bars can also be associated with delicate beams of light trickling through a forest canopy.

In bar 5 the Soprano Solo begins as if from no-where. Whitacre pulls the first two notes of the soprano melody, from the chords we heard in the intro. The top G# appears from the dark but somehow it doesn’t take us by surprise. A gentle introduction to the minimalistic melody. The phrase then sinks back in to the breaths. It’s the breath expanding even more before we sink in to the lower voices of bar 9 onwards. My meditation deepens. I have now sunk in to an enormous sense of personal well being. “Calida” means warm “light” and “warm” the sun is musically glowing on the listeners faces.

The chord remains the same but it has been voiced much deeper the Basses are voiced in thirds with the Tenors. They re-affirm the delicate higher tones from the soprano and alto C# becomes B7sus9/F#, and what a chord that is! The shivers gently caress my spine in pure majesty of the chord echoing and reverberating through the hall (or church).

we find this lovely contrast in bar 13 “Gravisque” which, in this particular instance, simply translates to “and” it’s the most gorgeous, possibly the longest “and” you will ever hear! Whitacre patiently descends out of the previous section as the poetic verse that inspired this piece changes its stanza. As we change, the choir starts with an inverted A minor chord, we travel through E major chord after a suspended 4th when the tenor and soprano sings thier G# on the fourth beat of bar 13. In bar 14 we eventually land on a G minor on the second beat before we descend again through an F#m /G#in bar 15 then an inverted C#minor in beats 3 and 4 of bar 15. Then in order to add contrast on the last “Gravisque” in bar 16 we ascend through from an A major through to a B major before the next section “pura”

When we get to the new section in bar 17 we have a similar effect – as the very beginning with the expansion and contraction of the chords as they suspend and resolve and suspend again. In bar 18, we experience an inverted F# minor travel in to either an F#m sus4, sus 6 or a D sus6, sus9 We then settle back in to an F# minor for bar 20 before another suspension in bar 21. Until bar 23 we are at a pleasant and quite bold Mezzo-Forte in bar 23. One of the mechanisms I adore is the crunching D# and E suspension in the soprano line. However odd a semitone chord should sound, in this instance, it is as beautiful as Eric introduces the start of the next chord in the fourth beat of the bar. Whitacre then treats us to another very gradual resolution through the chords as the orchestra sing “canunt” which means “they sing” This is the angels singing about the birth of Jesus the descending tones as the angels fly down to deliver thier message to us on earth. The message is the word of God and it starts in the heavens before it descends and trickles down to earth and those on earth start to deliver the word. This is only one possible interpretation of this particular section.

In bar 29 we hear one of only a few solid resolutions. This is a simple F# major Whitacre settles this divine major chord when he finishes the word “Angels” a tiers de piccady. The angles are the stars of the song. We start to wind back down in bar 30. The breathing returns, we are gently brought back in to the room. We still hear echos of those suspensions so we can meditate upon the message of this beautiful music. The soprano holds a beautiful suspension even in to the change of key in to C# major to uplift us. Or maybe it is a reference to the new-born baby as a new era begun on that night,

Eric Whitacre based this meditation on this beautiful verse

calida gravisque pura velut aurum
et canunt angeli molliter
modo natum.


warm and heavy as pure gold

and the angels sing softly

to the new-born baby.

Edward Esch

In writing this piece Eric kept true to the message of this verse and added his own genuine beauty to it. I hope this music becomes as immortal as the message it carries and I thank Eric Whitacre for sharing this beautiful meditation with us. I don’t just listen to this piece, I experience it.

Listening Log

First Construction – John Cage

John Cage was one of the 20th Centuries most innovative experimental composers who’s genius bought through such compositions as 4 minutes 33 and his “Constructions” one of Cages favourite compositional mechanisms was the prepared piano. Long before the first synthesisers he explored the possibilities of electronic sound sources using turntables and oscillators, pushing the boundaries of what many people might interpret music to be. It is for this reason that to this day, even after his death, John Cage remains a highly controversial figure in the world of Music.

In this blog I am going to do a quick write up of what I discovered from listening to his “First Construction in Metal” composed in 1939. I could not find a score online so what little that I picked op on is from watching a score on youtube as the music was being performed. With my memory, that causes limitations in itself!

In John Cages first construction I hear a certain theme played on the strings of a piano. After 4 bars the Oxem bells join in. The thunder sheet is struck at the very beginning just to capture our attention. After 8 bars we get two bars of break from the melody played on brake drums, Turkish cymbals and orchestral bells. We then hear the phrase or melody come back and joined by the muted gongs John Cage has added a bar on to the phrase with the muted gongs. At letter A we hear a different and augmented phrase with the use of quintuplets which lasts for four bars. The main line then returns in the fifth bar of A. The phrases are always four bars long and I can make out about 16 different motifs. John Cage has taken a mathematical approach usings phrases and groups of phrases to form the structure of his music each section is about 16 bars in length and is built using 4 bar motifs.

at C John Cage has produced a fantastic effect by lowering a gong in to water. This achieves a warping effect on the gong sound that provides an eerie feel. Something I would like to explore in my composing as a representative of wind or something spooky a mind twists and turns out of focus in to something dark and un-settling.

During Section C there is a very un-settling feeling of something wrong happening and on the 5th bar of D there is a slide on the piano strings, a spooky glissando of chaos. This is the kind of thing I wouldn’t be surprised to hear on a horror programme! the fact that John Cage can produce that effect with such “instruments” is a testament to his genius. Before H we hear a refrain of the original phrase and the unsettled feeling has eased. Business as usual, perhaps? the chaos of the human brain. 16 bars before M I really like. It has a driving feeling almost like a preparing for battle. I think this is due to the well placed accents and driving beats played on the other instruments at the first of the bar. The piece finished with a diminuendo and down to a halt. It’s almost like the end of a nightmare. The morendo and diminuendo at the end settles the mind and it’s back to the silence.