As part of my presentation, I thought it’d be a fab idea to bring in an actual pipa to pique people’s interests. I’d chatted to Lulu Liu and she was generous enough to lend a personal pipa to even save me from the paperwork that I’d have to fill out if I borrowed one from the Chinese Ensemble! Even though I understand erhu is one of the most accessible Chinese instruments, I figured pipa would be best, as I can actually demonstrate the instrument properly and talk about it in much more detail.
So it’s time to start presenting our stuff – and I’ve done a huge rookie error and forgotten to export the iBook! So as I’m setting up, I realise I’ve put the wrong file on my google drive, and need to go down to the computer labs to fix it all up.
I make another rookie error, as I thought I had to publish the whole thing as a whole official iBook! This took me through a very lengthy and annoying process of having to sign up for an iTunes account, connect my card, and it didn’t even end up working! Because what I needed to do was actually just export/share it. Silly me. Went through a whole lot of trouble that I didn’t need to do! So top tip from me – just export it, no need to actually publish the iBook! Also do that much earlier than I did – I had definitely left it too last minute.
Once it got going, it was fine. Next time, I think I should make sure a smaller pair of earphones are handy, the ones we had were quite high quality but far too clunky. When I got up to do my presentation, it was a shame the sound wasn’t working, because I did really want to share that video from Our Shining Days with everyone – it’s just such a good way in! But it’s ok, I guess everyone could just come watch it at my table instead. I hope I was able to gain interest from my peers and other guests in Chinese music – I honestly love it so much and think both students and teachers could gain a lot from learning Chinese music. It’s music of another culture, but still relatively accessible, and relevant to the ethnicity of a lot of students in our classrooms. Check out some of Connor Malanos’s snaps from the night:
Showing of the final product
Jameson having a go at the pipa!
This is me attempting to speak with some kind of clarity and sense
What would I do differently?
I would have definitely organised myself to allow more time for technical difficulties and preparation for the PoL itself – a lot of people seem to come in in the earlier stages of the night, rather than stay later. I personally think more people should have gotten up to present! It was excellent to see my peers’ research projects, and I wish I could have explored them more thoroughly. I also quite liked the ‘snapshot’ method that Kristen and Louise employed, in that they circumvented the fact that people couldn’t necessarily leave their stalls, so they handed out pieces of paper summarising their project plus ways to access it/contact them. I think more of us could have addressed this – for example Gary Watson was asking how he could access these resources – of course there’s James’ website composerhome.com but it would also be nice to have a gateway offered by the creators themselves.
Despite technical difficulties, I had a fabulous time and it was great to see to wonderful ideas and projects my peers had to offer! 10/10, we should do this more often!
Drawing close to my recording session, I fleshed out the structure, articulation and dynamics enough for someone to make sense of it and play it. The ever lovely Crystal Bai obliged my request for a pianist – and boy oh boy, was it helpful to bring her in!
Although I had fleshed the notation out to much more detail than when I presented by first draft to the class, Crystal brought up many suggestions and questions of phrasing, style and articulation to me. I had specific ideas in my mind, but had not detailed it quite enough on the page. It was good to ask a pianist how they would notate such details (I do play piano but I only ever made it to Grade 6); Crystal also offered options and demonstrated for me to pick and choose from.
I always cannot emphasise enough how important it is to work with musicians on your composition drafts!!! I had always known it since HSC, but this assignment is a timely reminder that Sibelius is only a tool and that the end result always happens with real, living and breathing musicians. Prioritising the violin part (as I’m much more adept at violin than piano) meant that I hadn’t really played the piano part, and when Crystal had a go at it, she had found several note overlaps/crossings. I would have never realised how much articulation and detail was still missing if Crystal hadn’t provided me with her time and expertise – we discussed a great deal on articulation, phrase marks and pedalling in relation to intention, mood and style. Likewise if I hadn’t played the violin part properly like I needed to for my recording, certain bowings, articulations and corrections would have not been put in.
Crystal kindly workshopping my piece
See if you can spot the annotations!
