Two Piano Preludes

These pieces have actually been available for months, but I’ve realized that the only thing stopping me from getting back in blogger shape is myself. During this time I’ve had a stupor of though about the fate of this blog, seeing as my train of thought which had been running a clear direction three years ago suddenly took a very large turn. Whatever the case, I will never give up composition as a hobby, but my output will be more limited in terms of variety. Because I probably will not study the orchestral arranging and directing in the near future, I aim to steer in the direction of writing for small ensembles, if not simply for solo piano. The piano has enough grandeur to give me as a performer suitable happiness because of its already immense capacity as a solo instrument.

Well here I finally present to you two pieces that I hope can give you a sense of hope as you play. I also hope that one day one of my pianist friends will be able to record these for me without all the mistakes that I make in doing so so that these sounds would be enjoyable to listen to as well.

Download score: Prelude No. 1

I haven’t much to say about anything that I write, except that the subtitle for this piece is indeed taken from the nursery rhyme about the demise of an egg, but additionally and more accurately alludes to a specific story in the Book of Mormon.

Download score: Prelude No. 2

I find the nearly ternary simplicity in the form of this piece quite pleasing. But alas, it can’t always be this way.

It is difficult to classify this music in terms of form and I really don’t feel qualified in giving names to my creations, so at this time these will be known as preludes. But as always, I leave the rest up to imagination.

Drone + Viola Melody

Download: ter pastora (pdf)

I only really upload these audio files for my sake, but really, these are all computer-generated and are terrible to listen to. Anyway this is a viola solo that’s meant to be played over vocal drones. Please excuse me as I think deeper thoughts than necessary.

So this had been assigned for a while and yesterday had come up before I still had any idea what I wanted to do. The first problem is that I lack intelligence when it comes to strings, so that was a slight hindrance. Bowing slurs and multiple stops still have me confused.

But the larger battle that has been happening within me is what I want my music to do. It may have something to do several of my teachers being composers of new music, but I certainly have changed the way I listen to practically everything by this point. I’m finding that I truly appreciate modern music the way I do with the older tradition, but I think this has greatly affected the way I compose. This solo is very tonal and simplistic, and several months ago I would have been much more pleased with it than I am now. Now I’m not so sure that this style defines any part of me even if I achieved the American folk sound I wanted. There used to be rules to break, now there are no rules. I feel like my ideas have been reduced to randomness.

Yesterday in composition class we split up into groups and had a minute each to write a measure of a piece, then pass it onto the next person. Obviously what I thought was different from what the others were thinking, but more so than I imagined. I completely disregarded any sense of tonality, diatonicism, rhythmic pattern, or even logical establishment of meter, which became obvious as that wasn’t quite what my group had in mind, and the ending result was entertaining but I couldn’t help but feel that perhaps I’m not on the right track after all. After that, I wrote this piece in a completely unadventurous style. Maybe someday I’ll grow to like it again.

Interval Pairing

Download: Adagio (Night Walk) (pdf)

I began a fast movement that uses interval pairing but then decided to finish the slow movement to turn in tomorrow. A piece for clarinet and piano; I knew fully that all of these compositional techniques are atonal, but I thought I would squeeze it into a tonal context, and of the result I’m not too sure; after all I’m simply “adding tools” to my differently equipped toolbox, right? But I think this will give insight to the way I write. The clarinet solo uses two intervals throughout. I didn’t know how to incorporate this into the piano so I did not succeed there, but it’s still different than my usual.

Fixed Register Duet

They just keep getting better and better, and I feel even less responsible for my music now and I’ll tell you why. The assignment was to compose a duet for flute and vibraphone in which only certain pitches could be used. In class each student chose a random pitch and the resulting scale was a combination of them all. This does not include their pitch classes.

Download: rev (pdf)

I’ve always tried to avoid randomness for the most part in my pieces, even though I’ve heard it is a relatively common contemporary practice. That of course might be the reason, but as a writer I want to feel responsible for all the sounds that I make, and sure I’m just picking and choosing from this scale. But the pitches were random, and the only centricity it has lies in the fact that a pitch can only be played in its register. That also means creating melodies that are harmonically independent of each other. Which I guess is alright.

Tone Clusters

Download: Leo’s Bee (pdf)

Wow I wish I had spent more time on this but it’s due tomorrow so I’ve got what I’ve got. And lots to read… Anyway, another challenge that I already knew was beyond me, but this was my shot at it. Tone cluster music! And no one time signature for more than a measure. I suppose I cheated when I alternated 3/4 an 6/8 for the dyad melody, but that’s only because I still consider myself orderly enough to not only have have a definite tonal center but at least a mostly repeating meter. But, limitations will be limitations. Kind of hoping to avoid this many clusters in my future music.

So I already considered Leo Ornstein to be a genius. His late works involving extensive use of the tone cluster seemed to make more sense than some of Cowell’s or Ives’. The below Wild Men’s Dance is one of his signature and best and is really quite catchy. I also found this incredibly difficult to notate; how did he get all those notes in there? And how does he make them sound so GOOD?

Sorry, I can neither play the above piece nor my own at this time. It would be pretty cool though.

