Saturday, 29 November 2014

Piano Sonata No. 4 in E Minor

Music is always around.

The real challenge to the composer is to grasp it, sort it out and then try to make sense of it all so that ultimately the completed opus will also make sense to the listener. 

Sadly, and too often, music in this random format is regurgitated and foisted upon the unsuspecting ignorant as fine art when in reality it is nothing more than the disorganized nonsense it really is. 

Having stated the foregoing, am I any less guilty of simply compiling more nonsense?

The listener shall ultimately make that verdict.

Work on the 4th piano sonata commenced in 2005 and was completed in 2008.

One limitation of the music notation program used is the inability to show assigned metronome settings on printed versions therefore, they are given as follows:

I   Allegro appassionato – 108 quarter notes per minute
II  Andante moderato ma cantabile – 72 quarter notes per minute
III Andante ma agitato; Allegretto – 82 quarter notes per minute; 88 quarter notes per minute

Although titled a piano sonata, the music composition in both the expected structure and required harmonic modulations do not in any sense adhere to the traditional sonata form. Having said this however, a sonata-like form and structure are evident in each movement.

The opening theme of the first movement was first conceived in 1974 during the Vancouver years but never progressed beyond a being a forgotten musical idea jotted down in a music notation book. Thirty-one years later the ideas finally took shape.

The Andante movement was incidental music written for Kimberly’s wedding however, the work was never performed. Later incorporated into the sonata as a slower middle movement, the softer timbres of A flat Major provide the needed contrast.

Three attempts were required to finally write and complete the finale. The incomplete first two versions were considered unsatisfactory and have been set aside as musical compost to possibly revisit at later dates.

“Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after the wind.”
(Ecclesiastes 4:6)

Does the world want or need one more piece of music that will never be good enough, never be performed, never be heard and never be known?

Music composition is so often nothing more than striving after the wind with two hands full of toil. Perhaps not writing another music composition is the handful of quietness that our noisy world truly needs.

March 15, 2011
The Oddblock Station Agent 

Sample from the opening:

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Melody and Musical Theme

“…one who has talent may be able to write a melody without technical advice. But such melodies seldom possess the perfection of higher art.”
Arnold Schoenberg

While this remark may have been directed toward musically uneducated composers such as me, I do wish I could fathom what Schoenberg considered, “…the perfection of higher art.”

What types of melodies did Schoenberg consider as higher art? And what criteria in particular was used to define melodic perfection?

Having had some time to reflect upon the outcomes after making my own feeble attempts at melody and theme writing, I now concur that Schoenberg was probably correct. In this contemplative reflection therefore, I shall presume Schoenberg’s definition of “technical advice” to mean the cumulative imparting of musical knowledge from teacher to student.

The one comforting word in Schoenberg’s statement is the word seldom, rather than never, which always leaves the door open to possible.

My own constricted definition of creating melodic perfection is: inerrantly choosing what note should best follow the preceding note as well as their individual durations, knowing what harmonic changes and progressions should be made and understanding which rhythmic structures should be used to hold the musical ideas together within a deliberately selected form and structure. That particular ability to do all these facets musically well simultaneously should produce the perfection of higher art that Schoenberg alludes to.

But are these requirements alone all that are necessary? No. I do not believe these traits alone are sufficient. My biases and absolutes in musical understanding are barriers that prejudice and limit my defining of melodic perfection, harmonic progressions and rhythmic patterns within form and structure.

A composer must be blessed with a gift of inspiration that works together with an ability to reach outside and beyond limitations imposed by innate barriers and then create music nonetheless. Inspiration and creativity can be discussed, analyzed and explained, but I do not believe these two traits can be taught because they are unique to the individual.

A true artist is one who can clearly express and translate ideas, thoughts and emotions into a chosen medium and leave with the audience with absolutely no doubt about the message that the work was conceived and created to convey.

