Student stories: Richard Montgomery
I am not usually one for entering competitions. In many cases they seem prohibitively expensive to enter, not just money-wise but time-wise too. Besides, I felt I did not have the proper training to pen an effective entry – hence my studies with the OCA. When the ‘Say it in 60 seconds’ competition came up I was completing my second assignment for the Composing Music 1 course and thought that there were things I had learned that could be used for a competition entry. The competition asked for a piece of music written for solo trumpet lasting c.60 seconds. Having limited knowledge of this instrument I turned to my trusty Essentials of Orchestration (Black and Gerou) to find out more. Regarding the music however, after a quick rummage through the musical tool bag I found Blacher’s ‘variable metre technique’ and the chromatic scale, still warm from my assignment 2 usage. But what could I say in 60 seconds? My first drafts were very, erm, ‘trumpetty’ – lots of repeated note figures, harmonic series intervals, some special effects here and there. It was not looking good. I was after something dark and mysterious, but couldn’t help thinking light and frothy! Then I thought (dreamt – a nightmare?) of the mathematical number pi (3.141..etc.) and using each digit to represent a measure in the piece as an experiment. This, in combination with a tone row of my devising provided a basic framework, allowing me to make adjustments, transpositions and transformations and evolve the music according to my personal preference. Therefore, some measures deviate from the exact decimal sequence and certain notes and chromatic runs deviate from proper serialist techniques as they simply did not (upon repeat playing at the piano and Sibelius) make a good musical fit.
For such a short piece I gave little consideration to the overall structure, opting for a through-composition with an undulating dynamic contour, which I left open-ended to reflect the infinite decimal of pi. The short sections comprise legato and staccato phrases, which form an evolving and contrasting dialogue, providing dramatic tension and exploiting the expressive capabilities of the instrument and also its range. Fond of the rapidly repeated trumpet notes in Stravinsky’s Dance of the Earth from Le Sacre du Printemps and those found in Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition – Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle, I wanted to eviscerate some of my draft material of earlier and put these repeated note structures back into the piece. However, I choose not to use a mute for these notes nor employ special effects throughout the piece as you can only say so much in 60 seconds. The whole musical nuts, bolts and kitchen sink would have grated in so brief a piece.
For a non-trumpet playing neophyte composer I was rather chuffed at my piece being chosen by the judges and Brendan Ball’s performance of it. It’s a small win, but one that will help my confidence in moving forward with my studies and towards writing a work of Strombolian dimensions. Who knows, I might even give this competition thing another go. Now where’s my chequebook?
Listen to Dreams of Pi at https://youtu.be/LjIljiSuyf0