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music music Monday

Music Monday: Opus 6 – Progress

I sat down the other day and was able to write a few potential transitions to get me from one part to the next.

There are so many different forms that a piece of classical music can take. Some take the forms of dances: Gavotet, Mazurka, Allemande, while others are named for their tempo: Allegro, Largo, Adagio. Pieces can be called for what they are used for, such as a Study, or a diversion – Divertimento.

Like poetry, compositions often have repeated parts. Part one repeated, then part 2 repeated would be AABB. A rondo has a main part repeated 3 times ABACA.

Here is a sneak peek at the score:

As you can see there are 5 distinct parts, with the blue outline being the ending. Some parts may be combined depending how I want the repeats to go.

As for a name, not to give away the style, but I think I will be calling it “Lullaby”.

-Leon


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music music Monday

Music Monday: Places (acoustic guitar)

I hope you have been enjoying my composition series Opus 1 through 5. The next one will follow once I have all the parts connected into a cohesive piece of music. How long does that take? Beats me, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ll share a project I have been working on called Places. It was written for the acoustic steel-string guitar. The composition process doesn’t differ from how I write for classical guitar. The only difference is the sound that you get from each guitar; sometimes a piece of music just fits better on one over the other.

I discovered the joy of playing acoustic guitar after beginning my classical training. My musical influences came from hearing folk, Celtic, country, and bluegrass at various music festivals. In the 80s, electric guitarists were taking guitar to a whole new level, and in the late 80s/early 90s, acoustic players were doing much the same thing.

Places (which I have shared in a previous post), is a fingerpicked acoustic piece. The beginning is actually the first part of a song I was writing called Pieces, which I absconded for this new piece because it just fit.

While I played it, it brought back memories of places I have seen, so it was natural to put together a visual montage to go along with it. I tried various video editing programs (free) but settled on the movie maker that my OS came with.

It’s a rough draft, but I think that it will work for the meantime. I hope you think so too.


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music music Monday thoughts

Music Monday: Opus 2

I sommelier once told me, don’t let anyone tell you what you taste. If you taste black cherry, then it has notes of black cherry. He also said that price shouldn’t be a factor. If you like it, it’s a good wine. That’s advice coming from someone whose job it is to sell us on the vineyard’s vintages.

I approach composing in much the same way. If I like the way it sounds, then it’s right. A composition teacher told the class that in order to break the rules, you first must learn them. Thus, began the arduous task of mastering music theory, harmonization, voice leading, etc.

Who made these rules? Every composer before me. The lucky ones were the ones from the beginning. Each composer wrote what sounded right to their ears, and others copied (because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery). As with anything, music evolves. New ideas of what sounds right or wrong are added, and voila, we have Barbara Wharram’s Elementary Rudiments of Music.

There are still things that sound pleasant-or correct-to our ears. That could be because we have become accustomed to the way chords and notes move and interact over hundreds of years.  Don’t believe me? Play– or have someone play– this chord sequence: G / / / C / / / D / / /, then stop. For you musicians out there, don’t worry, you can play the tonic chord now, I’m not cruel. For everyone else, it leaves you wanting something else, doesn’t it? Hint, it’s a G.

I learned all the rules. I composed fugues and inventions according to convention. Sound boring? You wouldn’t be completely wrong, sometimes it was. In the 20th century, composers began to rebel against these rules and made their own. Some went toward the minimalist approach, others used math to determine the outcome, and the rest took the forms that they liked and used the notes they wanted.

Let circle back to the sommelier, not because I like wine – I do – but because he was right. Don’t let anyone tell you the music sounds wrong because if that’s how you want it to sound, then it’s right.

Next week: The Beginning of a Composition (or, Where did That Idea Come From?)


Leon Stevens is a composer, artist, and author of three books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and Pictures, The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories, and Journeys: Eight Original Pieces for Classical Guitar

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humor music music Monday thoughts

Music Monday: Sell-out or Just Business?


A few news stories have come out over the last few weeks about musicians selling the rights to their song catalogs. Now, this is nothing new, one of the first bombshells was when Michael Jackson purchased some of The Beatles songs – which I believe were repurchased years later. Recently, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Mick Fleetwood have all sold parts of their own catalogs.

Why is it good business to own song rights? $$$$$$. Royalties are paid every time a song is played/performed publicly. Radio (yes, we still have that), online streaming, T.V. (yes, we still have that too), and movies are some examples. Ever wonder why you only hear snippets of songs during your favorite sports events? After a certain amount of time, royalties need to be paid, so the venue plays 10-15 seconds. Loophole? Maybe. But the first 10-15 seconds of Thunderstruck is the best part. Come to think about it, it is the only part. Why do you hear weird variations on that birthday song in restaurants? You guessed it-royalties.

I don’t remember the first time I heard a song that I liked used in a commercial. I do remember that many years ago (no, I’m not telling) cries of “Sell-out!” were repeated by music fans when the bands that they loved allowed popular songs to be used to sell…whatever. It’s not so surprising now–it’s just business. Can we fault an artist for trying to make money? OK, don’t answer that. That’s a whole new can o’ worms.

What can I handle? I can tolerate a song being used in its original form to sell a truck, insurance, banking services, or whatnot, but please, please, if you sell your song, sell the lyrics as well. Don’t know what I’m getting at? One of my favorite songs is–was–Rocket Man by Elton John. Now, when I hear that song, all I think about is the lady who “…shops at Rakutan”. Thanks a bunch, Elton.

Given the opportunity, would I sell the rights to my songs? Probably. Maybe. It depends. If my creations made me a decent wage that allowed me not to want for anything (FYI–that’s a low bar. I’m very frugal), I don’t think that I would. Never say never, though, right?

