My music

6 Oct

Being busy with schoolwork much of the semester means that my personal projects often fall by the wayside. Some of you might know about my passion for music, and while I haven’t composed anything in quite some time, I thought I should at least share what I’ve written so far.

Let me begin by saying that I have no real formal training in composition. Although my middle school band teacher was awesome enough to teach us music theory, and I did take a music theory course in high school, I never learned more than the basics. Last year in college I took a course called “Composition for Non-Majors”, which I felt was too general, and didn’t provide enough specifics about the nuts and bolts of well-written music. The class taught us how to break the rules without ever teaching what the rules were.

Anyway, my musical creativity was born at a young age. I always loved singing songs as a kid, although my interest in music really blossomed around age 8. My parents bought me a small keyboard, with which I would learn how to play songs that I knew, as well as play around and come up with sounds of my own. Around the same time I developed a strong interest in classical music, with two of my very first CDs: Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. One of our 3rd grade field trips was to see The Nutcracker in Boston, and I was nothing less than ecstatic.

In addition, being the huge Star Wars fan I was, I was also constantly humming John Williams music, and he, along with Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, had a profound impact on my musical taste and style. My musical skills grew and developed, as I sang in the school chorus in 3rd grade and joined band in the 5th grade, and I went through two new (and larger) keyboards.

It wasn’t until age 11 or 12 that I first began actually writing down melodies that I came up with, thanks to a free and easy-to-use computer program called Noteworthy Composer. I began experimenting with my basic knowledge of harmony to create multi-part works, and also began experimenting with counterpoint, which came somewhat intuitively to me. While my earliest compositions have long been lost, I do have several from what I shall pretentiously refer to as my “Early Period.”

Early Period: age 11-13

My earliest surviving compositions stem from a discussion topic on the IGN message boards, which I first frequented around age 12. A group of gamers were creating an independent, amateur PC RPG entitled “Luminus.” It was a very cliché story involving an orphaned boy (whose name began with a Z) who goes off to explore an island (also called Luminus) and ultimately battle against the evil emperor, who was responsible for the deaths of his parents. I originally joined the project because they were looking for someone to write the dialogue. I sent the creator a sample of ridiculously cliché, over-the-top fantasy dialogue that I came up with, and he was impressed. He couldn’t have been much older than me.

At any rate, the creators eventually announced that they needed someone to write the music for the game as well. Confident in my newfound composition skills, I volunteered for the job and eventually came up with a slew of sample music, beginning with the main theme. The entire theme consisted of only 5 different pitches, and was simply a melody that I’d come up with while playing around on the keyboard.

The Luminus Theme

Despite its simplicity, I immediately loved the sound colour I was able to create. Heck, the section with the harp is still pretty darn cool. Over the course of the project, I came up with a bunch of other tracks, many of which incorporated the main theme. (These tracks are ordered roughly as they were meant to be heard in the game, not in the order that I wrote them. I can’t tell exactly when I composed them.)

Story” – for the “story” screen, obviously based on the main theme

Father” – theme for the main character’s father

Mother” – self-explanatory

The Emperor’s Soldiers” – the soldiers come and kill Father and Mother (or something to that effect) – also incorporates the main theme (which seems to be synonymous with evil)

The Friendly Soldier” – a cute little theme for the soldier who adopts the orphaned main character

South Luminus” – theme for the area of the island where the quest begins… this track still has a special place in my heart

Market” – cheerful marketplace music

Shop” – groovy shop music (heavily influenced by the N64 Zelda games, which also did much to shape my musical style)

Jungle” – first ‘treacherous’ area; includes main theme

Battle” – painfully repetitive battle music, also based on the main theme

Dungeon” – mood music for the dungeons

Boss” – boss music, slightly altered version of battle music

The Underground’s Anthem” – music for the island’s ‘resistance group’ (one of the two simultaneous melodies is very similar to the “Traitor” theme, suggesting the traitor’s presence…teehee!)

Mistress” – theme for the main character’s love interest

Traitor” – traitor’s theme, also based on main (evil) theme

West Luminus” – music for the island’s ‘frontier’ region

Plains” – music for the plains

North Luminus” – possibly my least favourite of the group

Mountains” – duh

East Luminus” – this one’s pretty nice

Ocean” – based on one of my earliest compositions ever, I think

Isle of Darkness” – a scary place

The Evil Emperor” – a modified version of the traitor’s theme for the final boss

Finale” – the final battle

Although this music is rather simplistic, it does offer insight into my progression as a composer. I was really just experimenting with counterpoint, and my harmonies were very basic, but it’s also surprising how much came naturally, like figuring out simple melodies and cadences. I could go into detail on each track, but I don’t think anybody is *that* interested. (PS: the Luminus project was ultimately cancelled.)

