My chamber orchestra piece

At PSU, every year, there is a composition competition for students to compete in. To be considered for the competition the student has to submit a piece for any instrument(s) that best demonstrates their abilities represents their writing style (insofar as it’s developed).

I submitted the third movement of my Clarinet & Marimba Sonata (PDF and mp3 below) because it is my most recent and perhaps best composition to date. Along with me there were eleven other submissions, including at least two who had previously been finalists in previous years.

The submissions are reviewed, sans composer names or identifying factors, by the composition faculty. This process took roughly a week and a half, because they needed to let us know the results before the Christmas break as we have to have our first draft prepared for submission our first week of winter term (which starts today).

The breakdown: I was one of the four finalists chosen. Two of the others are also seniors and the fourth is a junior. I am the only student of Johanson, one of the other finalists (who is female (a rarity in our composition department as there are only two currently)) is the only student of Hanson, and the other two finalists are students of Miksch.

Schedule: Now (as of today) we’ll have about 5 weeks to refine and complete our compositions, and print out the parts. In this time we’ll be meeting a few times with the orchestra prof. Ken Selden to work out the piece within the logistics of the chamber orchestra, in addition to meeting with our own professors of composition. In the second five weeks of the term, the orchestra will rehearse our pieces two or three times. When we return from spring break the orchestra will rehearse our pieces one last time before they perform for the panel of judges. These judges are guests from outside of the university. The winner of this judging will have their piece performed at the final spring concert of the PSU orchestra in May or June.

This year, the requirement for us was to compose a four minute (maximum) piece for the instruments in the new music ensemble, which is one person per instrument not including brass. Another requirement was also to find an excerpt from a poem or a piece of poetry that would inspire, or characterize our piece. For myself, I choose to use an excerpt from a story by H.P. Lovecraft called “The Unnamable.” The quote is:

“I was far from home, and the spell of the eastern sea was upon me.”

When I began coming up with ideas for the piece I came up with some ideas that were loosely based on asian pentatonic scales (and when I say loosely, I mean loosely). I also have elements of middle eastern motifs… mainly because those are almost my default anyway. Eventually I came up with two very solid motifs that I moved back and forth between instrumental textures.

It was suggested to me that I not attempt to develop my themes as four minutes wouldn’t allow enough time to do an adequate job of it. What I did garner from my lessons with Johanson was to do one thing… and attempt to do it well. To me, this is not unlike the second movement to Sibelius’ 3rd symphony. So this is what I’ve done… I’ve taken my two themes and tossed them back and fourth.

I’ve submitted the piece in it’s current form to my prof to prepare for our first lesson of the term, and so far I’ve received a little feedback, which will be amended upon our meeting. These included tiny details of orchestration, and the need to fill in gaps in the middle and background levels.

I am very excited to work out this piece further and to finally hear it in rehearsal.¬†My hope is that the orchestra isn’t so small as to make the writing sound hollow. These things and more will be determined soon. I will include an update at the appropriate time later on along with a recording of the rehearsal when I obtain it. Below I have included a PDF and mp3 of the current iteration for your perusal. Partake and respond in the comments with any and all feedback, and questions. I’m excited to know what you think.


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