It’s good to sit down and think, sometimes

About time I start keeping a journal of thoughts for my musical endeavors!

It’s very enriching, indeed, to have some time alone thinking, after so much time being spent on talking about stuff with friends and my brother without thinking (i.e. spouting nonsense). It’s also very heartening to look back and see how I actually managed to grow quite a bit, mature quite a bit from my past cliche ways of thinking and writing. :)

I’ve always viewed musical composition as a way that people can express their thoughts, emotions — that includes joy, yearning, love, grievances or even anger. It’s true. You are what you write, isn’t it? If I were a very conservative composer (I’m not), I would stay close to the usual realms of ‘accepted’ or ‘orthodox’ means of achieving a ‘safe’ piece of composition that wouldn’t bring me much trouble in consequence. If I were a wild, experimental sort of composer, unsatisfied with ‘standard’ harmonies, I would probably explore a wide range of writing styles and try to achieve maximum effect with those technics of composition.

Definitely, I believe that a good composer needs to be versatile in a wide range of genres of writing, so as to ensure that he / she is adept in churning out pieces with maximum efficiency if given a short working time-frame, right? Yup, this is the ideal that we’re all working towards to, and I’m no exception.

Up to this point, people reading my post may be asking, “Erm, yeah, so what’s your point?” The answer is, I have no point. I’m just writing my mind, so yeah, this entire blog may be very helpful for me as a portfolio for my own ‘pointless’ thoughts; they serve as a journal that I can look back upon in future and wonder in amazement to myself, “Wah! How come last time I’m so smart ah… Haha…” (joking ;)) But to other people, it may seem as if it is just a piece of e-junk, created without a sense of purpose…

But it’s alright.

Back to where I was just now, recently I’ve grown to realize that there is really, really, seriously no fixed formula to writing a good piece of composition. In the past, I’ve always thought that as long as I work hard enough, and pay enough attention to the harmonies that I use, then the composition would be a good composition. I was wrong. Very wrong. Sometimes, I tell you the truth, no matter how hard I try, how much attention I give to ensuring that the chords all sound nice, the entire composition just either lacks the spark, or the wow factor that everyone is looking for.

Then, how do I work towards a good composition? It’s quite hard, huh, from the way it looks. It’s not quite hard, it’s very hard, that’s why people spend their entire lives writing, and they still do not get bored of it; others saw it, and they followed! Come to the end, I feel that it is the sense of achievement that people get out of their compositions that they feel makes it rewarding for them to want to continue writing music.

My compositional style is very egoistic in nature; I write thinking about how I would like it to turn out, and believe that how I would like it to turn out would be the best way it should be done. This isn’t bad, right? In fact it gives the work a very strong sense of “Ji Heng-ness“… Haha! :D But then in order for this way of writing to work even better, I feel that I still need to work on the way that I treat my inspiration.

Usually, whenever I get inspiration — inspiration comes in many forms, it can be a certain strand of melody / rhythmic pattern / piece structure / instrumental technique / harmony (nice chords) / subject of the work, etc — I would jump straight into subjecting the inspiration to the conventional forms of “Ji Heng” treatment — either notating it straight out onto paper so that I won’t forget it, playing it out on the piano, or even start composing in Sibelius. This I feel needs to be adjusted a teeny-weeny bit… I need to design the composition using the inspiration first, then I can go on to writing the work out proper. You may ask, what’s the difference between designing and composition? Well, a simple analogy works: if an architect had an inspiration for his building to look like a piece of beautiful transparent glass panel, he couldn’t start asking the construction workers to get the resources to build it and make it materialize, right? He needs to properly do some drawings, account for how to make the building blend into its surroundings, then do some more drawings, ensure that the materials used are best for the look and functionality, and call up suppliers to ensure that the design is feasible in terms of the availability of construction techniques, equipment and materials, then he can submit the design and see the building take shape.

Same thing for composition.

Wah, I’m like a musical architect right? Yes! That’s exactly what composers are, just that the professional label ‘composers’ makes us sound all the more cool, haha, cos it’s exclusive to musical industry, right? Right? Hee hee! ;) Just as I get an inspiration, I should get a piece of paper and literally draw out, in graphical format, how the piece should look like. Note that ironically, I think that it’s looks, not sound, yet. Why? It’s actually very simple. Even though music seems to be all about sounds, sounds and yet even more sounds, you realize that whenever we hear a loud “bang!” or “Thud!” we turn to look for where the sound came from, isn’t it? And if we look at composing music, it is the means to getting sound, right? So given that our human reaction is to look for sound source upon hearing sound, then composing should be the reverse-process, from the looks, we create a sound from the looks of the compositional structure. Indeed, it sounds weird, but then upon drawing out the “look” of the piece, we can already sort of hear the piece in our minds, if our design is good. Isn’t it better, than having a whole piece of inspiration stuck within your mind, and you start writing half of it out, then you lose the other half of it because you forgot how it sounds? Seems like images store better in your brain, than sounds do! :D

Then, I must start collecting my compositional materials, and these are the rest of the melodies / harmonies / whatsoever that I can actually derive from my inspirational strand. Cool huh! I fill these into the design on paper too, and make sure that they sound like a coherent whole. It is only after all these work have been done, then I start on my composition proper, building it and seeing it take shape, as how I want it to.

Looks like it’s quite a cool method of interpreting composition, isn’t it? Sadly, many students, or even professional composers, aren’t interpreting musical composition in this way… Well, unless you’re as pro as Mozart, whose mind is full of preset designs that he can just extract and use and still got enough to last for the rest of his 36 years of life, then sorry la, ai… must be more organized in the treatment of musical ideas and inspiration.

Let’s all learn and grow together, ok? :)

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