The Composer Arranger 03

Oh boy. Major problems trying to understand what is going on here after reading the first 21 pages. It feels like the author is trying to say everything at once in a rather disorganized manner jumping wildly from topic to topic and intellectualizing and abstracting what should be rather simple ideas about overall form. Add to that British terms like “quaver” instead of eighth note and “crochet” instead of quarter note and the level of difficulty in reading is further increased. While I do indeed understand every sentence, this jumping around all over the place and the confusing diagrams that only the author could love make for a tedious read (I do understand the diagrams but they don’t really work as intended). I’m 7% through and honestly don’t want to continue even though the subject matter is something I am very much interested in.

Let me take a stab at describing “form” while describing poetry and see if I can do a decent job of it. This is bound to be a lot harder than it seems.

A poem is necessarily based on a metaphor. If we have text with a regular meter and rhyming scheme then we have verse, not a poem. A poem can be poorly written and verse can be great art. Still the distinction remains between the two that a poem is steeped in metaphor while verse is not.

What further differentiates a poem from regular text is meter. There must be a regular ebb and flow of accents natural to the words. The most difficult to master is free verse where the patterns are not blatantly obvious but the words flow wonderfully, and the easiest is iambic pentameter where every other syllable is obviously accented.

A last and often ignored aspect of poetry is that it is necessarily intended to be read aloud. In this it is much like a musical score in that it is not brought to life until performed as opposed to remaining stagnant on the printed page.

So a poem is metered text based on a metaphor that is to be read aloud. Let’s add further that poems tend to have a regular rhyming scheme. Once the meter is set the listener expects it to continue in like manner. Once a pattern of rhyming first occurs the listener expects the pattern of rhyme to continue in like manner.

And now we will speak of form.

If wine is the idea then the wine glass is the form. The glass has shape and it has volume. Only so much wine will fit into our glass so we want to choose only the very best wine we can find.

Everything we write takes on a form. There is a series of words that lay on a page. Poems tend to take on a more regular structure as does music. In order to understand such a concept let’s define a sonnet rather rigidly as an example and forget for the moment that there are different sorts of sonnets.

In our sonnet, as is the norm, it will be composed of fourteen lines. There will be three groups of four lines each (quatrains) and will end with two lines (a couplet). So our sonnet will contain exactly 140 syllables (14 lines with 10 syllables per line). An example follows.

The Patrician Sonata (excerpt)

Oh how do I begin this tale of mine
When passion clouds the vision of my eyes
And trembling hands beat lonely rhythmic lines
My tortured heart first shudders, then it sighs.

Can petty words depict a summer breeze?
Can paints portray the symphony of birds?
Expression fails me:  crippling disease!
Yet try I must amid these falt'ring words.

They say that art transcends the medium
To speak of things that others can't express
Those passages so meaningful to some
Are difficult for others to assess.

How many are the ones who share my fate
Where inspiration's guidance came to late?

My sonnet above is rather like verse in that it seems to lack a true metaphor. Let’s not worry about that failing and just call it verse in sonnet form. I wrote it as part of a larger work more than 30 years ago. Let’s examine what is going on here and then I’ll explain the larger form this individual sonnet is a part of.

In each quatrain a different idea is expressed:

1. I’m an emotional wreck.

2. There seems to be no adequate way to explain what I am experiencing and why.

3. Maybe some can understand if I can employ “art”.

4. The ending couplet serves as a transition to the next sonnet in the sequence. Normally a couplet would tidy things up.

So we have the form of the sonnet as I decided to define it. Every other line rhymes except for the ending couplet which rhymes in consecutive lines. You might find it of interest that I created a larger form based on the already difficult to write sonnet.

I invented something called the Sonata as a specific structure of sonnet sequence. My grander form was to design a series of nine sonnets divided into three sections, movements if you would. Many musical sonatas have three sections called movements. My poetic Sonata was to be divided into three sets of three sonnets each, so to show the basic structure of this particular work I could write it thusly:

The Patrician Sonata

1. The Object

2. The Fantasy

3. The Tragedy

So I have three distinct sections that will address different aspects of my theme of hopeless obsession. First I describe the discovery of the object of obsession (infatuation), secondly I write about dreaming of the object which is out of reach, and finally in the third section we have the “hero” choosing to remain in the dream rather than face harsh reality and moving on with his life.

So it is a horror story of sorts, a Moby Dick if you will. Obsession destroys the man.

I will spare you the rest of this so-called Sonata because it has proved to be unpopular both in its idea and rendering. Still, I like the notion of creating a large and difficult form and fighting my way through to completion. Three sets of three sonnets each to tell a story.

Again, poetry is metaphor, meter, and often rhymes in a consistent pattern. The flow of the meter and rhyme dictates a form whether you choose one of the tried and true structures or not. It is the nature of the beast.

