It’s been a few months, but today I started a song for me and only me. It was harder than I remember it being. I kept thinking, “I could do this and use it for…” then I would stop myself. This internal battle was intermittent but steady. So after about an hour I stopped work on this particular song. I scratched out most of the main melody and I have no orchestration. But in my brains I can see how it will look when complete.
The way I compose varies from song to song, but when doing large pieces, as this one will be eventually, I take the simple melody scribe it on the piano. One treble and one bass clef. From there I lengthen, then expand upward and then downward. What this means is I take the motif or theme from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Then I orchestrate the woodwinds, and upper brass and then the strings and lower brass. The process is simple, but it is far from easy. There are measures (and arbitrary structural element usually consisting of a few beats) that take me 3 hours to button down and there are 16 measure passages that barely take 15 minutes to nail.
Orchestrate is the wrong word, technically, but it suits the needs of this blog. I define, in this context, as taking the simple melody, which is typically one note without harmonies, and I pick an instrument. We’ll say clarinet. The clarinet is now the melodic motion of this piece. Then I pick another instrument, in this instance flute, to be the counterpoint. So the flute will play something similar to the clarinet, with minor variations. These two steps are almost universal for me, regardless of what genre or project the piece is for.
The next step in my orchestration varies. It typically depends on how large the piece will be. Epic or intimate. These are obviously two extremes, but there is careful consideration put into this part based on all the variables of the project. What is it for? What should it accomplish emotionally? Is it stand alone or part of a compilation? There’s a great many questions to ask here. And this is where I ultimately got lost. On large scale epics, I will flesh out the bass section (tuba, contrabass, cello, etc) then start filling in everything in between. Counter melody, harmonies, expression and so on. But, I can’t begin to do that until the piece tells me where it wants to go.
And this one was oddly silent. On a game it’s easy. This piece has to be dangerous and sinister. This next one has to be happy yet hesitant. This last one is about a bunny who finds a machine gun and hunts down zombie vegetables. But this track, which is still untitled, won’t tell me what it’s for. I have no director and I have no story. So it’s completely up to me, or the song, as it were.
I am listening to this song and it is very clear in what it wants. I, however, am having a hard time hearing it. I think I know where she wants to be and how I’ll take her there, but I want to be sure. A wrong turn can have catastrophic consequences. Intimate ballads make for poor tension builders, yet orchestrate beautifully as an overture. This song is sensitive though, I know that much, and I don’t want to hurt her feelings. So, I’ll just have to listen and listen until I’m clear on what she means.
She was gracious enough to visit me when I had the time and attention to spare for her. The least I can do is listen to her until I can view her through her own eyes, until I can see her as she wants to be seen.