Composing : Afflict The Comfortable by Joel Irwin

Afflict The Comfortable

I walked in my first composition class of the semester today really upbeat.  Since the end of the Spring semester, I scored 7 films (one never released) and of those 6 released, one won 'best score', one was nominated for 'best score', and the documentary I scored won for 'Best Documentary'.  I decided to give my prof the score for the best score nominated film.  He looked at the score while I played the film.

Here are some of the comments:
1. why is one instrument playing an eight note while another a sixteenth note in the same place in the bar?
2. cluttered violin notes that don't support the penny whistle's melody
3. very dark - no clarity
4. Too many conflicting contrapuntal melodies at the same time
5. French horn section bars conflict/clash with the violin 1 section bars
6. Clumsy horizontal writing in the violin 1 section
7. Too busy a string section - use less instrumentation

I think you get the idea - and all from a 19 page, 197 bar score.  Then he also told me:

1. There is something wrong with the sound of the string samples - they don't sound realistic
2. My composing style is too much like the classic/old-style composers
3. my music is sappy in parts
4. I need to stop using the piano completely even as a support instrument

So you could understand that I probably walked out in a different state of mind than I walked in.

Why am I telling you this? Especially since I think my prof is doing exactly what he  is supposed to do and what I needed to hear.   In one of the organizations I do community service for, we talk about "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable".   I have become too comfortable and too set in my ways and style during the last few years.  He reminded me that film music is not about being the most sophisticated.  In the competition I won this year, he reminded me that last year's winner had a score that consisted of three notes!

Those of us who have high esteem and set in our ways, especially as we get older, tend to be less open to suggestions and change.  We get convinced we know something and resist critique from others as an opportunity for growth - for getting out of our comfort zone.  Those of us who do not choose continuing education are making a mistake and those of us who do need to take our education seriously.  Its not just 'going through the motions/the steps' - those who educate us probably know a thing or two more than us.  When we become students, we need to put out trust in our educators/teachers.  They probably can see things about of our artistic endeavors because they can be detached from those endeavors in a way we can't.

Taking a class is like watching a movie - we need to do the whole thing before we can even begin to form an opinion on its worth.  I have been taking classes now for 14 years.  And yes my older stubbornness comes out more than I would like it to and I resist making changes to things I really like, but over the years I have seen direction and growth - something I could not have accomplished by reading books or just experimenting on my own.

So I say, "Bring On The Affliction".... "Get Me Out Of My Comfort Zone".  I may not 'see it' as quickly as those who teach me and direct me would like to, but over time, I hope and pray that most of it if not all of it sinks in.  I am certain that my 'product' will improve and I will be happy and upbeat (remember the 'feeling' from the first sentence above) with the new me - the next generation of my music.

Many of us may remember J K Simmons Oscar winning role as the teacher in Whiplash (2014). Now I am not suggesting that our teachers need to be as hard on the music students as he portrayed - but there was something about the way he pushed the musicians that brought out things that may have never materialized. I/we need more of that to be the best we can be.

Go take classes and direction from those who have preceded you.  Get afflicted.

Meghan Scott

This is really good advice!

Ronald Atkinson

Great advice! And some of those comments sound a lot like what my composition professor would say!

Kerry Kennard

Though, you won. Yes, still good advice to listen to others. I heard a good critique of one piece at Mix Me / FB group.

Russ Whitelock

One of the hardest (to hear) yet the best piece of advice given me was - "Beautiful theme BUT WAY OVER USED"! I tend to weave the central theme throughout the film in various ways and with different orchestration. When I was told this (by more than one person) I went back and counted the number of times I brought the 'main theme' into the film - Each film since I am particularly cautious of when and how to use main theme(s). I also have needed to be aware of when and how best to use piano -

Wesley Lawrence Curry II

I am brutishly cadenza'd, Joel. And....a little bit confused, I got a message (I think from you, please forgive me if I am incorrect) from you on icomposition and haven't found the piece you spoke about in the letter. All the best to you, and from reading your letter hear, you are someone to whom I look forward to listening with.

Joel Irwin

hmm... i looked through all my private messages back four years and did not see anything with you. The full score referred in this post above was for "The Last Command" which premiered last Aug in LA - I can provide a private link to the film on youtube upon request.

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