– – –

Hmm? That book about the composer/arranger? I had to put it down because it was so jarring and confusing. Time to pick it back up and see if it starts to make more sense to me as it moves forward. I’ll report back when I have more to say.

14 thoughts on “The Composer Arranger 03

  1. Thanks, Jim and thanks, also, for requesting my responses.

    This is the first adverse criticism the book has ever received since the first edition was launched in 2000 so, in a way, perhaps you’re doing me a favour by preventing me from becoming complacent. Because yours is such an unfavourable review (so far) I’m anxious to point out that the star ratings and testimonials were all unsolicited and, with one exception, came from people I’ve never met.

    I must try hard to avoid the impression of sour grapes so I’ll be as objective as I can be here.

    I feel a particular sense of failure over the fact that you find the book hard to follow or that is hops about. A methodical style, more than anything else, was my main concern.

    On www I always use both US and European definitions. When I first put pen to paper I was concerned that few readers would thank me for writing crotchet (quarter note) quaver (eighth note) semiquaver (sixteenth note) etc. if the question of note values occurred too often.

    Your own definition of form is intriguing and, as always with your opinions, highly individualistic. I didn’t follow it fully. The problem is that such a highly subjective approach is something an educational author cannot use, especially when a book has a global audience. In other words, I set out to build an objective framework within which creativity can flourish.

    Thanks again, John Morton,

    • I reserve judgement until I have gone through the book completely. There is a British sensibility about it all and so far, in a sense, it reminds me of the tangents that Monty Python would go off on. I get the impression early on that a very advanced level of understanding — rather than a rudimentary one — is required from the onset. We’ll see. I did not pick apart one or several paragraphs and show what I was referring to because I did not want to dig into the level of rewriting the text in total.

      I did not want to write this entry at all because of my like and respect of you. My audience here is rather small.

      Since you are willing to jump into the fray, I will feel more free to discuss particular musical issues as they arise. I will likely need help in any event! Do defend your position and correct me when I am in error. I actively want that.

    • A couple specific comments. Building a D7 chord on top of a C7 chord, and yes I played it on the piano sustaining all the notes, left me rather cold — so dissonant. And taking a spiral from a graph and expanding it on a timeline did little to enlighten or excite me (I am familiar with how taking a circle and projecting it thusly will produce a sine wave). And I am familiar with a rondo having the very specific form of:

      A – B – A – C – A – B – A

      often chopping off the last two bits because the repetition can become rather tedious with all those A sections. Beethoven’s Für Elise comes to mind as a classic example of a rondo in the form A – B – A – C – A.

  2. Thanks again Jim for all your time. I’m attempting to create a general method, here, and there will be many occasions where repetitiveness or dissonance will be a problem in actual music, depending on personal taste and circumstances (background music to a horror film, for example).

    I am able to cope with a lot of dissonance but, at one stage, I felt the need for ‘purification’ and pulled out some four part harmony exercises as a remedy. Funnily enough, an actual piece emerged from it all that is very Mozartian. I can put it on SoundCloud if you’d like to hear it.

    An afterthought on the crotchets and quavers issue: these terms are useful because they clearly identify note types regardless of time signatures. In 5/4 or 12/8 calling a crotchet a ‘quarter note’ loses its significance. I can imagine that the words sound quaint to American ears as does the British tendency to retain the letter ‘u’ that has been dropped in many US spellings.

    My general style of practical directness in the text emerged from my own dislike of humour (humor) in textbooks. This is best left to professionals.

    • You have mentioned SoundCloud before, maybe in your blog or a comment somewhere. Could you please supply a link? I would like to listen to at least some of what you have posted there. I also have an ulterior motivation as a misguided friend wants to have music auto-play on her WordPress blog and the best way to do that is to do that with SoundCloud which I am unfamiliar with that. Thirdly, maybe I would want to put some things of my own there.

      • The recorded examples were done with minimal rehearsal and basic equipment and were written for medium level bands. The computer-generated stuff will benefit from a better sound-font as soon as I can get around to it.

        Needless to say, these are just a tiny part of my output, much of which vanishes as soon as it goes out the door. It would be useful to have more recorded samples of work over the years.

        All my BBC stuff was accidentally erased by a friend.

        Strangely, although 10 is in the link, I come up as 12.

        Let me know if you require help,


      • Got it and I can go there. Tomorrow I’ll listen on a better sound system than I have available at the moment and I do understand your qualifications about it all.

        I did peek forward a couple pages in your book. I expect the character of my comments to turn a full 180 degrees as things — to me — suddenly become very simple and crystal clear. We’ll see as I can focus and give it time.

      • Stay in touch. Can I tell you a funny story? You know how some people leave their phones in their top pockets (kuh!)? Well, I spilled coffee all over my keyboard yesterday. It’s the sugar that causes the problem. I just ran hot(ish) water over it under the tap, dried it out and, as you can see, all’s fine except the figure ‘2’ which I have to obtain on the numeric pad (as I just did then and again: 2).

