On Saturday the 9th February I organised my band a workshop where we would have sectional rehearsals throughout the course of the day, followed by a full run through and then finishing the day – with a formal rehearsal open to the public in my local commemoration hall. The programme consisted of three of my own works. These were “Funk Avenue” “Moonchasers” and finishing with a concert suite of 5 movements called “the Olympus Suite.” This workshop was put together with the Wadhurst Brass band having no previous experience of the pieces. The idea of this workshop was to challenge the musicians in the band and stretch myself as a composer and conductor. This will form part of an on going series of workshops which I intend to broadcast and eventually put towards my degree.
In this blog I am going to focus on the first programme item of the evening “Funk Avenue.” The drum takes the introduction so that the musicians and audience can gain a feel for the piece and settle in to the rhythm of the track. This is then followed by a very simple bass riff consisting of both syncopated and un-syncopated rhythms based on the G minor pentatonic scale. For me, as a trombonist, this piece loaned itself to the occasional glissando as demonstrated by the first major 7th chord as played by the trombones and baritone section.
The piece follows a strict rondo form consisting of 3 sections (A,B and C) with a musical break (D) played to punctuate between the different sections. Together, hese sections form the ADBDC rondo structure. The first section starts at letter A and is played until letter B. At rehearsal mark B we see our first “D section”. In this section I introduce a riff on solo cornet and flugel that will be used to glue the two different motifs together. This is the form of a break consisting of “call and response” technique between band and percussion. I mentioned this in the introduction. The next section (B section) is announced by the new “swamp funk” rhythm played on the kit at rehearsal mark “C”. With this section also comes a new motif played as a solo cornet line with the new drumkit rhythm. We hear a quick reprise of the “D” section 4 bars before rehearsal mark D. This reprise is diminished in length and the break is altered by the riffs being played by Repiano cornet and then Flugel. The rest of section D is a recapitulation back to the original motif until rehearsal mark E where we have the 2nd motif played over the first drumkit rhythm At Rehearsal Mark E. The first melodic phrase is introduced at rehearsal A as a euphonium solo. The rhythmic figure played in the background on the cornets at rehearsal mark A is a common feature performed throughout the piece. The drum kit in this section is holding a steady basic funk beat.
The harmony in itself is quite simple mostly a V, IV, I progression with the majority of the piece based on the tonic G minor pentatonic scale. I occasionally add a major VII for a jazzy feel. All melodic phrases are based on the tonic. I use musical stabs (e.g. Horns and Baritones at bar 46) to highlight the changes in the phrase. In bar 39 I discovered as I wrote that a simple Minor III, II, I progression created a brilliant break accompanied by a break on the drum kit.
Through studying M1 – composing music with UCA I am learning a much more intricate understanding of rhythm. I was able to apply this when composing the motifs for this piece of music and my more developed understanding of rhythm really comes to the fore in the percussion parts. In Particular, the relationship between the drum kit and the bongos. I would highlight the 2 and the 4 of the bar by using the higher pitched bongo alongside the snare drum which weaved so well to create a very satisfying emphasis on the strong beats of this piece of music. In doing this it helped the rhythm to keep driving on.
As I did not want this composition to be a case study on structure I added a few little quirky touches, the trombones ascending glissandos the use of the bongos, triangle, claves, hand claps and other various percussion just so that the band could have fun while playing this piece. I added various musical “stabs” throughout the piece and altered them just to keep the piece fresh. Using these varying rhythmic patterns meant that I could emphasize different parts of my melodic phrases. I try to create an illusion that within each melodic phrase there is always something different that we can hear each time. One of the devices I utilised was rhythmic displacement of the riff that I introduced I the first “D section” as it is played throughout the piece at different places in the bar again maintaining interest and emphasizing a different perspective of the same melodies.
I uncovered a few areas of improvement within myself as a composer throughout the course of the day. My players had informed me of mis-leading muting instructions and lack of varying dynamics. These are all constructive criticisms and I know that to progress as a composer – I will just need to pay more attention and take more care when instructing mute or dynamics. As a conductor I learned that I can get too bogged down on certain aspects when I host a rehearsal. In order to develop as a conductor I will aim at first trying to get the band to play the overall piece as accurate as I can and then iron out any small wrinkles once a band is more familiar with my compositions.
I would like to thank the Wadhurst Brass Band and all the participants of the day and the audience for all of their support throughout the day. I would like to express my congratulations to a community band for doing such a good job of playing some really tricky bits of music in such a short amount of time.