Once a student composer has created a musical work, it is time for the work to be prepared for presentation, and then to be performed for an audience. This can be an extensive learning experience in itself for a young composer; it is one thing to write down musical ideas, but it is another for someone else to read what is written and understand and accurately perform what the composer intended. Sometimes, if the music is handwritten, it is a matter of legibility. At other times, the music just doesn’t sound like the composer thought it would; that is, the written notation does not accurately represent what the composer had in mind. To design a composing project so that this phase of the process will be as beneficial as possible, it is important for the composer to reflect on the performance with these issues in mind.
In order to reflect on and write about any piece of music, it is necessary for the writer to have command of music vocabulary with which he or she can accurately and concisely describe the music. Words that the student should know for this include beat, contrast, dynamics, expression, form, measure, melody, meter, mood, note, pattern, phrase pitch, release, repetition, rhythm, key, contour, style, tension, timbre, unity, and variety. These words all refer to elements the composer should have under his or her control, and be able to use to describe his or her own work.
These questions, again from the Connecticut Curriculum web site, address this need. First, if there were any spots that were different from what you wrote, where (give the measure number) was the performance different? What was different? What should have happened? In order to answer these questions, the student must know exactly what he or she intended, and must know how each of the musical elements was used throughout the work. The student can’t possibly know if the performance was accurate unless they know what it is supposed to sound like. If there are differences, the student must be able to recognize where the performance differed from what he or she wrote. This is the easiest of the questions, but necessary before the next ones can be answered.
Once the discrepancy is located, the composer must then determine what musical element was inaccurately performed (or inaccurately notated.) Was it a rhythm? A pitch? Perhaps these were all correct, but the expressive intent was missing. This gets into contrast, dynamics, expression, tension and release. Where expression is concerned, It may be that the performer did not follow expressive directions in the score, or it may be that the composer used insufficient markings to guide the performer in realizing the expressive intent. It is not uncommon for students to assume everyone will think of what they though of when they read the score. Unless dynamics, articulations, phrase markings and so forth are accurately utilized, there is no way a performer will know exactly what the composer had in mind.
Now that the spots that were different in the performance from in the score have been located, and the musical elements that were involved have been identified, the third step is to indicate what should have occurred at those spots with those musical elements. Do you see how the insight gained in the previous two questions is now needed to answer this third question? Because the composer knows what went wrong, he or she can now explain or demonstrate what it would have sounded like if it had gone right. The composer can also take the opportunity to correct or make clearer the notations and markings in the score, so that the next performance by another musician will be more precise.
In my next post, I will discuss three more questions, this time directed at getting the composer to describe his or her own work, and how various musical elements were used to build form.