        Re: the recordings I also have a pile of videos of the shows I wrote, culminating at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

        When I began writing no one had notation software and, because my ear’s good anyway, I never bothered too much about playback etc. To use a better sound font I need to upgrade the computer.

        I’ve just posted the other piece I referred to on SoundCloud. ‘Sonatina In Ab’. I’ll probably hear from Mozarts’ lawyers but it is all my own work.

        If your equipment doesn’t convert to MP3 there’s an excellent free online tool at SoundCloud will accept the much larger WAV files but the process is simpler with MP3’s and the quality loss is something that only cats and dogs would worry about.

      • Coffee? You are starting to sound like a Yankee. Glad the hot water mostly did the trick.

        I have all top-tier equipment which has me constantly brooding over how to arrange and connect and use things. New iMac is the main thing and a total rearrangement of my workspace. Getting a new iPad Air later today delivered to the house. With the new Finale 2014 (scoring) and Logic Pro X (Digital Audio Workstation software) I have a very capable setup, along with a Korg Kronos music keyboard. It all has me brooding and being lazy trying to get everything “just so” while not knowing exactly how to do that.

        I’m in an interesting predicament with a student. The young lady, 14 years old, has talent but no work ethic. I’ve written out for her exactly what is on the beginning of a record she likes (Adele’s “Turning Tables”) and she is having great difficulty simply reading the bass clef let alone hitting the notes. Why try to play something when you don’t know which keys to hit? It is an unfortunate cycle with me where I allow the student to pursue what captures their imagination — which they cannot do — and they end up quitting. Dues have to be paid in that fundamentals must be learned or failure is sure to come.

        To some degree that is what I am doing with your book. I can perform well enough but my writing and arranging skills have never been properly addressed. I find it fairly easy to come up with something that will last 30-60 second which I can create in a day and then I don’t have the craft to take that idea further or to orchestrate it beyond a certain point. This frustrates me to no end where the ideas to move forward seem concrete enough but they will vanish when I start to try and render them. I lack craft in this way and I am painfully aware of it. Functional western music with pop/blues variation is all I’m really after although your coverage of jazz will not hurt.

        You did mention jazz as the “people’s music” and that made me sad. There has been so much dumbing down of what is on the airwaves these days and the pendulum does not seem to be swinging back. Where is the Emerson, Lake and Palmers? Where are the Jethro Tulls? I watched the iTunes Festival in its entirety and overall these people are simply not musicians and hardly hacks. I did not spend my life honing performance skills so that I could then retire early only to watch a keyboard performance where once in a while the “keyboard player” would push a single note down with a single finger.

        While I was in a classic rock band many of the songs had no keyboard part on the original recording. That is where I came into arranging my own parts. I considered myself “the straw that stirs the drink” in that I tried to fill out the song with what I felt was missing. That is a rudimentary sort of arranging, adding a single part to what was before me. I came to often prefer that over poorly-rendered too-simple parts of songs that did have a characteristic keyboard playable part.

        So I’m setting up a new environment that is capable of doing some rather amazing things. Once done I need to make myself more capable which is difficult at the tender age of 56. I’m trying, and I’ll be going through your book at a literal snails pace. I hope to find some useful tools in there that can help me move forward in creating and arranging music that satisfies my itch.

      • Sounds like you’re on the right track with the young pupil. Talented players will often cut out anything that doesn’t relate to their own interests. They can be very single-minded. To them anything else just doesn’t exist.

        Re: extended works, I grew tired of this in later life and now avoid anything that has to be strung out architecturally. Music I write these days that has any length simply grows that way organically and I use my skills to help it hold together. The string quartet on SoundCloud is an example.

      • Just listened to your recordings on SoundCloud. I see the problem with sounds on a number of the pieces. Would you mind telling me what you are using to render the music currently? Computer & software. I’m very curious.

        One of your example pieces in the book has really captured my imagination, at the bottom of page 32. I would like to make a piano recording of it to embed into my next comment. Is that OK? You list a lot of 7th chords that when taken with the melody actually become 13th chords. I find myself playing it with block chords in the left hand over and over trying to truly understand what is going on there.

        V7 – I – ii7 – V7 – I – V7 of ii – ii7 – V7 – I

        if I’m not mistaken. It is such a little piece but it really inspires me.

      • Jim, we’re recovering here from the cost of sending our son and the twins through college and university which has left me unable to afford to replace my pitiful facilities. I use an iQon computer which is Windows based but I’m an out-and-out Mac fan. I use MuseScore, a free application I get on with very well. Finale would be nice but totally beyond my means. The sound font currently in use is GeneralUser G5 MuseScore v1.44 @ 30,545 kb. My computer needs more memory to run a better font.

        It’s OK to use the piano recording and thanks for your comments, JM.

  3. Are you familiar with evilnymphstuff? She just posted here about You Tube piano tutorials. I sent her here just in case she’s never been here. She needs to find you if she has not. 😉

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