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Thesis: 25 Days

Wow, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? The last time I wrote, I was trying out a new download system and rebuilding a harpsichord. I’m still in the middle of both projects, but for right now my time is occupied doing something quite different than programming or woodwork.

As part of the strangeness that is the graduate music composition curriculum, I have to present a recital of original works (which happened on March 6, and you can listen to it here), and I have to write a significant large composition as a thesis. And of course, this being academia, there are plenty of forms to fill out and plenty of deadlines, but the important deadline right now is the date of my defense: April 29. This leaves 25 days in which to finish writing and orchestrating a 13-minute piece for symphonic band, a piece named Tempest.

So, I thought, to take up time, I’d write about it. Perfect sense, huh?

My initial idea for Tempest was as an orchestra piece, but it appears to be notoriously difficult to get new orchestral music played. The wind band genre on the other hand is less populated and full of players wanting to try new playing techniques and notation. The first several minutes of the work are quasi-aleatoric and use proportional notation (music in free time, without a time signature). Due to the nature of this notation, I chose to orchestrate a great deal of the material by hand rather than convince Sibelius to write such alien notation (though it should be said that I’ve since notated this opening section in Sibelius and it looks fine).

The act of writing a composition thesis is especially unique in two ways that immediately come to mind. One, with a little change in margins and pagination, the work will be ready for publishing after it is completed and defended, which can’t always be said for prose theses. The other issue is that the document is not a prose thesis, and forcing a 37-stave piece of music into the “normal” 8.5” by 11” size paper is an adventure in spacing. I have asked the graduate college about the possibility of submitting an oversized thesis, but I’ve yet to hear an official answer.

So the state of Tempest, 25 days out, can be described as being partially-orchestrated and partially notated. In the next three weeks we’ll watch as it becomes a full-fledged piece. Well, I guess you’ll watch and I’ll panic.

I’ll try to post pictures and score samples tomorrow.