Minerva: Park City High School Symphony for Strings 1st Movement finished

After watching a concert with the Park City High School's Chamber Orchestra, I felt inspired by one of the students who created a string orchestra arrangement of music from the movie "Howl's Moving Castle."  I asked the orchestra director if I could write an original piece for his class, and he consented.  I started working on it over Thanksgiving break and finished it up just a few days ago (minus minor editing).   Here is the SoundCloud link:

There have been lots of great things I've learned from this experience.  For me, this is the fastest I've ever put together a piece of this magnitude, and it has been such a refreshing feeling to finish something I've worked on.

One of the great things that I decided to do as I worked on this project was to have a deadline.  None was given to me by the orchestra teacher, but I knew that the group would appreciate having it sooner rather than later, so I set the deadline as the end of February.

Having the push to get it done by a certain time helped me make composition more of a priority.  As a friend once told me, if you don't have goals in life then whatever is in front of you becomes the priority.  Making my compositional growth a priority helped me gain purpose and make room for it in my daily schedule.

I also found that the deadline forced me to become more efficient in how I composed.  My process for this piece involved four steps:
1) Head Time:  thinking about what the piece needed to be and where the piece needed to go.  This was done singing to myself, plunking things out on piano, and playing on violin, viola, or cello.  When I wasn't sure where I needed to take the piece, I would sit at the piano and plunk out stuff.  When this didn't help, I would pick up the violin, the viola, or the cello, and improvise based on what I already had until something started making sense.  When none of this helped, I'd go for a walk (I did this a lot when the rock school class right beneath my teaching studio was going).
2) Sketching Time:  getting as much of the ideas I was creating and developing down on paper as possible.  Whenever I had something that seemed to work, I would write it down, and I would keep playing around with it until I got something that I knew was working well.
3) Writing Time:  After I created the ideas, sketched them, and got something I knew was going to work, I started putting them down in a full staff and adding accompaniment.  With this, I left myself lots of notes both in my sketching and in the score itself so I could come back later if I had to stop and pick up where I left off.
4) Editing Time:  When I had put ideas down on paper in score format, I would take these and put them into Finale and critique it to make sure it all made sense.  This step became less and less as I went along (partly because of lack of computer access, but partly because I had gotten the feeling of what I wanted and knew how to make it work without aid of the computer).

The biggest thing that I forced myself to do was to move forward and not get hung up on all of the little details.  I would be checking myself and asking:  "Is this taking a long time to do? If it is, is it necessary?  If it's necessary, is it something I can do later as effectively or more effectively?"

These questions helped keep me focused and moving forward with writing.  If there was a detail that needed work but required extra work, I would write a note and give myself the freedom to come back to it later.

This process is what I hope to do for all of my future pieces, making sure I'm pushing myself forward to get it finished.


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