Together with the assignment, we are asked to send in our reflection. I first wrote the overall reflection on the first part of the course, which you can find here. Also, there are some reflective comments I give within the assignment notes themselves, especially in the brief and conclusion. In this post, I will write about my tutor’s feedback, listing some changes I made to the assignment piece, and in the second post (post B), I will give a final review of my work against the assessment criteria.
The feedback starts with my tutor’s general remarks:
“Overall, your piece has some strong ideas, and you have handled a range of scales well, giving a good sense of identity to the work. There are, however, some practical considerations to take into account, especially with the agility of the oboe.”
Regarding the practical considerations of the instrument, I haven’t at all made clear that the composition is for the advanced players with the extended oboe technique, which includes double tonguing, glissando, altissimo range and consecutive octaves. This is something I added to the revision – in order to make it clear that the piece is for advanced oboists, and talked to my tutor about that via email. To quote one of her responses:
“There’s a big difference between music that’s difficult because it needs to be, and music that doesn’t work for the instrument because of a lack of understanding. As long as you can show that you’re aware and have researched and thought about it, that’s fine.”
Indeed, I did quite an in-depth research regarding the extended oboe techniques in a blog post that shows my understanding of the instrument and its potential limitations and problems, and I address this topic in my assignment notes as well. In addition, my tutor also offered to send my assignment piece to an advanced oboist that is currently studying at the Royal Academy. The oboist commented about the revised version of the piece:
“Just had a read through … the piece looks fab, so much crazy stuff going on, looks v tricky but nothing impossible”
This was exactly my goal – to challenge the advanced players, and not just write something unrealistic and totally impossible for performance.
I was very pleased to see the comments about the compositional skills, where my tutor mentioned that the piece demonstrates good musical ideas, combined through research and awareness of technical aspects of composition. Like I mentioned in my assignment 1 reflection, I already gained some compositional abilities through my previous studies in music. However, I am glad to see that the research I did through the course made me more aware of the compositional techniques and the overall process.
Next, she commented about the use of narrator, but in order to make the narrative clear, it may be helpful for the performer if I include the narrator text in the score. This is precisely what I did in the revision. I also didn’t mark the sections and the characters in the score, something which I added for the similar purpose.
Regarding the scales, she noted the strong chromatic element and fanfare-like mood that establishes the opening. I am glad to hear that despite basing it on cultural references, the theme is sufficiently fresh to have its own identity. She then pointed out the tricky embouchure change from high register in bar 17 to the low B, especially with diminuendo. Indeed, in this register it is quite hard for the oboe to be silent, whether the player is advanced or not, which is why I changed the notes and added a crescendo instead of diminuendo. In the score, it’s from this:
Also, from the above, it can be seen that I changed the notation. Instead of using all double tonguing, I chose to make it a bit easier. The strokes for abbreviation for the repeated notes are also not idiomatic for the oboe, so I altered that.
The feedback also addresses the altissimo range that I used for the aerial contortionist:
“Your use of the high register is well described, taking into account the desired tone and also a consideration of the practicalities of the instrument.”
However, as my tutor points out, the biggest challenge is maintaining the high range for a long time – which is more suited for flute. For this reason, I adjusted the passage to make the more extreme parts not only shorter, but provide enough places to rest – such as fermatas that should allow the performer some freedom; resulting in the section being more playable for the oboe, and not the flute. This is the original section:
And this is the modified version:
Similarly, the final passage of the magician, as the feedback indicated is too fast, especially so because of all the consecutive octaves, something that would be even problematic for the flute. I also wrote the passage as if slurred – something that I did because of my violin background. To better explain, while I did look at the extended oboe techniques, I didn’t look at the ways these were supposed to be notated in practice. Luckily, I did find consecutive octave leaps in Tomasi’s Evocation that generally explores the percussive side of the oboe. The octave leaps appear specifically in the Cambodgienne movement. Here the passage was noted as crochet=120 with the designation ‘like xylophone’ – suggesting the imitation of the instrument. All of this was very logical for this section, and also the characteristics of the magician. Thus, using Tomasi’s notation as the example, I changed the passage from the original version:
to this more idiomatic writing in the revision:
Although the feedback didn’t mention this, looking more at the practical notation of the extended oboe techniques, I saw that I didn’t notate the glissando from the clown section in the correct way. I also modified the section a bit, in order for it to be better suited for performance and more idiomatic for the oboe. For example, I modified this:
Finally as my tutor notes, the Acrobats section seems a little out of context with the surrounding chromatic ideas. She added a great suggestion:
“However, think of Peter and the Wolf and how the themes are re-used; perhaps there is a way of building in this theme into the final section in some kind of varied form?”
While I gladly wanted to experiment with this, since I already filled out the 2 minute time limit, this would kind of mean deleting the magician, and I really liked the way it turned out in the revised version. Thus, I chose to keep the things as they are. However, I should point out that the Clown section was my attempt to connect the Acrobats section to the rest of the piece. It is in itself a parody of the last motif of the acrobats – developing it into chromaticism and glissando, leading back to the ringmaster and magician.
Regarding presentation, I was very happy to hear that since the previous assignment, there are clear improvements. She did mention though that the label for each line of the oboe was unnecessary in this case – I corrected that in the final version. I was also content that:
“You have made a good attempt at writing articulations, despite your reservations noted in your reflection, and there is a pleasing level of detail in the score.”
I also slurred the grace notes that were mentioned.
The part about the stylistic awareness and research was very encouraging to read:
“This is beginning to develop into an invaluable collection of posts on a wide range of topics; continue exploring the things that interest you in this way, and try to link your research with your own creative work as much as you can.”
Though as she notes, there are some gaps in the learning log. Since the feedback, I managed to find more time and add more posts. The feedback also touches upon my research regarding microtones:
“Your reflection talks a lot of your explorations of microtones, which is a fascinating area, not least because of the historical connections. It would be fantastic to see some of this research influencing your own composition; for example, a solo piece using Arabic or ancient Greek scales would be a very useful way of exploring these ideas. The oboe is well suited to playing microtones (especially Chris Redgate’s instrument), and Kingma System flutes allow for even quartertones across the instrument’s range.”
This was in fact something I planned to do, but decided to keep for later courses in my degree. Hopefully by that time I will have enough experience with the instruments, so that I could efficiently utilize the microtones and the Arabic or ancient Greek scales.
On the topic of reflective thinking, my tutor notes:
“Although your initial idea did not fit with this assignment in the end, keeping notes on ideas such as this so that you can revisit them later on is an important part of your creative development.”
This is actually one of my habits – I never completely abandon my old ideas, but instead keep them with me, until there is a chance to use them again; I am pleased to hear that this is important for the creative development.
Regarding my listening log, she added that it still needs a bigger variety of pieces of different kinds. Following her great suggestions, next to the classical, romantic and impressionist pieces, I listened to a lot of contemporary compositions – writing them down in the listening log posts.
To conclude, once again, the feedback was really informative and helpful, especially in aiding me to re-articulate the ideas regarding the extended oboe techniques in my piece, keeping them more idiomatic for the instrument. There were great suggestions for my future compositions and also the contemporary pieces to listen to. Along these lines, I am very motivated with carrying on with studying and composing, looking forward to explore the next part of the course. Prior to that, you can look at my comments here of how much I think my revised assignment piece achieves, in regards to the assessment criteria points.