Greetings from November's Composition Mentor

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    Hello Colleagues: I will be this forum’s Composition Mentor for the month of November. I am on the faculty of the Crane School of Music, SUNY-Potsdam, where I teach Composition, Theory, Aural Skills, and related courses such as Orchestration and Choral Arranging. As a composer, I have written in a wide variety of genres and styles, including orchestral, band, chamber music, opera, choral, art song, music theater, and performance art.

    While I have never worked as a teacher full-time in a public school setting, I did school residencies with the Minnesota Opera’s educational outreach program for a number of years. And I have been an active member of NYSSMA’s Composition Committee for about a decade. Plus, working at Crane has helped me understand the issues and connections between composition and school music programs.

    So, I hope that I can help answer your questions and facilitate discussions about most any topic you wish to bring up. To get us started, here are some possible topics that might be intriguing to discuss:

    – The relationship between a “typical” traditional music theory curriculum and the creative composition process.
    – How can “non-composer” teachers feel comfortable and confident about giving constructive feedback about student’s creative work.
    – Different strategies for “germinating ideas” when crafting composition projects for students (i.e. programmatic versus abstract/technical germinating ideas).

    Or, feel free to suggest any other topic that interests you.

    I look forward to working with you.
    …Paul Siskind


    Hello Paul:

    How about discussing the use of MODULATIONS found in Beatle songs?
    For a bunch of lads with limited music education they sure were crafty…
    The middle 8 of Lady Madonna is just one of many ways they modulated – here we find the classic pivot chords between the keys of A and C major


    Hi Peter: Nice to hear from you. Thanks for raising an interesting topic.

    There’s two things that strike me as “crafty” and unusual about the middle section of Lady Madonna:

    1) In some ways, the middle section functions like a prototypical “bridge” that’s a standard type of section in many pop tunes. However, most pop tunes that have a bridge use it only once (often after a pair of verses/choruses). Lady Madonna doesn’t really have a “chorus” per se, but rather, it uses two “bridges” to create the balance of unity/variety that is usually provided by the verse/chorus pairing.

    2a) Bridges in pop tunes often move away from the original home key, for variety. In Lady Madonna, the main sections are in A major, whereas the bridge is in C major. This relationship, with the second key being a major third away from the first, is called a chromatic third (or chromatic mediant) relationship. Chromatic third relationships had become common in late 19th-century and early 20th-century classical harmony, but it took a while for them to be adopted into jazz and pop styles. Coltrane’s Giant Steps was considered so radical for its time because of its emphasis on chromatic third progressions.

    2b) But that said, it was not unusual for the bridge of jazz standards and pop tunes to use chromatic third relationships, because bridges are usually less harmonically stable than the other sections of the tune. It’s common for a bridge to NOT start on its tonic; rather, they often start a couple of chords “before” tonic and then circle onto the tonic. (The bridge of I Got Rhythm starts on VI, which acts as V of V of V of V.) The bridge of Lady Madonna starts on ii, circle onto C major via ii-V-I. But it does not rest on I for long, which quickly slides down to vi, before starting another ii-V-I; but even this second cadence is “disrupted” by a turn-around to bring us back to A major.

    It’s interesting how some of the Beatles songs(even the late ones) used rather simple harmony, while others explored more progressive harmonies.

    The sad part is that today’s students don’t necessarily connect with Beatles’ songs the way that our generation does!


    But another salient feature of the harmony of bridges

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