So, for all you restaurants looking for a cheap alternative to The Birthday Song, for only $0.27/use, I present to you, Happy, Happy Birthday:

 
 Happy, happy, happy,
 Birthday, birthday, birthday
 You were born [insert number here] years ago
 Happy, happy, happy,
  Birthday, birthday, birthday
 We’ll stop here 
 So we don’t have to pay… 

Darn, I didn’t think this through…

-Leon

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music music Monday poetry

Music Monday: Music and Poetry-The Connection

I wrote this guest post for the blog Spines in a Line (great name, right?) so I decided to post it here today.

Music and Poetry-The Connection

When you think about poetry, music doesn’t always spring to mind. When you hear your favorite song, most people don’t connect it to a poem. Song lyrics, on their own, have to be categorized as a poem, don’t they?

Definition of Poem: A poem is an arrangement words that convey or express a thought, feeling, or emotion, in an imaginative style. Poems will often have rhyming and rhythmic elements, sometimes in a repeating or predictable pattern.

It is a broad definition, which is why there are so many different classifications of poems. From the classic Shakespearean sonnet, Japanese Haiku, to concrete visual poetry, poem styles number in the hundreds. What I like about poetry is that as long as you are able to paint a picture with your words, you are a poet.

Music also has many styles, but I think composers have a harder time stretching the boundaries, because the human ear is used to the 12 notes in Western music (and a few more in Eastern). Because I am more familiar with the former, I will limit myself to that.

Music has been a part of humanity longer than spoken language, although you could say that music is a language in its own right. Tribal celebrations with music (or just rhythms) were some of the earliest ways to convey emotions and information. Early church chants were religious texts set to the seven notes of the modern scales. Traveling troubadours sang about events, and composers turned from instrumental compositions to operatic masterpieces. Africans, brought to America as slaves, fused their own culture with the music of colonial Americans, giving birth to Blues, Jazz, County, and finally Rock & Roll.

I started out writing song lyrics, some which became songs- others are still waiting for the right music to come along (good at writing melodies? Let me know…). Some of my songs remained short and unfinished, and those became some of my first poems. As I wrote poetry, sometimes inspiration would lead me to think that some of my poems needed a little something more to create that imaginative style.

The first poem that I set to music was, Never the Same, which describes the loss of a friendship. I think that I was noodling (that’s the technical term for playing random notes/chords on the guitar in hopes of finding something that sounds cool) on my guitar, and what I came up with was slightly sad, but introspective. It made me think of that poem as I played, and I believe that the poem is a much better creation because of the marriage of the two.

The next poem, If (The Refugee), started the same way, but this time I decided to write music specifically for it. I also experimented with recording techniques and layering.

I am going to do more with poetry and music. They are two of the things that I enjoy, and being able to combine them gives more depth to the creation.

-Leon


Leon Stevens is a composer, artist, and author of two books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and Pictures and The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories. Visit www.linesbyleon.com

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music music Monday thoughts

Music Monday: So Many Genres

Music was the earliest form of artistic creation. It brought together people to share traditions and relay important cultural ideals. Do you know anyone who doesn’t like some form of music? Keep thinking…

Well? That’s right. I think that it is extremely rare. And with so many styles of music to choose from, it’s difficult not to find something that you like. Every style of music has its standouts, and those standouts will differ from person to person. Some will have a narrow range of favorites; others are able to appreciate a wider variety.

My high school buddies and I were into heavy metal. “We’ll never stop rocking out man,” we would declare with conviction. Fast forward and I don’t think there is a genre of music that I can’t find at least one song to enjoy. Some music is a far cry from what we used to listen to.

What do I enjoy listening to? I googled several different genres to see what category(ies) best defines my choice in music. Apparently, according to the Billboard year-end charts, the winner is Adult Alternative. Which means, there are more songs on that chart that I know than on the Billboard Top 100. Not to say there are not some good ones on that one too, The Weeknd, Lizzo, and Drake are there.

I’ll listen to orchestral music quite a bit. You’ll notice I didn’t say classical music-that’s an era of music (for you nik-pickers out there) which I do enjoy along with renaissance, baroque, etc. My nylon string (or classical) guitar compositions, while technically are 20th century “classical” music, are strongly influenced by two widely separated eras: renaissance and modern minimalism. Anne Southam and Philp Glass come to mind. My steel string acoustic pieces have country, folk, and Irish influences. Sunday morning is a good fit for listening to choral concerts.

I really enjoy some of the traditional Latin songs, to the Latin pop that has exploded onto the North American scene in recent years. And yes, I was listening to it before Despasito.  I can do country, when I am in the right mood, some hip-hop, and when a song from the 80’s comes on, I can usually sing most of the words.

There is not a genre that I dislike. There are however, songs within those genres, that I will turn off-or just don’t get what others hear in them, but that goes for anything, doesn’t it.

Music has played a large role in shaping my life. I am grateful for it. Music makes me happy, but it can also make me cry. My feelings and emotions flood out when I am listening, playing, or composing. Songs allow me to travel back in time to recall events in my life. Sometimes, a new song will remind me of a past experience because it just seems to fit.

What would I do without music? I don’t even want to entertain that notion.

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music music Monday

Music on Monday: Places (acoustic guitar)

For me, music is emotional. I think that is true for most people. Music conveys the feelings of the composer without having to explain the impetus behind it. Can these emotions be misinterpreted? Of course they can-but that isn’t a bad thing either.

When I write music, I have certain ideas of what the music is saying to me, and I don’t expect others to feel that same way, but hopefully it does evoke a feeling or memory in the listener. Because that’s what music should do.

I started to write this latest piece, before I decided what it meant to me. I am working on a video for it, which I will share at a later date. The music may mean something completely different to you (it probably will), and that’s OK. It’s kinda like a gift card that you can go buy whatever you feel you need at the time.

-Leon