June is my first composition and created as part of assigned work from my teacher, Julia Kourtidis. I’m writing my thoughts down as a point of reference for future David, however the mechanics of composition for beginners, explained by a beginner, will no doubt be useful to others.
If you’ve stumbled here from the score or Google, here’s the recording:
The score is available for download: https://musescore.com/davidconnors/june
Julia’s instructions were to:
- Get some footage – anything really (she suggested video of my dog sleeping)
- Set it up on your iPad at the piano
- Tinker while watching that and see where it takes you
I have taken a fairly argumentative stance on improvisation in the past when asked to try it – and I chalk that up principally to my length of service in the IT industry. IT folk know how to interpret and solve complex problems – but right-brained creativity is pretty thin on the ground in my neck of the woods.
It is somewhat of a running joke that I am learning the piano backwards. I sometimes pull off quite difficult things while I struggle immensely with things that other students would find trivial (don’t start me on how much time I’ve sunk into a couple of the Trinity Grade 1 pieces). True to form, I composed, scored, and recorded June and then went and made a video to match. Opposite to instruction however I got there in the end.
While I did not make the video until this evening, I did have a firm ‘minds eye’ concept as a starting point: Peel Island and the story of June Berthelsen. I’ve been to Peel several times with friends and the children and it is hard to Google the history of Peel without stumbling upon June’s story.
Peel Island functioned as a lazaret (leper colony) up until its closure in 1959. June was interned on the island from 1956 to 1958 after being diagnosed with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) and wrote “The lost years: A story of leprosy” as an account of her time there.
She had a rough life (a still born child, another that died shortly after birth, and diagnosis with Hansen’s shortly after adopting two children and finally having one of her own). Notwithstanding this hardship, she tells a good tale and created a fair bit of mischief on the island – mostly to relieve her excruciating boredom.
Putting June together
The piece is composed in D minor.
I started out by experimenting with different arpeggiated patterns to try and noodle out a progression I liked. Initially I chose Dm root triad → Am root triad → G root triad. I decided that G was too happy given the subject matter and so changed it to Gm. If you play the resulting progression it is not even close to where I ended up.
Next step: I would be in trouble with the piano police if I didn’t use any inversions. Conveniently, G second inversion shares a root with Dm. I swapped A out for Gm somewhere along the way – and that is pretty much the left hand for the whole piece.
For the melody I had an idea of using accented single notes in the way that Federico Albanese does his “synthy bits” in Carousel #3 – that idea lasted three notes and I only realised I abandoned it once I’d finished the piece. That’s a shame – I would have liked to have seen where that landed.
For whatever reason, I’ve become fond of pieces that use odd beats to lead into the next bar so that ended up being a recurring theme.
The whole thing fell into place over the course of about an hour. I spent a number of hours after this trying to enrich it and extend it – always CTRL+Zing back to where it is now.
In terms of scoring, I’ve come to appreciate that less is more when it comes to dynamics and other annotations – the first stab at this was littered with dynamics markings in a way that only a software engineer could. I cut that right back (and I barely stick to what I have left in the score anyway).
The audio was recorded this evening on my Kawai ES920 using the SK-5 Grand sample set rendered to USB as a WAV. The video was stitched together using Premier Pro.
Any comments, questions, please drop me a note!