Collaborative Composing: Part Two

Beethoven and MozartCould you imagine Mozart and Beethoven working on a composition together?  Would they compliment each other or kill each other?  Would the results be better, worse, or the same quality as their individual work?  While collaborating with someone during the composing process can have it’s challenges (especially if you’re used to always getting your way), it also has its rewards, and provides a unique opportunity to learn and grow.

Part One of this series described the initial stages of work shared by myself and an arranger friend, on a bossa nova that was to be pitched to a LA based trumpet and flugelhorn player for his next CD.  I had taken the original piece and pared it down to a smaller number of motifs.  Although I had written a new harmonic progression over the new tune’s B section to replace the cliche II-V-I’s, my friend seemed to think his approach was the better way to achieve what he was going for at that part of the tune.

This is where compromise showed again why it can be a force for good.  Even when arranging the II-V-I progressions in a way that the tonal centers where ascending (mentioned in Part One), I was still concerned about the song (and it’s promising beginnings) falling into predictable patterns of cliche.  However, as I doubled my efforts towards keeping the melody relating to the pre-existing motivic structures two interesting things happened:

  1. The B section no longer seemed like a compromise, with no feeling that we were settling for a formula that has been used far too many times in the repertoire.
  2. The exchange of melodies where the A and B sections interfaced was actually much stronger than with my so called “superior” version.  The feeling of ascension I had been going for was now more enhanced because the melodic ascension began earlier, now two bars before letter B.

With the direction and form of the song even stronger, the remaining decisions had to now be held to a higher standard.  This closer scrutiny demanded that the second B section be played one half step lower than previous version, which created a much greater lift to the new material presented at letter C…again, far superior to what I had done before this compromise (see the example below).

To explain the need for this change I must state another of my friend’s wishes…for more harmonic simplicity (which also led to those II-V-I’s in the first B section).  Even though he was the one who first introduced them, I dropped the pedal points at letter A (although left it as an option on the final A section of the tune), and allowed some passing chords to be optional (measures # 4, and 14, seen below).  To some, these changes may not seem to reflect much of a move towards simplicity, which in the end was achieved more by the economy of motivic material (which again, I can’t show you for copyright reasons), rather than a drastic overhaul in the harmonic language.

Collaborative Composing 2

My original melody at the second B section now stands out more as a variation of Letter A (with the third note of the three note motif now an octave higher), and the final two measures leading from there to Letter C were changed to make use of the motivic material in the first B section.  All of these actions made it much easier to defend Letter C, which although unchanged, now relates to the previous material even more than before.  As dry as this analysis may sound, the tune itself does not sound in the least clinical…but instead has a strong, beautiful, and singable melody backed by a natural, yet unique chord progression still based in the language of the style.  I’ve included the last two versions of our harmonic work for comparison (shown above).

The reason for sharing this experience is to illustrate not only an example of musical collaboration, but also how this process transcends the musical arena.  Working with others demands compromise, which may often seem to hurt the quality of the final product.  But if one sees compromise as a chance for learning and growing (as a challenge to our creativity), rather than as an obstacle to having one’s own way, or as a missed opportunity to being proven to be “right” or “better,” then we benefit from increased awareness, personal abilities, and a stronger bond with others based on shared experiences.

Related Link:  Collaborative Composing

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