Friday, December 5, 2008


Well, it's been an interesting term. Moreso than probably anyone else in the class, it was a very different experience to me, taking this course, as I am not a music student and have never taken a music course in my life. And although I've composed music intermittently over the years, I have virtually no knowledge of theory in any formal capacity, nor can I play a music instrument at anything better than an early intermediate level. Really, I jumped into this one a little over my head in some ways.

For a few years now, I'd been interested in trying to take some sort of composition course at university, but had never gotten around to it. Since this is the last term of my undergrad (I'll be starting my master's of linguistics in the winter), I figured it was now or never. So here I am.

Although I knew that I knew very little theory, I'm not sure I realized quite how little until I was in an environment where every single person was considerably more knowledgeable than I was. It would be hard to count the number of terms I heard people tossing back and forth that flew completely over my head. To my credit, I did tend to go and look some of these up, so that I would at least have a general idea of the concept, but the course has certainly made my utter lack of knowledge in this area pretty clear. It was actually rather intimidating, feeling so out of your depth, but nevertheless, I'd like to think that the music I wrote can hold its own.

This course was definitely a learning experience, and my first time doing quite a number of different things.

It was the first time I'd worked with atonal music. That was actually pretty tricky at first, since with my lack of theory background, I was sometimes unsure if what I was writing was tonal or not. Before this course, I equated atonal (as peripherally as I was aware of the term) with 'bizzare dissonant art music', which clearly isn't necessarily the case. Atonality isn't something I'd really explored before the course (or been inclined to try), but I'm quite pleased with much of what came out of that assignment. It was a good learning experience.

It was the first time that I'd had to compose under a deadline, and although it wasn't necessarily a pleasant experience, it was an informative one. I think if one were to make a habit of it, they'd need to learn how to work faster and with less stress than I did. I think I get too attached to my pieces, and have a hard time seeing them simply as compositional exercises, or assignments to be completed. Although it can be good to care about your work, it can also make it quite a bit more difficult to complete said work in a timely fashion. I tend to be exceedingly fastidious with much of what I do, and even more so with creative work, which isn't something you can always afford to be when you need to work quickly.

It was also the first time that I spent any real time producing actual scores from my pieces, rather than just audio files, and there was a lot to learn in that area as well; not only the operation of Sibelius (some of which is surprisingly unintuitive for a beginner), but notation and presentation of the score itself. I'd never thought about such issues as clear note spellings before (in fact, I had never ever heard the term 'note spellings' before), or the number of different ways there are to express the same concept. A number of Dr. Ross's blog posts and suggestions in class in this area were quite interesting.

For that matter, it was the first time I'd ever been in such a musically rich environment. It's hard to articulate exactly what I mean here, but there's a certain energy in the music building. Just being able to hear music being played all around you while you're walking down the corridor brings a smile to my face. I know it must seem mundane to people who've been in such an environment for years, but I've never really known anyone musical other than myself, and I've certainly never been around other musicians as a group before. It makes me wish that I could play better than I do. I was evidently considered pretty good for my age, many years ago, but my technical skills has stagnated ever since.

I wish that I'd been able to perform my own compositions on stage during the recitals. And I did try, but was rather surprised (and a little embarrassed) at how rusty I am. If it was even possible for me to learn them fluently, it would have taken more time and effort than I could possibly have given to it while still having time enough to write the piece in the first place. Some of them were more technically difficult than anything I had ever played, even when I was at my peak.

I also wish that I had contributed more in class, but I tended to hold myself back out of insecurity over my lack of knowledge. If there was one thing that I could change about what I did this term, it would probably be that.

I very much enjoyed listening to other's pieces, and it was interesting to see the creative process unfold. I think that some really beautiful stuff came out of this course, and I'm looking forward to getting a copy of the recording from the recitals.

On the whole, it's been a good run, and despite the stress, I'm glad for the experience. I've learned things about music, about myself, and about the intersection of the two. And I've written 4 new songs, which is nothing to sneeze at, and something I'll be able to have with me long after this term is over.

I hope everyone got something useful out of this course, and I wish them all the best of luck with their future endeavors.

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