Personal Development

The Olympus Suite

On Saturday the 9th November I got my band together to perform three of my original works. The concert finale was a suite in five movements that I wrote about an original take on the story of Hercules. Each movement is between 2-3 minutes long and the whole composition, once the narration between movements is added the whole piece should last 15 minutes.

Movement I is entitled “the Pilgrimage of Olympus” and represents Hercules as he ascends Mount Olympus following the summons of his Father Zeus. The piece starts with Hercules standing at the bottom of the mountain whilst he gathers his thoughts. As he begins his ascent the basses provide a driving rhythm that forms the basis of the movement. As Hercules climbs Mount Olympus he first hears a fanfare of trumpets practicing in the distance. The higher Hercules goes the more tension builds as represented by the intervals written later in the movement. As he gets closer to the top of the mountain the harmony becomes more dissonant and the low tom represents Hercules’ eager personality as nothing will deter him from fulfilling his destiny. As Hercules arrives at the top of Mount Olympus the whole band joins in in the fanfare welcoming Hercules home.

Wadhurst Brass Band perform “The Pilgrimage of Olympus” conducted by David Healy-Richards.

In Movement II we hear Aphrodite the night before battle serenading the gods to keep their morale as high as possible. Aphrodite starts the theme before the chorus erupts as all the other divines join in. However the jollity must be put aside as the Divines know what lies ahead. This is represented in the second half of the movement with the introduction of the timpani – representing the war drums of Olympus.

In Movement III – Hades’ plan is in full motion it starts in the underworld as represented by crunching dissonance and scurrying chromatic scales. Hades theme owes some of its inspiration to Chopin’s “Marche Funebre” utilising the same interval that Chopin used. Hades begins to tear in to the Morale of the Gods as he twists the morale and tries to get in the minds of the gods. This is represented by Aphrodite’s serenade written in the minor key. As Hades army builds strengths the texture of the movement becomes thicker before eventually building in to a march as the Army of Hades advances.

Wadhurst Brass Band perform “Hades and the Army of Lost Souls” conducted by David Healy-Richards.

Movement IV represents Alcmene, Hercules mortal Mother who sings the lullaby she used to sing to her baby Hercules. This is the moment in the piece that is aimed at hitting the listener straight in the feels! As she sings her lullaby she tries to convince herself that Hercules will be okay, this movement tries to capture the feeling of any mother who has had to go through the emotional turmoil of sending their sons and daughters off to fight. Alcmene almost convinced herself that everything will be okay, but, being a mother she can’t hide her worry anymore! The following video contains running commentary with Wadhurst Brass Band playing in the Background.

In the final movement both the forces of good and evil are at battle together In this movement all the motifs used in the previous movements are brought together to represent the battle twisting and turning between good and evil before the fanfare from the first movement and Aphrodite’s serenade rings through representing the victory of the Divines and you hear Hades driven back down to the underworld defeated by the devastating power of the Divines lead by Zeus.

From writing this concert item I learned so much about ways I need to develop myself as a composer and a musician. I thoroughly enjoyed the research involved with writing a long piece of music and each little movement telling it’s own story before each story joins together in the last movement in a huge clash of all of my musical ideas. However I have found a few areas which will need development;

Understanding range – All of my tenor horns notified me that the range was incredibly high for long amounts of time not giving the musician’s lip chance to settle. Where possible I may have to re delegate bars and phrases to other sections.
Long phrases – while most phrases can be shared if there is more than one to a part it became apparent that the instruments that just have one to a stand would struggle with the passages I had written.
Over concentrating on little details – This can be seen as both good and bad, I had a set idea of how I wanted the music to sound in my head and kept trying to bring it through from the band in doing this I got myself to bogged down on little intricacies and other areas of the piece may have suffered because of this. When I next do a workshop I will try to focus more on the overall picture than little bits.

However, I have also received a lot of positive feedback from the audience and the band saying that they liked the music an appreciated the challenge. In some cases I got told that they were happy with the areas that I decided to develop in this piece (intervals on the euph and section work) some people said the motif played in movement II was “beautiful” These are all useful pointers that I will take on board for my next workshop.

I would like to thank the Wadhurst Brass Band and our deps for all of their work on the day. I would like to thank Merlin Beedell who recorded the whole concert and took the photos throughout the day. I am proud of the Band and I am extremely grateful to the fantastically supportive audience who came along to listen even though it’s not the normal Band type programme. It was a fantastic day and one where I felt everyone took something from it. I look forward to more in the future!

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