I also did some composing on the fly – when we did a run through, I actually found that I didn’t like the ending as much as I thought I did. We rejigged it a little and ended up scrapping the second-last bar, and then chucking in another vibrato crescendo as the third last bar. Still symmetrical (as intended) but with better flow.
Having recorded the audio and marked up the scores with all sorts of scribbles, I sat down and made it my job to transfer those scribbles into Sibelius. I solved the problem of graphic notation for the ‘vibrato crescendo’ by cropping an image from Google and then inserting it using the ‘Graphic’ tool under ‘Notations’ tab. Easy peasy!
I also discovered a Sibelius shortcut – pressing the W key lets you open up an individual part (very useful seeing as my version of Sibelius doesn’t actually have a Parts tab). Also with some Googling, the quickest way to extend a slur is to press space bar. You learn new things every day!
Originally, our group started as 5 people and at our first meeting, we decided to do the jazz standard ‘What a Difference a Day Made’. We concluded that we should divide the work by having 2-3 people on the arrangement, with the other 2 delegated to doing research of relevant literature, plus one person to take responsibility for the recording and mixing of the track. That way we hoped to avoid the cliché of having too many cooks in the kitchen regarding the arrangement itself. Crystal and I decided to take on the arranging ourselves. Based on what we had seen with class with the Cheap Thrills/Shape of You mashup, we decided that it wouldn’t be productive until we had a ‘skeleton’ score to work off. Crystal and I, having discovered a piano/vocal score that we could use to help us, set off to split it into 5 parts – Soprano 1, Soprano 2, Altos, Tenor and Bass. You can view that skeleton score here. (It’s very basic and lacked a lot of voice-leading considerations).
I suspect, had we been a group of singers with a wealth of experience, we would have had a great time experimenting around with our different parts and harmonies; however, given the relatively basic level of expertise (save for Sarah Percival) and complex jazz harmonies it turned out that Crystal and I were going to have to be a lot more prescriptive with our score. At this point Erin had also jumped into our group, which helped with her expertise as a singer as well. You can view an earlier draft (plus annotations) here.
That being said, I did find the experience of working on this arrangement a productive learning curve – I am used to arranging for string instruments, where arpeggiation and leaps are not particularly a concern. However with singing (especially when singing myself), two things became very clearly important – voice leading, and starting notes (especially after rests). Even as someone with perfect pitch, I found that large leaps can be troublesome to sing and rehearse, so it’s best to leave them out – plus, starting notes are very difficult to pitch without a reliable reference point. Therefore a lot of the piano arpeggiations that we referenced were either removed or simplified. Also, string arrangements do not have syllables in them, but in an acapella vocal arrangement, syllables are all important! Additionally, string instruments have a very wide range and not many limitations; whereas consideration of vocal ranges and tessaturas was very important in vocal accapella arrangements – for example I was singing Soprano 2 but my tessatura does not go beyond an E so I made sure we didn’t go higher than E5. Another example was that we didn’t check the ending and ended up putting a very high C (C6) which was definitely out of range for Sarah Percival, so we put it an octave down (Callahan, 1995). You can see how we worked out approximate ranges:
Given we had come up with a skeleton score, the main concerns were to a) make it interesting and b) have smooth voice leading. We used strategies to create interest in the arrangement without over-complicating it such as:
Echoing lyrics in a call and response fashion
Using softer/harder vowels as appropriate for the energy of the section of the piece (e.g. in the intro – doos -> bah, bass changes from doo to dm)
Using mostly homo-rhythmic figures in the accompanying voices to fill in the gaps of the soprano melody
(Callahan, 1995; Ades, 1966)
We instinctively gravitated towards a doo-wop style of singing, employing slides and vocal syllables reminiscent of the doo-wop style. I thought this was very stylistically appropriate and matched the original song well. We were already reworking a standard (as done in doo-wop). Incidentally, we were also rehearsing in a very doo-wop aesthetic by using the Con’s Music Café as our rehearsal space, rather than a private practice room (Goldblatt, 2013). This models an accessible method of rehearsing and arranging, usable by school groups who may not an abundance of resources or easily access private practice rooms.
As the score became much more fully fleshed out, another priority came up – c) simplifying it. Given the complexity of the jazz harmonies and lengthy score, we decided to cut down the piece to simplify it.
