Summer Symphony, First Movement

1806200-bigthumbnailThis has been a momentous year for me, and a challenging one in terms of absorbing change. As you all know, Marta and I moved to California in June, and while it’s been a wonderful move — we love it here — everything is different. Well, not everything. But a lot.

I also changed employers, and with that change, ran headlong into a major project with difficult deadlines that has had me climbing walls learning. Even things I used to know are no longer useful: they switched from Linux Centos6 to Centos7, and that threw everything I thought I knew about starting boot processes on Linux right out the window.

On the musical front, I’ve been learning to play a whole new orchestra. None of my old chops are of much use, and while the instruments are better-sounding overall (though the oboe sucks), they are less forgiving. That has lead to reading a book about real sound mixing — which is an utterly overwhelming black art. Comb-filtering, anyone? And what is multing, exactly? Now, I could tell you. A lot of the thousand-and-one buttons in my digital audio workstation have suddenly been demystified. It will take time to develop any skill, however.

Anyway, I’ve gone as far as I can for the time being as a nØØb (“noob” == “newbie” == “bloody amateur”) with both the new sounds and my very rudimentary mixing skills. My endurance has run out.

So here (on the music tab) is the first movement of the Summer Symphony, my first (hopefully, not last) symphony for full orchestra. I’ve decided to release the music in installments, one movement at a time, so there are three more movements to come. All written, mind you. Just not mixed to anything like my satisfaction.

This movement is a summer’s day. Close your eyes, lean back, and let the music take you deep into your memory and imagination. Enjoy.

For the musicologists out there, there’s plenty to find. One of the things I didn’t even realize until a month or so back is that there’s a reason I’ve never been able to decide what key this movement is in. As it turns out, it isn’t in any key.

The Greeks had a number of different scales, and these were adopted into the Western tradition as “modes,” which can be illustrated by taking a C-major scale, then starting the scale on each of the notes in turn.

  • Ionian (major) – start on C
  • Dorian – start on D
  • Phrygian – start on E
  • Lydian – start on F
  • Mixolydian – start on G
  • Aolean (natural minor) – start on A
  • Locrian – start on B

Each mode has two half-tone intervals, and five whole-tone intervals: the half tones are separated by two whole tones on one side, and three on the other. Most Western music since the Renaissance has been written in either Ionian mode (also known as a “major” key), or the Aolean mode (also known as the natural minor key).

Using the C-major scale as a reference is just convenient to illustrate the idea. Not everything in a major key is written in C — you can easily have F# major, and you could just as easily have F# Locrian. What is important is where the half-tone intervals fall, but in all cases, they will be separated by two whole-tone intervals on one side, and three on the other.

[There’s one popular variant called “harmonic minor,” or sometimes “Hungarian minor,” where the seventh note of the Aolean (natural minor) scale is pushed up an additional half-tone, giving you three half-tones, and one tone-and-a-half.]

As it turns out, this movement — or the principal theme, at least — is written in a completely different mode. Like the traditional Western modes, it has two half-tone and five whole-tone intervals, but the half-tones are separated by one whole tone on one side, and four on the other.

So if you start with the C-major scale, as above, you would flat the A and the B. The overall quality is to make the lower half of the scale feel like it’s in a major key, but the upper half of the scale feel like a minor key, and contributes a kind of joy-in-sadness, or sadness-in-joy, to the melody.

I have no idea if this mode has a name, and it’s going to be a pain to score — it will probably be probably a-minor with C#’s running loose everywhere.

It turned out pretty nicely for the ear, however.


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