Posted in Reflections on Assignments 1-5

Reflection on Assignment 4 feedback

This is my reflection on the tutor feedback for Assignment 4 submission. Due to some life circumstances outside my control, I had a huge time constraint to complete the unit before its end date, so I only had a few days to go through the whole Part 4 of Stylistic Techniques and write the Assignment 4 itself. However, I really found the whole feedback encouraging.

To start off, showing a huge amount of understanding, my tutor wrote that despite the time limit, “this is a good attempt at the assignment… your compositional work shows a good understanding of the key concepts of this part of the course.” This truly meant a lot to hear, although as my tutor mentions the “supporting academic work needs greater development… For revisions, I recommend a deeper exploration of Debussy’s harmonic and melodic development, to help you to further develop the weaker parts of the composition.” This sentiment was mentioned again in another instance: “You have analyzed the Debussy piano prelude well, making some clear assessments that informed your own work. When time allows, explore more of Debussy’s work, and
particularly consider his approaches to harmony and melody.”
I have since filled in the gaps and wrote a longer post with a comprehensive analysis of Debussy’s Prelude a L’apres-midi d’un faune, as well as a longer post on the Greek modes, which are related to the composer’s unique harmonic language. This evidences that if not for the time pressure, my submission would have delved much deeper on each topic explored in Part 4.

At any rate, in terms of the practical task to compose the Prelude in the style of Debussy, my tutor remarked that: “Your understanding of Debussy’s style comes through well in your practical work. You have made use of parallel harmonies, a wide pitch range and some contrasting textures to give the piece an idiomatic feel. This is combined with the use of French terms of expression, which are often quite imaginative. The piano has been appropriately used, with some good consideration to the use of the pedal. It is clear from your music that you have thought carefully about the practical aspects of performance, and this, combined with the use of changing time signatures, helps the music to flow.” All these point are wonderful to hear, since despite the time issue, I was trying really hard not to create a dry piece of music, but instead consider the piano and notation in a more imaginative way. I am glad this seems to have paid off. It was also good to read that I have managed to tackle a “particularly important … idea of using the music to portray personal emotional reactions rather than describing the paintings in more concrete terms. I think this comes across well in your composition and aligns with impressionist ideals.” I think this is great, as it also marks a departure from my earlier programmatic pieces, which represent more or less direct translations of source materials. In this direction, I believe my Prelude shows more maturity.

On the other hand, the feedback notes how “there are some moments where more melodic invention may help maintain interest; while arpeggio patterns are a feature of the style, if they are over-used they can begin to feel predictable. Similarly, there are moments where the harmony loses direction – eg especially bar 11 and 17-21; in the latter this may be partly due to the lack of clarity in the bass this low in the range, and the spacing between parts, which can make coherence more difficult.” I have to say I completely agree with this, however, because of the source material of Monet’s Waterlilies, which are very abstract and meditative, I was leaning on to not adding any melody because it could destroy the reflective feeling of the piece. Nonetheless, after a revision, I believe I created enough corrections to add just enough melodic interest, without loosing out on the abstract/meditative quality of the arpeggios. This corrected version can be found here.

Moving on to the learning log, it was great to hear how “combined with your practical work, [it] demonstrates a good grasp of the concepts explained in this part of the course.” On top of this, my tutor noted that my learning log highlights how I have started to “bring together … [my] wider artistic experience with … musical studies”, and she was “pleased to see examples of your paintings included in your blog.” This is something that I have actually drawn on from an earlier feedback given to me for Assignment 2 of the unit, where it was mentioned that it would be great to see me take over my other artistic experiences, including painting, film and drama, into the music studies at OCA. Along these lines, I am glad to hear there had been some development in this area, though the feedback invited me to “take this further and make deeper connections between … art and its influence in music; how did these developments in the art world come to influence music … Where did the term (in music) originate from?” I think researching into these wider cultural questions in relation to musical styles is really important. So far, I have mostly been focused on music as if it were a bubble existing on its own in this course, and as such, I plan to continue exploring the wider considerations throughout the degree to create a fuller understanding.

With regards to the above, nonetheless, my tutor indicated that my listening log too made some useful points, urging me “to continue this work following the submission of your final assignment.” **To add an edit after the assessment submission, I believe both Part 4 and Part 5 have been much more extended, evidencing that I have followed this advice and continued the work. In particular, the feedback touches upon my point about Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin and its neoclassical elements as “a good observation, as is the way that Debussy and Ravel both rejected the impressionist label. This is quite a common theme amongst composers; the labels seem to be ‘made up’ externally, by commentators, musicologists or journalists, with composers grouped together into ‘schools’ or ‘styles’.” Once again, my tutor invited me to go even deeper: “It would be interesting to reflect on this further in your learning log, and to explore the function such labels have on the musical world.” This is something I definitely plan to do in the future.

Regarding my learning and listening log posts on serialism, my tutor was interested to know “how you would ‘probably reconfigure the technique’. Many later composers used serialism as a starting point, but made minor modifications to the strictness of the outcome, to allow for a more instinctive compositional process. If you can include an exploration of some of these composers into your listening you may find the music a little less theoretical.” After I have started filling in the gaps, having researched Berg’s music in particular, as well as Webern’s compositions, in the listening log, I have to say my tutor was completely right – I have found the music to truly be much less strict than I initially though it was. Berg’s almost programmatic Violin Concerto, motivated by the death of the young Manon Gropius, for instance, truly touched my heart – I have often considered the serialism of the second Viennese School only as a tool for intellectual digestion and not something that would allow such an intimate emotional scope. As such, I do really hope to reconfigure the technique closer to Berg’s example, but even more than that – find my own personal stamp in the utilisation of the device.

As for the blog itself, there was another mention of the menus and “the nature of these kinds of ‘floating’ menus which only appear if the mouse is in exactly the correct place on the screen. They can disappear when the mouse is moved to reach an embedded menu item, and I can only imagine this will become more complex as the information grows on the blog. I highly recommend that you explore alternative approaches to the menus so that the material is easier (and quicker) to navigate at assessment.” **Edit before the assessment submission, with Covid-19, as well as complex PTSD I am suffering from after a police mishandling, I wasn’t able to solve this at all. But I will keep this in mind for the following unit I take.

Another advice by my tutor is that “it would be useful for you to reflect on this feedback in your learning log, identifying what you feel are the key themes and areas for development. This will help provide a better understanding of what you are taking from your formative feedback, and help you develop a reflective approach to your practice.” This is something that I obviously had to put off because of the time constraint, but despite writing this a few months after, I believe the reflections I’ve posted show that I have taken a lot from all the formative feedbacks and do indeed posses a reflective approach in my work. In fact, in my work on Composing 1 unit, I really built a regular and continuous reflective practice, however, due to many different circumstances, I wasn’t able to do so for this unit. But once again, I have done the best I could in relation to these circumstances and this and other posts in the category should indeed highlight my abilities for critical reflection. At any rate, I was glad to hear that despite everything, my assignment communicated the ideas well, “both through the presentation and notation of your practical work, and through your written work. You have understood the key concepts of impressionism in music, and conveyed your interpretation of this in your programme note.” As such, despite the setbacks, I think I have still managed to produce as good of an outcome as I could, which I have since extended – showing that I am really ready to invest more into the unit.

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