First I had reworked in a repeat, instead of writing it all out (see image) but even by the end, Connor had opted to take out the repeat and just have it go once through. Getting very close to the deadline, we realised the score still needed a lot more tweaking with the voice leading and syllables used – and thankfully, Sarah Percival jumped in with her composing expertise and bashed it out to 90% completion in about an hour’s time. Note to self: best to leave arranging with the composers or consult them earlier in the process!
In our rehearsals, it was noticeable that we had a fairly good blend but certain people sang more in tune on their own than in a group, so we decided to record ourselves as individuals, to be mixed in together in Logic. We opted to go bass upwards, as having the bass as a harmonic and rhythmic point of reference would be helpful. Intonation wise, we had mixed success in the recording. Perhaps if we had time for another try, we could do Bass recorded first and then sing as a group ensemble together. I commend Sarah Percival for jumping in to fill in Connor’s spot to do the recording and mixing at the last minute!
If I may, I would like to provide a critique of this assignment – arranging is very much an individual thing – and the way we tried to do it for our assignment was admittedly, very inefficient. Different people have different tastes and visions, and I personally thought we ended up with a ‘too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen’ situation as it ended up having Connor, Sarah Percival, Crystal and I being involved with the arranging. I would think be most efficient with one person arranging it, and that person either a) knows the song very well or b) is a composer/someone familiar to vocal arrangements. If I had to do this process all over again, I’d get Connor (with his thorough knowledge of the song) and Sarah (with her compositional and vocal expertise) to do the arrangement together.
That being said, having create input available from all members of the group did help, and created a sense of overall ownership of the arrangement. For example, our muted trumpet sound in the introduction was something I could never come up on my own – it was thanks to Connor’s creative thinking that we could put it in. It was enjoyable and valuable to rehearse and sing the arrangement together as a group – I think on an extended basis, it would really help singers to really develop their physical and creative voices, as they would be free to experiment in a safe space. I personally would love the chance to work in a group of close friends, all relatively confident at singing – think of how many things we could come up with! Not only do students develop their singing and creativity in acapella groups, but the bond of singing naturally helps students to socialise in a positive and productive manner.
Finally, a quote from Berglin -“In a full arrangement, you are only limited by your imagination and the constraints of the human voice” (2018).
Ades.H. (1966). Choral Arranging. Delaware Water Gap, United States of America: Shawnee Press Inc.
Berglin, J. (2018). Beyond the Repertoire: Incorporating Contemporary A Cappella Process Into the Secondary Choir. The Choral Journal, 58(11), 10-19.
Callahan.A. (1995). Anna’s Amazing A Capella Arranging Advice: The Collegiate A Capella Arranging Manual. United States of America: Hal Leonard Corporation.
Goldblatt, D. (2013). Nonsense in Public Places: Songs of Black Vocal Rhythm and Blues or Doo‐Wop. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 71(1), 101-110.
So I’m working on the mixed bag arrangement of Horse Racing – I’m using a basis of someone else’s arrangement from musescore.com (link) but obviously it’s not 100% accurate, plus it’s only for piano but it’s saved me from having to spend time inputting those notes into Sibelius!
Adding a bassline
Adding a completely separate piano part
Adding a second melody line
Changing some of the chords (some are non-existent/inaccurate)
Couple of bars are missing
This was mostly done with Lang Lang’s interpretation of this piece [link].
I also have to figure out how actually put it in the iBook itself… seems like 2 pages on one horizontal screen will have to do, as I don’t think I can change the setting to go vertical. If I’ve got time, maybe I’ll try and figure if I can just do a single page vertically.
I’m also thinking of all this footage I have of Lulu when I interviewed her…but seeing as time is tight, have I really got the time to review that footage and edit it all? So on a bit of a whim I search YouTube for ‘Lulu Liu Pipa’ and it turned out that she’s actually got a lot of professional stuff there already! Having looked at a couple of her videos, I’m going to pull extracts from her documentary made with the Chinese Pipa Association; plus the one from the ABC that I already had in mind.