027 Harmony

Download: 027 (pdf)

So it’s only the third assignment in Comp 1 and I’m already concerned that this isn’t really helpful. I mean, I know the best way to learn something is to do it, and I suppose that’s the purpose of this class. But in reality I would never actually write something like this. With the last two assignments I could get away with making the pieces sound authentic because I was free to play around with texture, polyphony, and harmony – to an extent naturally, as two notes is limiting but not entirely. Even though this assignment was designed for experimentation with harmonies and common tones, only two specific voicings of suspended chords could be used at any one time. I found this to be even more limiting in expression, as it brings up the issues of maintaining interest (in a piece in which chords are just hammered out, all parallel and not effectively fitting into any diatonic system) and the block chord and parallel motion limitations which made the piece difficult to personalize.

However I was keen on trying out “free tempo”. Of course, I like my time signatures, but I’ve always thought how much a performer could explore when no tempo markings or alterations were specified but were all left to the performer. That way a piece could begin in one tempo and end in another if desired, placing accelerandos and ritardandos anywhere without regard to ever returning to the previous tempo if there ever was one, as opposed to rubato, in which tempo can be altered but only within a time signature for expressive purposes. The idea is similar to what I have here but I think I could expand upon it elsewhere.

First Class Projects

First week of classes is over, although it was more like two days because we began school on Wednesday and I changed my schedule later that day. But the assignments are rolling in! I was eager (and somewhat intimidated) for Composition 1, as you know if you’ve read my blog that I have my doubts about what a school can teach about composition these days. And so far it’s been interesting and I can’t judge it just yet; however Dr. Thornock seems to be the guy of wisdom that the class needs. And now that I’m finally enrolled in a composition course, I can pretend that I’m receiving commissions, and add my assignments to this portfolio. Which means, (hopefully) compositions of all styles are about to be posted here on a more regular basis than they have been.

Download: Thinking Claps (pdf)

Download: Minor Seconds (pdf)

Simple things for now. In reference to a quote by the professor, I’ll try to be true to my voice while adding “more tools” to my toolbox.

Winter Miniature

Well today is the day that I find my subscribers to be at an all-time low! But it’s ok since I know now even Googlebot has lost interest in me, I’m faced with the truth. But I’m going to keep adding to this thing anyway.

Last month I was faced with a lot of freshman turmoil – concerts, masterclasses, guest private lessons, recitals, and the best, marching band. And in a week I face my true final, juries. Well, hope is around the corner! With some studying and practicing, I can soon be home with my family and old friends. And then it will be Christmas. Anyway, here are some thoughts I wanted to share. They are in the form of a theme I wrote last night when I couldn’t sleep.

Download: Winter Miniature (pdf)

At a band social last night, we made Christmas cards for members of the armed forces. I thought of when my older brother and sister were out serving their missions. It was different than when they were away for college, because I knew that they were out there doing the Lord’s work, devoting each and every day to the endeavor. I loved them for that, and even though I may never meet those to whom I sent cards, I love them as well for being who they are. How about this month we think about service, charity, and love? Happy holidays!

Setting Projects in Motion

It’s been about a week here in Provo. While staying here I’ve been given the privilege to score two short animations, both final projects by students attending the Art Center in Pasadena. The first depicts a young girl who needs to get glasses, but is made fun of at school. In the end, she finds a way for her and her friends to make glasses fun. See if you can hear the story.

glasses girl by joshtsai

The second illustrates the scene of a battle between a dragon and a little man who appears out of a tapioca ball, all which happens inside a cup of boba milk tea. The concept art is viewable here. The challenge with this one was not as much synchronizing scene changes as it was with the previous one. With this one, I sent in my first attempt at scoring; alas, it wasn’t as “epic” as was desired. So the second time around, I created something simpler, but much more heavy and dense. This is the result:

boba battle by joshtsai

One of the things I learned from this is that one who hires another should never be afraid of saying that the outcome isn’t good enough. Both ends will be satisfied in the end if the result pleases the one hiring. The animations were beautifully done, but unfortunately you will have to make do with my end of it for now.

Building Harmonies: “Sparks In Your Eyes”

Three weeks ago, I was approached with an interesting take for writing. A young artist found me online and requested piano music for her one of her songs. “What kind of music?” I asked. “Mostly pop, some electronic” was my reply. I was slightly hesitant as I have been quite of the pop music loop for a long time now, but I took the challenge because I had been wanting to write all summer, but my job has been leaving me very little time to do so. Songwriting didn’t seem like it would take very long.

The difference here was that I was expecting to be emailed lyrics. During our conversation I was told I would be emailed two versions, one with a beat and one without, which left me slightly confused. But I went along with it. As it turns out, she was sending me audio files of her singing her music. When I received the a cappellas, I recognized their flavor of pop and saw its potential. I had the following Saturday off so I had time to sit down and build harmonies from the given melodies. It didn’t take nearly as much time as I thought, but then again, once one comes up with the main ideas, nothing really ever does.

Here is the track with the starting vocals mixed with the piano background:

Sparks in your eyes MIXED by joshtsai

I was not sent a final mix, but for a demo it works well, and I was delighted that the vocals didn’t take long to become in tune; you can imagine the difficulty of working in this order, which is why this is simply a demo. The instrumental can also be listened to alone.

The songwriter/vocalist’s name is Aria Royce. I was not given other information, but the lyrics, melody line, and singing are to her credit.