I’d like to say I have a sizeable library of music books. From Bach to Bartok there is no shortage of things to play. Ironically, as a piano teacher I’ve come to realize that my shelves contain relatively little playable material for my students.
Over the past couple years composing for the piano has become a blossoming passion of mine. What better way to challenge myself as a budding composer as well as affordably grow my library of intermediate piano music than to write music directly for my students? Mode 7 is the result of this new revelation and I’m excited to discuss its inception here.
With snow flakes dancing in the air the 2019 Christmas Recital at Harcourt United Church in Guelph kicked off with a bang. The furious Cavalry Gallop by Dimitry Kabalevsky launched out of the gate and got things rolling. It turned out to be a recital of many firsts, with four players of varying ages performing for their very first time. The budding performers played the nursery rhythm favourites Old MacDonald and Are You Sleeping?, as well as a Gavotte by Handel and Christopher Norton’s After the Battle.
This year has been a rich one for me on my journey as a budding composer of piano music. I wrote many smaller works at the beginning of the year and finished a sonata in the summer. In the fall my free time has been occupied by writing in another genre, the nocturne. First pioneered by John Field and further popularized by Chopin, the nocturne is a piece for solo piano meant to be played at night. Like much of Chopin’s music it features a steady left hand with a right hand that often moves in an improvisatory way. The right hand is meant to mimic the silky smooth melody of a vocal work such as an aria. Nocturnes are normally peaceful but can become tempestuous and virtuosic at times such as in parts of Chopin’s Nocturne in C Minor op. 48 no. 1.
I wish I could say that one morning I woke up and decided, gee I’ve never written a sonata before, let’s go and write one… In reality, my need to brush up on my harmony theory in order to help out a student is what got the creative juices flowing.
On Sunday, June 9 at Harcourt United Church, students took part in the 2019 Spring Recital. Once again audience members were treated to a variety of styles and talents. The recital kicked off with CPE Bach’s blisteringly fast Solfeggio followed by a piano arrangement of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
Today I was feeling kinda down so I thought I’d pour my feelings into some composition. I wrote this little lament. It turned out to be a little study in counterpoint. Although I’m getting more confident in my harmony skills, counterpoint is another ballgame, one which I plan on addressing after I’m finished working through all the RCM books. Nonetheless, it was fun to use this opportunity to try writing another piece. It’s written in four voices and I keep repeating the 8 measure ditty layering one voice at a time.
My experiments in the realm of harmony continue. Currently I’m about half way through the RCM 10 Harmony book at we’ve just finished the passage on V9s and 13s. To me these chords immediately make me recall Chopin, as if they were his musical fingerprint. I thought I’d take another stab at composing something simple. My tendency is often to begin with simple intentions but end up with a piece 10 pages long and hard for anyone to play. This time I restricted myself to 16 measures. I thought I’d try to write another minuet, this time in the minor mode but by the time I tried it out at the keyboard I realized it was much more like a waltz. I almost achieved my first goal as it ended up being 21 measures. It turned out a tad more difficult than I wanted it to be but oh well. I’d say it’s more like grade 3 or probably 4 RCM. Still, I’m happy with the result. It reminds me a bit of Chopin combined with some Danny Elfman. What does it remind you of?