Music Appreciation: Proclamation by Lori Archer Sutherland

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As I was deciding what to write about next, my husband suggested I write about one of my own pieces. Namely the piece Proclamation, as it came about thanks to O Filii et Filiae, which I discussed in my previous post. After thinking about that a bit, I decided to do it. I’ll admit I’m nervous about this post. Most of my compositional works are transcriptions and arrangements, so talking about one of my original compositions in this format is outside my comfort zone. Since it’s my piece, I can’t help but talk about some of the creative process behind writing it. I’ll follow up with my normal walk-through of the piece.

After transcribing O Filii… for the horn choir, my husband asked if there was something else I could arrange as a companion piece. I thought about that, then decided I wanted to compose a new piece instead of doing another arrangement. I came up with some basic ideas somewhat quickly – it would be a short piece, anitphonal (two quartets conversing with each other), same instrumentation as O Filii…, in the same or a complimentary key, and things like that.

Cor Corps premiering "Proclamation" - April 2015

Cor Corps premiering “Proclamation” – April 2015

I did quite a bit of mulling things over in my head, playing around with ideas for melodies and rhythms. I came up with my initial theme and got some good work done on that, and played around to get an idea of my theme B. And then I got stuck. And life happened. And my piece got put to the side for a long time (as in, a few years, I’m ashamed to say). I did some other music projects during that time, though Proclamation was still in the back of my head. I don’t know how much composers talk about this kind of stuff out in the open, but I had writer’s block. And a big dose of fear. What if I couldn’t actually finish the piece? What if everyone hated it? What if…? It’s hard to put art out into this hypercritical world, where it feels like everyone demands perfection.

Eventually, I had to put aside my doubts and fear and finish the piece. I was writing this piece for my husband, and I hated the thought that it was still languishing, partly finished, for way too long. I got back into working on the piece, sometimes I felt inspired, other times I had to make myself sit down to work on it. More than once I’d think I got something going, then the next day I’d look at it again and wonder who wrote that crap. But I kept working on it. Things started to come together. I had a great sounding board in my husband. He helped me figure a few things out, especially in the transition section. I also let a trusted friend hear an early draft; he made a helpful observation about the ending, which I was able to change and make better (thanks, KJ!)

So after all that, let’s listen to how it turned out. I have more info on the creative process in the footnotes; feel free to skip those if you’d just like to read the analysis of the piece.

It begins with the first horns sending out a call, answered by the second quartet (horns 5-8). (I should warn everyone – I love funky meters, so there’s a fair amount of 5/8 and 7/8 sprinkled throughout this piece). At 0:10 the call goes out again. This time it includes the second horns, adding the thirds and fourths in the next measure. The call changes slightly in the second measure.

The second quartet answers the call, expanding the line. At 0:22, all horns join in, but only briefly. The low horns begin a line upward (0:25) that continues in the first horn to lead into the next bit. It’s a bouncy bit that grows layer by layer, until everyone is in at 0:33. The ensemble continues to grow in volume and intensity until the peak at 0:36, with the first horns at odds with the rest of the group rhythmically. The tension clears once everyone hits a big D major chord at 0:39, the low horns beating out a rhythm that slows and quiets down, leading into the B section of the piece.

For this part, there is a change in mood, but not necessarily a change in tempo. You’ll hear more quarter and half notes than in the first section, and the time signature stays in 3/4. The dynamic level is quieter. At 0:48, the second quartet leads with the melody. Listen to the first few notes – they’re the same as theme A, just in a different rhythm and mood. Horn 8 restates the quarter note pattern from 0:39, but it’s not as punctuated as before. The first quartet answers with a slightly longer phrase (0:54), and horn 4 comes in with the quarter note motif.

The second quartet restates its line at 1:04, again answered by the first quartet. But this time, their answer is a little different and much shorter. The second quartet comes in again at 1:12 in a slightly shifted key and even quieter. 1 At 1:15, we start to transition back to theme A. Listen for the layering within and conversing between the quartets here. 2

During the transition, we start with longer rhythms (dotted half notes and half notes) and work back toward the quarters and eighths we’re more familiar with from the beginning of the piece. There’s also a change from 3/4 to 2/4 (1:31), then back to 3/4 with syncopated entrances, the volume building until we reach 1:37, where we hear the familiar call from the first measure of the piece.

The form of the piece is A-B-A; what you hear beginning at 1:37 is the same as the first section. This time around, the bouncy section at 2:02 begins in a familiar way but gets an extra bump at 2:09 before pushing into the finish. Instead of the first horn working downward like it did leading into the B section, it continues higher and louder to its final D (the rest of the major chord being filled in by the other parts). The lowest horns return with their motif, but start it with dotted quarter notes before changing to quarters to propel toward the final chord from everyone.3

As with O Filii… I’m very proud of the Cor Corps and their performance. I’m thankful for the chance they gave me with this piece. I’ve done other arrangements for the group, but this is my first original work I finished for them. I’m pleased to say the piece was received well by the players and the audience. I’ve been asked to arrange this for full band for the fall, so I will be working on that very soon. That will bring a new set of challenges, but I already have ideas for accomplishing what I want to do.

And yes, I have another shameless plug: the sheet music and recording are available through Sheet Music Plus (note: this is my affiliate link which supports the blog). There are a lot of independent composers and arrangers with their work on SMP. Please consider browsing their pieces when shopping for new music!

Have a great July and I’ll see you next time on Tonal Diversions!

Update:

I did indeed arrange this for full band, and it was premiered by the Crystal Lake Community Band in May, 2016. I’m very happy with how it all went! I have the sheet music available at Sheet Music Plus (see link a few paragraphs above). Here is the performance:

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  1. That bit was a part that kept wanting to be in the piece. I liked how it sounded when put up against the part immediately preceding it, but it was giving me fits because I was trying to put it in the first part of the B section, making it difficult to turn it into a full theme. Once I figured out it would work better leading into a transition, things fell into place and I started expanding the lines from 1:04 instead of trying to force the part at 1:12 to be something it shouldn’t.
  2. This section took some trial and error to get it the way I was hearing it in my head. This is where I’m thankful for my music processing program, where I can easily change things (and hit “undo” when they don’t work!) This is also where my husband’s ears came in handy – I could bounce ideas off him and get feedback.
  3. The ending went through many different iterations before I decided on this one. I feel overall it is a stronger ending than my original one.

What do you think?