So I’ve vaguely decided on which instruments to provide a brief history and audio on, but I know that’s not enough detail. I was planning to focus a lot on pipa (seeing as I have the most knowledge on that!) But, especially hearing Lofimaker’s remix of Horse Racing, and having already decided on making a mixed-bag arrangement of Horse Racing – it would be a no-brainer to include more in-depth information on the erhu as well!
If I had more time, I would also go back and add a section for the guzheng as well. These three instruments are almost the equivalent of violin, piano and flute in how frequently they are learnt.
I was basically researching as I was constructing the iBook, summarising various sources to neatly put into the one spot. If anything, Chinese music has so many books and websites talking about it but it just all needs to be put in the one place!
I also find that a lot of the websites themselves are not super-well designed, which highlights the need for my iBook even more.
It’s becoming clearer and clearer that the trajectory of activities will lead from listening to Horse Racing, to performing an arrangement of it, to doing a remix of it. Seems logical and effective to me!
I am hoping to somehow include some of Tan Dun’s work (I did a bit of research into his stuff early on) – especially the Pipa concerto would be nice; but seeing as this iBook is more of an introductory resources rather than totally comprehensive of all Chinese musics we’ll just have to see how I go….
Delving into Bree Van Reyk’s Light for the First Time for Assessment 2 of MUED3603 was a little less complicated than I expected. The first step of our assessment was to analyse Light for the First Time and create a ‘baby-steps’ compositional task upon some specific aspect(s) of the piece. I have aimed mine for Stage 6, Year 11 Music 2. You can explore it here.
In my observations from the recording/interview session with Ensemble Offspring, it can be quite a complicated-looking score and unconventional sounding piece. I certainly was a little intimidated when looking at the score for the first time (ha! pun intended).
I realised in the first main section, pitch-wise, it is not awfully complicated. In fact it would probably be one of the easiest ways in, as Bree gradually builds the piece with pitches one at a time, all that belong to an F major scale. By limiting what the student needs to analyse from the score in Step 1, it takes away the potential information overload and increases the piece’s accessibility. It’s suddenly not so intimidating when you find out the piece really just builds on notes of a scale!
This baby-steps assumes they have a good reading ability, as they would already be analysing scores of a similar nature in Music 2. However, I have given them options to compose in notation software or on paper. The first draft is a recording, because sound needs to come first and foremost, and helps avoid blank-page syndrome; then students start writing things down.
Although the aleatoricism is a huge part of the piece and a main topic of our interviews, I chose not to touch the aleatoric parts of this composition for this assignment. Although I myself had studied aleatoric works in Year 11, and would trust students to be able to listen to and understand the concept of aleatoricism, I do not think it would be productive for it to be a focal point of composition at that stage. But certainly, if a Year 12 Music Extension composition student was interested, then it would be appropriate to inform the student about aleatoric writing conventions
Funnily enough, before we had even fully addressed baby steps in MUED3603, I had created my own baby steps resource for a Year 9 composition assessment as part of my practicum at Willoughby Girls High School. You can view my reflection on that here. I must say though, due to time and task constraints, I was not as creative or tech-savvy as I was here. Due to the teaching conventions as well as the assessment task requirements (i.e. Write a Classical melody with a chord progression) at my prac school, I find that that particular baby steps is quite prescriptive, and really did not allow room for creative thinking. I like to think this task makes up for that!
I have used a mix of digital and printed/writing resources in my baby steps resource. Personally, I find it much more intuitive and authentic to compose as I try things out, and notate them down. Sometimes I will record my playing, then notate what I hear. Then, if I wanted, I would input the written stuff into Sibelius. These processes are reflected in my baby steps, and help address the ‘blank page syndrome’ (or the ‘blank Sibelius page syndrome’).
