Celebration of Learning - Composition

Okay kids, let's celebrate our learning. 

Presented to: my father

Synopsis:  So I've had an interesting time with this project... (For those of you that don't know I'm doing a project on music). I've rewatched Disney's 'Fantasia' to study how they used animation and stories to reflect the music of choice, and I've watched some iconic movie scenes with music that adds to the mood.

For example: In horror/suspense movies, repetition = tension. In the song I've selected from The Shining, there is a repeated trill played by the mallet percussionist that gradually accelerates in the opening of the piece. The trill comes back throughout the eight - minute piece at key moments. 

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Repitition can either be from the same instrument of the same melody, or echoed through different instruments in the group/orchestra. 

Drones are also used to create suspense. (I mean the sound, not the robots) Insidious 2 uses (almost excessive) string drones to mimic the sound of a human wail or cry. The sound of the strings is otherworldly enough that we know it's not human, but sounds enough like a voice to put you on edge. 

On the theme of heroism and music meant to inspire, repitition is also key, but more in the clear sense of musical 'pulse.' Modern movies may also choose to incorporate non-orchestral instruments like electric guitar, such as the X-Men: First Class Theme, which I remember loving when I saw the movie in theaters. The beginning has a clear sense of positive suspense with the repeated line by the strings, broken by the french horn.

Brass instruments are a relatively common choice for western 'triumphant' pieces, especially in Hollywood with composers like John Williams being practically married to the French Horn...

Brass tend to be heraldic instruments, which makes sense, given their origin of use being for fanfare when signaling the entrance of a significant person, like the piece below, which is for natural trumpet. Natural brass give you only a certain number of notes to play, usually of the same harmonic series.

Therefore, the brass fanfare in film tends to be relatively simple to play, consisting of only a few notes, and are often repeated at least once in the piece. This is usually the iconic 'theme' of the piece, or the little bit that will get stuck in your head for days. Like 'The Ururk-Hai' from Lord of the Rings, which has the main theme of the movies played by brass, sounding super epic. (I'm definitely not biased towards brass at all)


However, I've reached tons of dead ends composition. I researched the above-mentioned moods so thoroughly because they were the original ones I was going for. The piece I wrote and re-wrote several times was based around the feeling of being hunted from above by a predatory animal, specifically the Ferruginous Hawk of the North American Desert. The hawks are especially active in the winter, hunting small burrowing animals like prairie dogs. 

The hawks hunt in groups in the winter, and they often create a 'feeding frenzy' that draws even larger avian predators like Golden and Bald eagles.

I tried to create a desolate, empty winter-desert feeling in the opening of the piece, followed by the chaos as the hawk spots its prey and draws in the larger predators, the first movement ending with every instrument in the orchestra playing different phrases at the same time to create chaos. 

However, I will not continue this piece for now, because I feel like I've lost the original drive I had with the story line/characters. 

THe new piece I will be writing over Christmas break is about an issue I've become interested in, which is the effect that sonar (used by the military to track submarines) has on the migration habits of whales and dolphins. 

"By the Navy's own estimates, even 300 miles from the source, these sonic waves can retain an intensity of 140 decibels -- a hundred times more intense than the level known to alter the behavior of large whales."

Whales that have beached themselves due to sonar exhibit various symptoms: bleeding around the brain, large bubbles in the organs, and intense bleeding of sensitive tissue like that of the eardrum. 

I have a clear reason to write this piece: Raising awareness. I like the potential this has, soundwise, and I plan on making it into a concerto for marimba and orchestra. 

The marimba has a soothing ambience to it that is important when writing pieces that involve water.

I'm also inspired by pieces a fellow LFAS student Aidan Wong composed around the idea of water. I'm going to use these, as well as Saint-Sa√čns' 'Aquarium' for inspiration and reference. 


Hopefully this was interesting!!



Lethal Sounds. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2015, from http://www.nrdc.org/wildlife/marine/sonar.asp

Ferruginous Hawk. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2015, from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/.../Ferruginous_Hawk/id

and the videos above. 


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