At any rate, the middle school years were rich with musical experimentation, as I spent much of my free time in the band room. More specifically, the “Renaissance Room”, a side practice room that amounted to little more than an oversized closet. It was stuffed with instrument-laden shelves, as well as a very old, decrepit upright piano with many broken keys. That piano would become a good friend for several years, and I always had lots of fun hanging out in there with one or two of my friends during recess/commons while we played the piano and laughed about stuff. I even wrote a musical about beavers once… there’s a backstory there that even I don’t remember.

I have a few other compositions left over from this period, such as:

Northeast Anthem – O Corinthé Oranis” – this was written for a fantasy world / story of mine that I originally invented around age 10 (one of many such fantasy worlds). The music was both subconciously and consciously plagiarized (there’s a passage taken directly from the Irish national anthem), but it was intended to be a majestic anthem, after all. I even wrote some really, really ridiculous lyrics:

Let us go on, we children of Corinthe, our azure blood will reign in the seas. As our king rules freedom true, with liberty and the truth as our queen. From the silver hills, the golden fields, emerald woods, across the sea, down to this land of luxury. Here we live in peace and prosperity, which give us our justice, law in our kingdom, love in our hearts. Oh, Corinthé Oranis! Beauty and wondrous life rain from your skies! Trees covered in ice, rivers in gold, beaches in flame. Our waters run to the kingdom in our blue seas. By the chosen ones, our land will always be protected from evil treachery, evil tyrrany. March on! Soldiers of our cause, give no pause. Guard what’s true, sacred too, and then we will be anew! As the warriors come to guard our lives, we fight to keep them. All who dare to trespass on our lands will die. He who is brave will always guard our souls!

Clearly, lyrics have never been my strong point… and that’s just the first stanza. (And if you’re actually curious about what that was all about, then you’ll have to wait until I talk about my fantasy worlds in a future post). I even began an anthem for another one of the areas in ‘Oranis’, but never completed it:

Southeast Anthem” – this was essentially based on a cool chord progression that I played around with a lot. In fact, it was originally meant to be part of a composition that I intended to write entitled “The Zodiac”, with each sign having its own theme. This particular theme was originally meant to be for Scorpio, I think… but my memory’s hazy. Could’ve been Aries or Taurus…

You can hear the same theme in this incomplete, untitled arrangement.

With these later writings, you can see how my skills had improved already.

Middle Period: age 13-15

It’s difficult to say precisely when I wrote a lot of these pieces. Sometime around age 13, I came up with another fantasy story, this one entitled “The Tales of Daichi.” This new fantasy world would serve as a big source of inspiration for my compositions. The first piece of music was the main theme, which I wrote after coming up with the melody whilst in the shower:

The Tales of Daichi: Main Theme” (hear the later MP3 version here)

This piece shows a lot of improvement in terms of melody, counterpoint, and rhythm, but the most remarkable thing was that the music came very easily and naturally to me. For the remainder of this “middle” period, I came up with a handful of theme songs for the various chapters in my “Daichi” saga:

The Prophecy” – if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the aforementioned chord progression from my “Zodiac” series

Rise of the Warriors” – this piece was also based on themes that I came up with for the Zodiac series (I believe the main theme was originally intended to be for Taurus or Leo)

The Great War” – somewhat of an exercise in instrumentation. There’s a couple brief homages to the main theme…

A New Adventure” – the first of the batch that I wrote. The middle theme came first, and the piece was originally intended to be “Libra” in The Zodiac.

