Category Archives: Composition & Orchestration

How To Prepare a Composition Recital

First steps

  1. Compose all the music and prepare sheet music for performance.
  2. Schedule a date and venue… this may be done in collaboration with key collaborating performers who you know will be involved.
  3. Ask all performers to commit to performing on the recital. Let them know that they will need to commit to a full level of preparation! In an ideal world, this would include all of the steps listed below (learning the music before the first rehearsal, attending three rehearsals, a recorded “dress” rehearsal and the concert)
  4. One month before the recital, your program book is due to Matt Miller. Your professor will need to fill out a venue management form with any special requests (risers, extra piano, harpsichord, etc.)
  5. Percussion must be organized by the percussion performer on your recital. They will need permission from faculty to check out instruments for rehearsals and the concert.

Preparing the Music

INDIVIDUAL PREPARATION
  • Establish a rehearsal schedule = 2 months BTR (before the recital)
  • Distribute the score & a part to each player = 1 month BTR
  • Check in with each performer about “difficulties”; this gives you a chance to iron out any bugs in the music, but also to let them know they should be looking at the music by this point. = 3 weeks BTR
  • Re-confirm rehearsal schedule = 3 weeks BTR
REHEARSAL #1 – 2 weeks BTR
You may not want to attend this one. Ask a trusted friend in the ensemble to take notes with questions for you that you can answer about the music, and be accessible by phone during the rehearsal in case they need you urgently.
REHEARSAL #2 – 1.5 weeks BTR
REHEARSAL #3 – 3-4 days BTR
FULL RUN-THROUGH OF EACH PIECE
Close to recital – the day before or the same day
Record it!

Before the Concert

Have the ensemble dress appropriately according to your wishes. Concert-black is classic. It’s a semi-formal occasion, so no suits are needed, but sharp concert dress is important. Be sure they know the concert order and how they should enter (Will they be introduced? will they be “clapped on”? Will they be onstage during speaking portions of the show?)
Publicize the event! Tell your friends, your family… everyone. It feels better to have friendly faces in the audience, and plenty of them.
Prepare some remarks to make from the stage. You should be sure to thank relevant people (especially those who gave of their time and talent to perform your compositions, but also your teachers, parents, friends, supporters). Keep your words concise and casual.
Make sure the recording is rolling.
Ask people to silence their phones. It’s your recital.

At the Concert

Try to relax! Enjoy the performance! Don’t wince if there are wrong notes. If anyone gets terribly lost, don’t be afraid to stop the music and help them get back together. It’s not Carnegie Hall, after all.
Afterward, when people tell you how great the concert was, thank them. They are being nice, and hopefully sincere. Don’t tell people that it was awful… this is not the time to be humble… just accept the compliment.
Thank each performer individually. It is very nice to give them a thank-you note or small gift. Remember that they were preparing your music when they could have been studying for their music history exam.

Composition Challenges

Successful completion of these challenges involves approaching each task directly and thoroughly, avoiding extraneous musical details that do not contribute to the requested sonic effect.

Challenges that must be composed for acoustic instruments with no electronic accompaniment or sonic modification are indicated with a ☀ symbol. Challenges designed for electroacoustic music are labeled ⚡. Challenges designed for piano or piano-plus-one are labeled 🎹.

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Journaling for Composition Lessons


Ten out of ten composition lessons that I teach end with me jotting down a short list of repertoire for the student to study over the coming week. Most often, these pieces are chosen because their instrumentation or compositional approach is similar to that being used by the student. They also tend to have the secondary goal of broadening the student’s experience and leading them toward more adventurous and distinctive writing.

As far as I can tell, my students almost never follow through. To the professor (that’s me, but I think most composition professors do this), it is one of the essential parts of the lesson. To the student, it seems like extra work when all they really want to do is sit down and make stuff up.

With this in mind, I decided to create this page and direct students to it. What follows is a list of questions that must be answered for each piece of music assigned as listening. Some of them are “due diligence” to make sure that a score and recording were, in fact, located and perused. Others are designed to help guide the student’s study of the score and suggest practical ways that hearing new music can help a musician progress as a learner and gain new tools for composition.

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Studying Art Song

Preparing to teach a unit on Copland’s Twelve Poems Of Emily Dickinson to a class of composers who will, in turn, compose the “thirteenth song” as a style-study exercise. Thanks to Robert Maggio for the genesis of this unit and for most of these ideas!

And, for a quick link, here are the complete poems of Emily Dickinson.

When studying these songs, be sure to consider…

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Some Things Composers Think About

Style: Relationship between any given piece and a musical genre

Technique: Difficulty of a composition • Amount of time it may take (or is allotted) to prepare for its performance

Harmony: Use of traditional vs. non-traditional harmonies • Use of tense/harsh/brash/complex harmonies vs. serene/pretty/simple harmonies • Stylistic connotations of harmonic types • Types of harmonic progression • Rate/naturalness/shock of harmonic change

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