In my practicum experience, I found similar blocks in teaching my Year 9s their composition task. Those who opted to use their online notation program ‘Noteflight’ often experienced more difficulties in getting into the compositional ‘zone’, and at my suggestion, one of the students did switch from using their laptop to going to paper first and then notating it in a notation software. I think part of the misconception that using a notation software is ‘better’ is that it is already quite properly formatted and laid out – simply put, it looks better, so it must be ‘better’! And that mattered a lot to these 14-year old girls. I honestly regret not putting down my foot more and insisting they write their initial ideas first. Their cognitive resources were so focused on using the program and inputting the correct thing, that in turn the musical material itself dropped in focus and quality. This is supported by Peterson and Schubert (2007) where their research reports that, on average, users of such software would use 58.08% more time on navigating menus and tools, as opposed to the 0% for handwritten composers. Imagine if that time could be spent on experimenting, improvising and performing compositional ideas! I, too, along with many of my high school classmates, would have experienced this ourselves. Our composition lessons were structured so that we would spend time in the computer lab i.e. using Sibelius to compose, but it would have been so much more productive just to sit at a piano or instrument and try things! After all, midi-playback only does so much, and the actions of having to input notes at a comparatively clunkier and slower rate certainly impedes the writing process.
That being said, I can think of a reason why notation software can be good for some students. At my prac school, students would learn keyboard in the Year 7 mandatory course, and be expected to transfer those skills into composition in Year 9 elective music class. Of course, some would have an advantage of actually learning the instrument as a co-curricular activity, so some students would be much more at ease using the keyboards to compose. Others would struggle a fair bit, so in that case it might be more accessible to use the midi playback of a notation software. Of course, that doesn’t ever replace work with live, real human beings but it can be a start! I found this to be similar with the guitarists of the class – they preferred to work from their guitars, but one particular girl was not super proficient at playing guitar, so she often used the midi playback, plus her own playing to help her hear what she was composing.
It was also interesting to note that this girl wrote in a style that was very conventional for guitar playing but not necessarily for Classical Music (as per the intention of the task). I also had an Lmus level pianist who, in every draft, had to put it in a minor key (despite an assessment requirement for the composition to be in a major key) and wrote in a minimalist film music style. She showed me several versions and drafts, and when pushed to stick to the assessment requirements and the baby steps I had provided, she just couldn’t/wouldn’t do it! Similarly, when I tested out these baby steps in my own composing, I found that on a smaller scale they absolutely did help in laying out the musical material; however, my grander vision of structure and style came first before anything else. I have a clear idea of what my composition should be like because I will be emulating styles of Chinese music, mixed in with modern compositional devices and extended techniques.
Hence, in my baby steps – there is absolutely no specification of style, because in my experience that seems to be a redundant requirement to include. The flowing force of creativity doesn’t like to be boxed in too much and often it is this chosen style or genre of music that can actually propel the composition quite forward. Rather, the baby steps should help build the techniques and devices that are stylistically appropriate (provided that they follow them!) That being said – a baby steps system is not the be-all and end-all, but a starting point for students to avoid blank-page syndrome and get composing!
So I’ve done a bunch of research on Lofimaker, but I realised at this point I need to actually begin to construct the iBook itself!
The clear way in would be to start with the instruments themselves. The curation of which instruments to include come from my personal experience of the Sydney Conservatorium Chinese Music Ensemble as well as this helpful video guide that I found.
Since this is likely to be any teacher/student’s big exposure to Chinese music, I’m conscious of having to curate information effectively in order not to overload their minds.
I chose to include instruments of the modern classical period of Chinese music, as they do have ancient instruments which are not usually used in the concert hall or only in certain religious events (similar to the organ, lute, recorder or viola da gamba one could say).
It was important to format the instruments in a way all the information (audio and historical background) could be accessed by tapping/clicking, rather than scrolling text. I had to experiment with a few different widgets – at first I just had text but then I realised I could do a pop-over (which makes it look much neater and tidier) but that meant I had to redo everything I’d done at that point. At some point, as I was previewing the sound bites I was editing, the annoying way that the images override the audio if they overlap meant that I had to rejig everything to fit those audio buttons in without overlapping, otherwuse they wouldn’t play at all. Yay formatting…
This all took much longer than anticipated but I think the visual neatness is worth the effort!
Audio taken from Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra’s YouTube playlist – highly recommend this is as a resource to be incorporated into other resources. On its own it’s a bit dry, but can provide good fundamentals when incorporated with other materials!
Information about the instruments summarised from Wikipedia and Eason Music Website. Eason Music also have a YouTube Channel.