The joy of planning

Planning. Gosh that sounds dull, doesn’t it?! However, I am finally seeing the benefits of actually planning my college work and my composing. At the beginning of the academic year, finding my time vanishing away scarily fast, I went to see the Time Management lady here. It was an insanely useful thing to do, mainly because it really showed me how little time there is. There’s a world of difference between “Oh that deadline’s a week away” and “but in that week I have 6 classes, spend 10 hours travelling, need to sleep and eat and shower and do other work and basically I really only have about 8 hours in total (including reading time on the train) and the only big gap I have is tomorrow, to do this thing”.

A couple of weeks back, our lecturer for Orchestration – Large set us the task to plan out our work for our pieces, so that we set ourselves deadlines for each bit that needed to be done, and I really found it very enlightening. “I need to write a piece” became:

  • Complete short score
  • First draft orchestration
  • Second draft orchestration
  • Third draft orchestration
  • Finalise and lay out
  • Produce parts
  • Proofread
  • Correct
  • Print
  • Hand in

Quite a scary amount of work there! So I then took some time to plan out the other pieces I’m working on with similar results.

Today I took a bigger bull by the horns and made a plan for my Personal Project. This one’s not due till mid-May, which seems like miles away, but given that I’ll be writing a bunch of music for it AND writing an essay on the results of those musical experiments, a plan is very much in order. The main thing I’ve discovered is that if I’m to get everything done in a calm and collected fashion, including recording the pieces in good time to be useful, I need to write a piece a week from now till Easter. This takes into account the two weeks of CoLab (‘Collaboration Laboratory’) which is compulsory for the whole college, and when I have no idea if I’ll manage to get anything done at all.

My biggest question now is what forces I’m going to write for. My initial idea was to write for wind quintet and percussion, but the more I think about it, the more I feel it’s going to be a total nightmare to gather all those people in one place for rehearsals or to test out ideas, so I’m thinking one or at most two players is a more sensible approach. I keep coming back to the idea of percussion. I like the variety of instruments available and the wide range of possibilities – from drums to bowed vibraphone. I’ve been wanting to try writing for percussion a bit more seriously and this could be a chance to do this and to get to know a percussionist quite well while I try things out.

Time for some thinking out loud:

Based on my research and thinking so far, though, I think layering is going to be a key concept, and there’s likely to be some kind of drone-based thing in there somewhere, which I’d want to mean sustained continuous tones, not just repetition of a note amid other stuff. And for variety it might be best if the sustaining instrument could play chords too, to allow for that kind of harmonic exploration. I guess that means a string instrument, which gives some nice scope for additional percussive sounds plus a wide range of tonal variations.

Violin doesn’t hugely interest me for this project, double bass could be interesting but I don’t know how easy it would be to get a double bass into the percussion rooms here to test stuff out. Which I guess leaves viola or cello. I’m kind of obsessed with the idea of viola duo at the moment, thanks to discovering George Benjamin’s Viola Viola a couple of days ago but I think I want to save that because I’m thinking viola duo might be the answer to what instruments to use in the song cycle I’ll be writing later this year.

So… cello and percussion? Have we a winner?