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'Birds of Prey' Composition Interview

Joshua Iyer

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Published: September 29, 2014 at 8:54 PM [UTC]

I finally completed "Birds of Prey", my longest-ever orchestral work! I may try to release a sample of the piece or something in the future, so keep watch in case I do. :)

I wrote some questions up for myself so I could "interview" myself about the piece, so here it is. Enjoy!

Self-Conducted Interview on “Birds of Prey” by Joshua Iyer
Questions written 25 August 2014.
Questions answered 29 September 2104.

Thanks for the virtual coffee, by the way. Congratulations on finishing your newest piece! You began work in mid-July and took multiple breaks, first for your violin concerto, then because of a composer’s block, etc. When did you just dish out the rest of the piece, and how do you think it happened?

Well, I’ve been working on it a little every weekend since the end of August. One weekend I went for a long walk in the forest preserve in the morning at 9am (on September 14th), and wrote the chorale, inspired by Holst’s “Jupiter”, in the evening; then the next weekend I orchestrated everything and completed the piece. I think this happened basically from writing the piece outside, with the autumn leaves beginning to fall from the trees, the birds singing, so I got really inspired. I even climbed a hill out in the open the weekend before to be closer to the sky, since the section of music I worked on is called “The Eagle”.

What was your initial inspiration for the piece?

This was over the summer in July; I was watching the BBC Proms concert on YouTube, and they were playing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. And in this moment, I realized I wanted to create a grand orchestral work of my own, which is why the first ten minutes of the piece sound very much like Stravinsky. I also was inspired after listening to Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe, and the length of that piece inspired me to write my longest ever one (it’s 36 minutes and 7 seconds, according to Finale’s MIDI data).

So you split the music not into movements, but sections. How did that idea come about?

I think I liked the idea that the entire piece should flow from one section to the next, rather than focusing on it being played one movement at a time or whatever. Each bird is represented effectively here, but I bring back various motifs several times throughout the course of the piece so it connects better. However, there are still seven defined sections that make up the piece.


You’ve assigned certain sections with different pitch patterns, like for one part you used Middle Eastern scales, and another you sort of had it in b Locrian. How did you think up these ideas?

I mainly wanted to experiment with this piece, that’s really, at the heart of it, what it is. The first movement is me experimenting with what can I do with the whole-tone scale, or some of those other scales you mentioned, and how could the orchestra play around with them. It was mainly a lot of fun to explore with a lot of changing meter as well, as that’s a constant factor throughout the entire piece that is hard to notice when listening to it, but when playing it (like I’ve tried to do on my violin), it can be kind of difficult to get all the rhythms correct!

(And what's cool about the b Locrian thing is it acts as a very long V.)

From some of your past works, like the first symphony, or the King of the Aliens piece last year, even, you seem to have moved on from focusing solely on the violin section. What kinds of different colors did you wish to achieve in different parts using different instruments?

I really wanted for this piece to think of the orchestra I think as one instrument. The main instruments I really focused on in this piece were the flute, the horn, the piano, and the violin, but I have also worked with other instruments, particularly the bassoon and bass clarinet throughout the beginning of the piece. I wanted to stretch my musical knowledge as much as possible with the instruments.


How do you think the music grew to this long? What inspired you creatively to shape the piece into the symphonic tone poem it is?

The fact that I wrote this over the summer really helped. My first symphony which I finished in October of 2012 I also wrote the majority of in the summer, but wasn’t as into composing then. For several weeks, I could wake up at the crack of dawn at 6am and compose till noon, I was that inspired to compose the piece, and I had no interruptions. By the time September rolled around, I had half an hour of music done, and wrote just six minutes in the final few weeks, simply because school took up all my time. Oh well!


I know you had worked on your violin concerto, “Little Snow-White”, in between one of your breaks. How is the piece (performing on your violin) coming?

It’s coming very nicely. I’ve learnt the entire thing, and am excited to continue practicing, especially in the morning when winter arrives and it’s too cold for morning walks. :)

Do you have any future plans for pieces, or was the end of “Birds of Prey” your ending goal for now?

I’ve had ideas bouncing in my head for a bit now to begin writing an opera. I probably will begin the actual orchestration and whatnot next summer, and during the school year, during walks and such, I’ll begin sketching motifs and characters and a story, so I’m prepared for the summer. I’m also hoping to write some smaller chamber music throughout the next few months, mostly to get some stuff recorded, and to begin refining my compositional technique before getting back into the large orchestral stuff.

Thank you for your time! I look forward to seeing this piece in its compete form and playing it on violin even! :)

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