Commissions: Part 2 (Structural Considerations)

After the text has been determined, I begin to think about the structure of the piece.  Should the piece convey reflection, celebration, gorgeous lush, whimsical fun, cleverness, or a combination of several?  How should I convey the chosen text?  Is there a common theme?  If so, how do I introduce it, develop it, and create unity in the composition?  And…some would say, “Most importantly”….How do I end it?  The ending is generally my greatest struggle, but it all comes down to how I want the listener to feel, once all has been said and done.

Structural considerations are critical to the compositional process.  When I write a commission, I want the person commissioning to have some input into the process.  So…I talk this through with the representative…telling the person what I’m thinking…discussing the general “flavor”…verbalizing the overall musical journey.  This discussion takes place after I have written down the text in an orderly sequence and have thought about the piece endlessly for a while.  That does not mean that I am rigid.  Sometimes the music demands my flexibility as much as those commissioning the artistic product.  I will “strike through” some phrases, retain or omit other phrases (if possible), combine ideas….whatever I must do in order to achieve the desired musical/artistic effect…and continue the energy of the composition.

As a general rule, I have found that in structural content, “less” is “more.”  Say what you want to say, don’t say it too long…move on to the next thing…remember the first thing….end it…and say, “YEA!!”

In my early writing, my endings went on and on…so I shortened them…then it was suggested that I might not be saying enough in the endings.  You get it…it is all “relative, but true” for whomever the listener might be.  It is all right for that person, in that moment, with that person’s expectations, etc.

In writing commissions, you are working within a representative’s concept of how he or she might want the commission to be remembered.  After discussing the overall piece with the representative, the composer should be able to draw that conclusion.  There are many ways to write a piece effectively.  As I said earlier, when a person is purchasing the first performance rights…it is my opinion that I should do whatever they want me to do…if possible.  As for my perspective, I have often heard the great poet Maya Angelou say that “a person might not remember what you said, but they always remember how you made them feel.”
I have actually had times when the honks and tweets of my own computer actually made me cry….because I could “hear it in my head” as a wonderful performance.  I have never been disappointed with the final product, when such a thing has occurred.  It moved me…it moved others…and that is the ultimate goal in all of my writing.