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Spring College Visits and Composition Advice

Joshua Iyer

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Published: April 4, 2014 at 4:18 AM [UTC]

This week being Spring Break for me, I've gone to two college visits. On March 31st (Monday) we went to University of Illinois, and today, April 3, we went to Augustana (in Illinois). Although they were both two hours away, which wasn't too bad, they were both amazing visits, and I got a lot out of them. The main difference about the two universities is, obviously, one's a state school. I'm not sure I'd want to go to U of I, but Augustana was a great visit! Even though it was cloudy today when we went (it was raining all morning, and we left promptly at 6am!), the campus was a rural setting, which felt very fresh and very me. I like to go for walks in nature and be able to compose outside, or even think about the violin on my walks, so this will be perfect if I go to live there for four years of my life.

While I didn't see any professors specifically for violin, I did get to speak to both university professors of composition, and each one gave me some very helpful advice (as well as books to buy and scores to listen to!) that will both help me craft my film score to make it even better as well as, of course, for future compositions as I begin to improve upon them (which will be exciting for my future self to look back on and see this improvement in both composition and performance on violin!). At U of I, he looked through a couple of pieces from the film score, as well as "Midwinter's Night", a piece I made back in November 2013, and the first movement of my "Violin Concerto in f minor", that I finished late February 2014. His main advice was to look into 20th century composers (Stravinsky, Ligiti, etc.) because that seems to be the direction composition is heading. He also gave me a title of a book about these composers, as well as a book on orchestration. I've already looked at both; the orchestration book was extremely helpful tonight as I looked through it for instrumentation ideas for my piece. It'll be more of a reference book than anything else, but it'll be much better and easier than looking online.

At Augustana, which is clearest in my head, the professor there had some great advice. I did only show him my film score, and he said I was on the right track to success with working with themes. He played me Ravel's "La Valse" from Mother Goose, and I was able to follow along with a Dover publication of the score (something I think I'm going to be getting into buying and starting my own collection of scores). The really cool thing about that piece is how the clarinet starts with a beautiful melody, which is contrasted later by the contrabassoon, with a dark, chromatic idea. At the end of the piece, which is so cool, Ravel takes both ideas and puts them together, although this time the first violins take over the contrabassoon's melody five octaves higher up on the E string. It's such a cool concept, and one I began to implement a little in one of my themes. The point is, while composers like John Williams and Howard Shore are great, they got their inspiration from Tchaikovsky or Stravinsky, so for me, I should be trying to emulate the sounds of those composers, rather than Williams. So yeah! I've been taking both bits of advice kind of together, I guess, and hopefully as the days continue my thematic collection will grow, and I'll have a fantastic start on a fantastic film score in June 2014 before we start filming the movie!

And, of course, both professors thought I should have a real orchestra play my stuff, which I do not by any means disagree with. I told the professor at Augustana how I plan on playing my violin with a solo passage at the beginning of the film score, and he thought that was a great idea. He also said any way to make the Finale MIDI better (my friend might do some mixing and sound editing with the MIDI) would be fantastic. And, of course, for applying for scholarships, I may have a medley of this music that I could possibly play with my school orchestra as well, so that'll give me a much stronger performance opportunity with my violin! I'm always looking for ways to combine my love and passion for composing with my love and passion for the violin. :)

Although I've put all of this advice in relation with the film, it's all I've been thinking about lately. However, I will definitely, after finishing my film score, continue to follow this advice for all future compositions, which will be smaller projects, but will still be just as important, I think. I'm getting really excited for college now that I've been going on these visits. Additionally, I'm basically required to play in the orchestra with composition, which is fantastic because that's what I wanted to do anyway. So in any case, I'm just going to continue to work hard on the film score so it can be a complete success (hopefully!).

Tomorrow morning, a tuner is going to come to tune the piano. I've had to play through the pain of out of tune notes. As in, everything is almost a half-step lower! Thank goodness that will be no more after tomorrow! :)


From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 5, 2014 at 5:05 AM
I'm glad to see that you are thinking big and exploring the discipline of composition. Keep seeking out experts, artists and academics who can help broaden your world!

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