Completing the Final Edits on the Fool's Journey for Wind Ensemble

12:14:00 PM Kevin A. Ure 0 Comments

For the past several years, I've been working on and off on a large wind ensemble piece. It has had its share of complications, but it's finally getting close to being finished. The piece is about 15 minutes in length, and has gone through several revisions. The road has been long, and I've felt like I was near the finish line many times. I am finally happy with its current condition, and I hope to finally complete this work and put it to work for me. Thanks to a reading by Tom Leslie at The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I was able to get a good idea of changes that needed to be made to make it work.

Composing music is a strange thing because you can have all the necessary skill to finish a composition and still find yourself unable to finalize everything. With my own writing, I've found several reasons for why this may occur, and usually it has to do with time constraints and life getting in the way. Sometimes you're just burnt out on the piece and need a break. Other times, you legitimately don't know where the piece should go next. Often, taking a break gives you the necessary space to re-evaluate the piece and come back to it later with a fresh perspective.

The Fool's Journey contains well over one million notes, and it's no small feat to check each of those notes, make sure the orchestration works, and have the willingness to completely scrap what you've already written when it's simply not working. I've started over from scratch more times than I can count, and I can even remember a three-day stint where I worked continuously, barely sleeping, in an attempt to finish the work.

I'm close to finishing the piece now, and at the moment, I'm taking a break from writing out all of the individual parts. Finale makes this process easier, but you still need to manually edit the parts to ensure that they match the score, don't have any missing accidentals, and are written in a way that is easy for the player to read. Simple mistakes, such as missing rehearsal marks, can cost valuable rehearsal time, which is something you really can't afford when there are 50-plus musicians trying to figure out what the hell you're trying to say.

Whenever I write a score, I think about the amount of time the performer is going to spend practicing and learning the parts. Performers have to (hopefully) play every note, so I believe it's dishonest to not spend the time looking through the part for any errors. No rehearsal is going to be perfect, and with a new composition, there are almost always changes that need to be made, but providing clearly printed parts can make a difficult process less frustrating.

Ultimately, when I finalize a piece for a group I think about whether the piece is going to be frustrating to perform. There isn't a whole lot I can do about a challenging composition, and many of my works are extremely challenging, but I can try to make the process less frustrating. This is done by doing much of the work that the performer would have to do on their own if I didn't do it for them. (Can you tell I have experience working in the service industry?) Adding measure numbers, checking page turns, and ensuring that the notes on the page aren't crowded are all good first steps.

Once the score is clean, it's time to eliminate any extraneous information, or in some cases provide more information. Dynamics, articulations, and performance indicators are all crucial elements, but too much information can stifle a performance and make a work utterly frustrating to read and interpret. As with anything, if you set too many conditions, you risk making the individual following your instructions afraid to step anywhere.

When I was younger, I used to argue the merits of including dynamics, articulations and other musical information to make it clear to the performer how to interpret a piece. I always enjoyed writing the music, and listening to how others interpreted the work on their own. What I realized through experience, is that while this is a valid method of composing that many composers adhere to, it's usually frustrating for the performer. In many cases, it only works when you are able to coordinate with the performer. Even in those cases, it still results in a lot of wasted time that could be avoided if you just told the perform what you wanted in the first place.

Most performers are going to interpret your music no matter what you do, but giving them some clues and hints to how to perform a piece can go a long way towards the success of a performance.
Editing used to be a bore for me, but as I developed more skill, I have learned to appreciate the creative process involved with editing. It doesn't provide the same exhilaration that coming up with a new idea provides, but it certainly has it's moments when you realize you've done everything you can to make a work performance ready.

Finally, there is always a point where you have to decide if you're composition is finished. This is very difficult, since on the one hand, you may just be exhausted from working on the composition, and that voice telling you to quit might be trying to pull one over on you. On the other hand, if you continually work on every piece until every single issue is fixed, you'll probably never publish anything.

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