Journey to the Past” – the opening section was inspired by “Saturn” from The Planets by Gustav Holst; the latter section may have been inspired by a Spanish-style piece entitled “Fiero” that we once played in band

Return of the Chosen Ones” – I’ve forgotten the inspiration behind this one by now…

Order of Darkness” – an incomplete, somewhat later attempt (a lot more experimention with dissonance)… partially inspired by “Mars”

The Fracture of Light” – another incomplete piece written after the others, also inspired by “Saturn”

Corbin’s Motif” – a character motif that I came up with quite later, inspired by music from Star Fox Adventures on the GameCube, of all places

Around the same time that I wrote the original “Daichi” theme, I was contacted by another gamer developing an amateur RPG (or maybe I contacted him…) about writing the music for the game. He gave me a list of different settings in the game, such as “Future”, “Egypt”, “Void”, and “Pirate Ship”… with little more description than that. Well, I decided to start with “Future”, and play around with wave sounds and whatnot. Well, the creativity flowed through me. The music came almost instinctively and the piece was done in no time.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t repeat the experience with the other tracks. I made some attempts, such as this “Pirate” theme, and this “Void” piece, but I wasn’t satisfied with them and wasn’t feeling the inspiration to write more. I e-mailed the game maker my “Future” sample, but he either never replied or I just lost interest in the project.

I let the “Future” piece sit for a while (as I began work on my Daichi music, I think), but then eventually decided that it would be cool to expand it into something more. And so “The Future Variations” were born, a series of movements utilizing some of the basic chord progressions and melodies from the original piece, but each with a unique feel. Playing on the title of the work, I decided to name each movement based on a different perspective of what the future might be like.

I. Wasteland – fairly melancholic, but there’s still some beauty in it…

II. Anarchy – this was the original “Future”, the one that started it all. All of the variations in the other movements were based on this. I still don’t know where that catchy melody came from… it seemed like the music wrote itself. Although in retrospect I regretted having so many different layers towards the end of the piece, because it made it difficult to hear my favourite part. I don’t know how I ever came up with that.

III. Utopia – the most epic of the movements (and partly inspired by music from the Lord of the Rings films). This is a more advanced piece than “Anarchy” in a lot of ways, which shows the improvement I made between writing the two movements. My favourite part, by far, was the ending, where I discovered a simple but awesome chord progression.

You can hear an MP3 version of these three movements here.

Unfortunately, the fourth and final movement, “Apocalypse”, presented me a number of difficulties. I could never get exactly what I wanted. This was the most substantial version I came up with, but I needed a way to break away from the repetitive melody. I started looking back to “Utopia” for ideas, and played around on the keyboard with that new chord progression, until I came up with a beautiful, epic theme that went like this (or, if you prefer, the string version).

This melody remains one of my favourites to this day. However, I didn’t incorporate it into The Future Variations as I had intended, but ultimately decided to fuse it into a new project that I was working on, dubbed “Mystic Melodies.” More on that in a bit.

Other compositions from this period, largely from the later part:

Mr. Mole Theme” – theme song for a cartoon character that my brother came up with. Went along with some cheesy lyrics, too.

Song” – creative title, right? I never wrote the lyrics for it, or even finished the music, but I’m still fond of it. The basic chord progression is pretty nice.

Also: an attempt at some dramatic piano music, as well as an untitled motif, perhaps intended for Daichi.

Later Period: age 15-17

Towards the end of my 15th year, I began work on “Mystic Melodies.” It started with a simple passage, rich with various orchestral instruments, based on a chord progression that I’d come up with on the keyboard. It eventually evolved into quite a long piece with lots of orchestration. It begins with a citation of the Utopia-based theme, followed by a section based on the original passage, and then returns to the Utopia theme (and even quotes that piece directly a couple of times). In effect, I wrote the middle of the piece first (the point just before the music switches to the Utopia theme), and then worked my way out.

Mystic Melodies” – in full. It’s a bit repetitive at times, and the finale is a bit over-the-top, but it was another big step for me, and the longest single-movement piece I’ve written. (For the MP3 version, click here.)

In 10th grade, I took a music theory class, which didn’t do a whole lot to improve my composition skills, but did provide me with some very useful basic principles – those of the Baroque European chorales, the basis of modern Western music. Chorales of this style are fairly formulaic, so while they didn’t inspire much creativity, it was very satisfying to compose something applying these principles.

The result: my short chorale (or, if you prefer woodwinds and/or MP3s, click here).

During this period, I undertook another composition project: that of the “Sandos Symphony, Op. 42”, which was entirely a musical inside joke with a friend (kind of like Saint-Saens’ Carnaval des Animaux…). I didn’t complete much of what I intended to write, save an unfinished movement entitled “Angela Belua“, complete with ridiculously grammatically incorrect Latin lyrics. (You can actually hear the lyrics in the MP3 version – the voices were synthesized with a program called Virtual Singer). This piece actually incorporates some chorale principles, but most of all it’s intended to be a parody of Orff’s “O Fortuna.”

