Posted in On Assignment 3

Overall Impression on the Third Part of the Course

Halfway through the course, the musical journey brought me back to the subject which I’ve been studying for more than 6 years now. From the start, my exploration of polyphony and counterpoint was based on very strict rules, such as avoiding the parallel and hidden fifths and octaves, and different ways in which to handle the dissonances and consonances. Progressing through various exercises, such as those designed by Fux, there was only one goal to achieve – reaffirm the rigid musical laws.

As such, this section of the course offered me a completely new direction for exploring polyphony – one that allows for imagination and freedom; showing that while it is important to know the rules, they shouldn’t restrict the creativity. In this way, I didn’t really need to travel that far, but utilize my old knowledge and try to experiment a little through the projects that allowed for creative autonomy.

Still, some of the ideas were quite novel and fresh to me. For example, the fact that one melody could be structured as such as to combine with itself in a contrapuntal way, exemplefied in rounds and catches, which are rarely studied in the Continental Europe; or the possibility of adding percussion instruments to the polyphonic setting. While not so much territorially, I did travel in time, foremost to the Elizabethan era of music, and the early medieval period, when musical terms were very much mixed up, so that towards the present time, discant, organum and diaphonia for example, all meant different things depending on the historic time interval.

Engaging with the new-found forms of rounds, catches and descant, I was able to compose a few interesting short contrapuntal pieces, but also enjoy some jewels of the past, such as Sumer ist icumen in. I was also able to play some more with the woodwind family of instruments, reviewing the knowledge I gathered in Part Two of the course, now in a new context of the polyphonic blending of their voices.

At any rate, the most crucial thing I added to my compositional skills is the ability to add freedom to my creative process, which not only reflected in my polyphonic assignment that creatively draws on a fairy tale, but is something that, as a musician and an artist in general, I will surely carry with me outside of the course.

Posted in On Assignment 3

Assignment 3 Reflection, A: Tutor Feedback and Revision

The reflective process is a very important part of the course. Firstly, I wrote an overall reflection on the third part of the course here. Secondly, my assignment posts also include some reflective thoughts. In this post, I will write about my tutor’s feedback and list the changes I made in accordance to that. In the following post (Part B), I will review my assignment piece against the assessment criteria.

The first thing my tutor pointed out was my inclusion of the percussion instruments and told me to be careful about not straying away too much from the assignment brief instructions. Looking more into that, I realized I have misread the course material. Initially, I didn’t plan to add the indefinite-pitched percussion, but in writing a musical version of a fairy tale, I felt that I needed a kind of orchestral treatment for the piece. I then checked to see if this was alright for the assignment, but instead I looked at the wrong guidelines for Assignment 4.

Luckily, my tutor writes:

“I think in this context the additional percussion instruments shouldn’t cause too much of a problem as the woodwind parts can be assessed for their polyphonic writing.”

In this sense, I have learned a good lesson to double check the course material and always consult the assignment guidelines. However, I have decided to leave in the indefinite-pitched percussion, mainly because while adding them did make me wonder off a bit from the assignment guidelines, it doesn’t really distract from the woodwind polyphony, as my tutor suggested. Furthermore, the two percussion instruments are mostly used for specific ornamental musical effects of the mirror in the story – its falling and breaking that produces the descending glass shards. Without this leitmotif, my composition would lose an important character and layer.

In terms of the demonstration of creativity and compositional skills, I was happy to read my tutor’s following comment:

“By creating a narrative for your piece you have created an imaginative framework in which to organise your material.”

I am glad that my planning of the structure and harmony of the piece was recognized, especially in terms of the creativity of  what the subject of the fairy tale allowed me to achieve. However, she did say that there is also danger with this kind of structural design:

“You often introduce new ideas without developing them to their limits, and it would be interesting to see how you would respond to writing a piece based on just one idea … While having lots of ideas within a piece can be a good demonstration of creativity, it can also result in a stylistic confusion, and I feel you have enough material here to develop it into a much longer piece.”

This is something which I will definitely bear in mind and try to do for the future assignments, and I completely agree that there is enough material for a larger piece – I might consider writing the full fairytale.

Next to that, my tutor noted how I used the changing time signatures, which “helps to keep the sense of movement in the polyphonic writing.” She also noticed my use of the non-diatonic scales, stating how I managed to pull together everything I have learnt in the previous two parts of the course. I am very pleased to hear that I have successfully managed to connect all the new knowledge I have gained.

The feedback also indicates that I have used a good range of technical skills – the dissonant opening, the use of diminution, melodic ideas with good sense of character, the variety created between them, and the transitions with tempo changes. I was particularly happy regarding the tempo changes, since this is something which my second assignment lacked.

In terms of presentation, the feedback mostly comments on the font and stave sizes. Besides making the stave size smaller, the most noticeable is the title that comes out huge, and overlaps with the other text around it, and hence, I have reduced its font. Next, my tutor remarked that the dynamic markings should be always in bold. I realized I didn’t do this at all for any previous assignment and project pieces – thus I went back corrected all the previous compositions I wrote for the course.

Lastly, as the feedback describes, in terms of the tied quavers in the opening and similar places, they may be better written as syncopated crotchets. I have review these occurrences, so that the opening, that is 3+2 for example, was modified from the original version:


opnening 2

There are also a few bars where I slurred notes of the same pitch, and added unnecessary accidentals. I have since corrected all these instances, such as:


  in the flute, bar 28, and:


 in flute, bar 65.

Regarding research, the feedback mentions how my blog contains some good posts on rounds, catches and their terminology, as well as the organum, where I show “a strong analytical approach to studies”. It was also great to read that the extract by Playford was a good find. However, I completely forgot to include my references at the bottom – I have corrected this for all the posts in Part Three of the course. I usually always include this, but somehow I didn’t pay attention this time around. From now on, I will remember to always double check, so that it doesn’t happen again in the future.

About the reflections, my tutor notes that she was please to read how the course helped me gain a sense of freedom in composing. As I have explained, polyphony I studied prior to this was very rule-based and strict. As she recognized, I have started to “see new possibilities for adapting this technique into a more contemporary language.”

Lastly, regarding the listening log, she writes how there are analytical and intelligent notes on well-selected pieces. Indeed, I worked hard on the selection and also tried to engage intellectually with the pieces I listened to. Observing that there is nothing under the Gesualdo title, she advised to include composer dates, and also add a greater range of pieces in different styles – I have since updated and expanded my listening log with the dates marked.

To conclude, there were some really amazing and useful advices in my tutor’s feedback, which will not only help me with this course, but also with the other courses which I will do for the degree. As such, although I made some mistakes, such as accidentally drifting away from the assignment guidelines, all of these were opportunities to learn. With all this said, I look forward to exploring the next part of the course. Before looking at that, you can read my review of how I think my assignment piece did in terms of fulfilling the assessment criteria.