So I’ve been working on a piece to honor Grant McFarlane, the wonderful accordion player and composer in Paisley, Scotland that I’ve been emailing with and exchanging compositions.
Using the pitches that spell out “Grant”, I found myself writing in Am. I was struck by the similarity to another Name Music piece — yes, Anthony! They share some of the same beginning letters! So I tried out rhythms for the pitches that were DIFFERENT from what I had done with Anthony. The melody seemed to flow out of me easily, with an A section in Am, a B section in Dm, a natural-sounding structure of AABB, a waltz rhythmic feel, and all was well. I entered my hand-written notation into Sibelius right away, because I had arrows all over the place with the ideas for each section, it was not in very good linear order and I didn’t want to have to work too hard to re-create the order!
Then, I worked on the chords right away. To do this I usually have my computer play the notation while I pluck the chords on the violin. I’m mostly concerned about what the root of the chord would be, and since 5ths are so easy to double stop on the violin, I’ll often play open 5ths for the chords.
This is how I ended up with a piece that was in Am, with a B section in Dm. Lovely! Here it is:
I decided to write a harmony line right away, which I don’t usually do. Sometimes because I’ve run out of time, sometimes because I’ve run out of composing steam. But today I was still energized, so I gave it a whirl. The way I approach composing the harmony is usually some combination of singing it silently, or out loud, while playing the chords and holding the melody in my head.
The idea that emerged for very first measure was striking, because it involved a downward motion involving a C#. Okay, this is over a supposedly Am chord, with a C natural. However, since I was playing only the root and fifth of the Am, I had no third dictating to me. Decision time! In the past, I’ve rebuked myself and started over if I make a “mistake” like that. This time I decided to go with it, make the A section in A major somehow — and that lead to it having more of a modal character, A major to G major chords. Here is the A section:
Quite a delight! Key signature of A major. And you'll see that the only melody notes of C natural that ended up adjusted to C# are in measures 8 and 10. Interesting. The B part I kept in D minor, with a simple harmony line.
After a few days I played through both versions again, and lo and behold, I really like both! I like the plain and appealing A minor solo version, and I like the more harmonically elaborate A major version as well. It strikes me as being a Water Bear type piece, with many possibilities for improvising. So — I think I’ll send him both pieces, and we’ll see what he says!