The real accomplishment of the Sandos Symphony, however, was:

Ode to Eve” (MP3) – it too was intended to be part of a longer piece, but it still works on its own. It began with a chord progression (well, actually the bell part) that I came up with on the keyboard. It was completely intuitive… I’m not sure if I’d heard the progression somewhere else before, but it came to me instantly. And it really is quite nice. The only downside, as with a lot of my music, is repetition, but this piece still shows a lot of improvement over my earlier stuff, I think.

Around this age, I had also come up with yet another fantasy world…which meant more inspiration to write music. Although ultimately, I only came up with two pieces for my story:

Flight from Hamavir” (MP3) – intended to depict a chase / escape on horseback across a canyon-laden region… consequently, I drew heavily from “Gerudo Valley” from Zelda (Ocarina of Time), incorporating some melodies and chord progressions that I’d come up with. I like the piece, although I never could think of a great way to end it… (“Mystic Melodies”, “Ode to Eve”, and “Flight from Hamavir” were the three compositions that I unsuccessfully submitted for acceptance into USC’s composition program).

Hamavir Theme” (MP3) – also called “L’Espoir”…based on a melody heard briefly during “Flight from Hamavir.” I worked out the chords and turned it into an emotional little quintet piece, but never did more with it. The MP3 version is pretty nice, though.

The only other real composition from this period was this improv piece that I came up with on the piano.

Since Then: age 17-19

Since coming to college, I’ve composed virtually nothing. Time constraints are a major issue, as is the general lack of inspiration. I would like to compose, but I don’t really know where to go with anything. I really need to learn how to write better music.

As I said, my composition class was of little help, although it did require me to compose two pieces. The first was a solo vocal piece, where I was required to set this E. E. Cummings poem to music:

it’s jolly
odd what pops into
your jolly tete when the
jolly shells begin dropping jolly fast you
hear the rrmp and
then nearerandnearerand NEARER
and before
you can

!

& we’re
NOT
(oh–
–i say
that’s jolly odd
old thing, jolly
odd, jolly
jolly odd isn’t
it jolly odd.

Needless to say, E. E. Cummings isn’t exactly my cup of tea, and I wasn’t too excited about this project. There was very little creative freedom, but I did my best and this was the result.

The second composition (a duet for two instruments) offered a lot more freedom, except I just couldn’t find the inspiration to write anything new. I was also confined to writing for the clarinet and alto clarinet since I needed to provide my own musicians, which meant myself and Madeline. There were a lot of great, beautiful pieces written in that class, but mine wasn’t one of them.

I called it “Les Corbeaux” – the name in part derived from one of its musical sources, that “Corbin motif” from Daichi that I’d written a few years earlier. The other source was the piano improv piece. Essentially, I was recycling old material. The performance itself was painful to listen to, considering I hadn’t played for two years, and Madeline and I were terribly out of tune (especially me), but if you really want to suffer, you can listen to the duet here.

If you’ve read this far, I applaud you for having a marginal interest, although this is largely just a way for me to archive my music and keep track of it. I really would like to do something big with composition someday, but it’s a question of whether 1) I have the natural talent and 2) I have the time to work on it.

We shall see.

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3 Responses to “My music”

  1. monster7of9 7 October 2007 at 05:30 #

    For someone who does not have any formal training I was quite impressed by your pieces. I wish I can compose music. I also grew up listening to John William’s Star Wars as this was my first album at the age of 10. Since then I have had a love for movie soundtracks and have grown to appreciate many other composers like James Horner, Bear McCreary, Hans Zimmer, Jerry Goldsmith and even Phillip Glass who recently did the Illusionists. I use them when ever I can when I do my screenwriting.

    Keep up the good work.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. music » My music - 7 October 2007

    […] unknown wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptAlthough my middle school band teacher was awesome enough to teach us music theory, and I did take a music theory course in high school, I never learned more than the basics. Last year in college I took a course called “Composition for … […]

  2. Style » My music - 7 October 2007

    […] unknown wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptIt begins with a citation of the Utopia-based theme, followed by a section based on the original passage, and then returns to the Utopia theme (and even quotes that piece directly a couple of times). In effect, I wrote the middle of the … […]

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