The Oddblock Station Agent
December 28, 2009

Monday, 24 November 2014

The Atlantic Canada Sonata

A few Comments about Piano Sonata No. 3 in F# Minor 

I   Allegretto con risoluto – 88 quarter notes per minute
                          The North Atlantic Ocean Coast in Nova Scotia
II  Allegretto – 80 quarter notes per minute
                          A Song of Thanksgiving for Fair Weather and Calm Seas
III Andante  – 88 quarter notes per minute
                         The Cape Breton Highlands

Twenty-five years intervened between completion of the final movement of the F Minor piano sonata in spring 1977 and writing the opening theme of the Atlantic Canada Sonata.  The first  theme for this new sonata was sketched on a Sunday afternoon in 2002 and the work completed about twelve months later.

For a quarter of a century I did not compose any music for the piano. Nonetheless, development of this new main theme continued and I began to wonder if I could once again write music for the piano; not having played the instrument for more than twenty years.

Reality today is that most of the theory I had learned has faded from memory and all my limited musical technical ability is gone. Even my playing of simple major scales is hopeless incompetence.

Anyone can quit though. Giving up is very easy. We quietly capitulate to defeat all the time. Instead, and with some of that inherited, innate Hebridean defiance surfacing, I determined to write a new piano sonata using only the computer. The result was a new piano work that I shall never be able to play. 

Memories of travelling by train though Atlantic Canada together with walking along and observing the ocean coastline of Nova Scotia became the inspirations for the music.


Canada's Atlantic Ocean is brutally cold and the currents unforgiving, never calm and always moving. At times quiet but never still; appearing deceptively peaceful but never at rest.

The music was written to attempt to reflect that agitation.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Piano Sonata No. 2 in C Minor

I   Andante con fuoco – 82 quarter notes per minute
II  Adagio – 42 quarter notes per minute
III Presto; cantabile apenato – 128 quarter notes per minute

The C Minor Piano Sonata was written in June and July 1976

Titled in Gaelic “Mo Ghràdh Caillte” (Lost Love in English) the sonata is best described as a condensed musical autobiography about the Vancouver years.

In summer 1976 I was living alone in Vancouver and most evenings, after returning home from work, were spent playing the piano and composing music. That summer was a difficult and sometimes painful, faith-testing period that I was struggling through.

In July that year, the City of Montreal was hosting the summer Olympics. I recall a few evenings sitting on the piano bench and listening to but not watching Olympic activities on the television in the other room in between playing the piano and pausing to write down by hand the finale movement in staved notation books. (The technologies available today now make music notation so very easy.) The blaring television was a distraction and how the music managed to be conceived, developed and written out so quickly is a mystery.

The short first movement titled, “Is Mise Aonarach a-Rithist” (I am Alone Again) reflects and expresses mixed feelings of frustration, despair, anger and utter hopelessness over events in life that cannot be controlled or changed, especially concerning a strained relationship at that time.

The repeated 4-bar main theme of the second movement, titled, “A Song of Thanksgiving to the God of Israel” was composed in summer 1974, revised in 1975 upon learning that someone had safely fled Vietnam following the fall of Saigon, and then the music set aside. That short music phrase had been written to express a very deep and heartfelt gratitude to the God of Israel for his compassion; a gratitude that words just could not express. In June 1976, taken from the proverbial shelf and dusted off, five variations on the theme were written.

Thirty years later in 2006, without knowing the title or the history behind the music, Kimberly asked me if she could use this particular piece of music for her wedding. I refused, knowing only too well the history. After many repeated requests from Kimberly, and later some intervention from Kie, I relented and agreed. Only a few weeks before the wedding day, the music was quickly rewritten and arranged for a string quartet.

A wedding is a-once-in-a-lifetime event. 

On Saturday, August 12, 2006, while the string quartet played, “A Song of Thanksgiving to the God of Israel” both Kie and I walked Kimberly down the aisle to be married.

How many fathers are given the privilege of composing the music for their daughter’s wedding procession? 

How many fathers have composed wedding music for a daughter thirty years before the event and five years before her birth?

Today, with the same deep, heart-felt gratitude to the God of Israel, I can only say thank you Lord.

March 18 2011
The Oddblock Station Agent

Friday, 21 November 2014

Dots Lines and Scratches

A Brief Introduction to Music

From the beginning of time, music has been...

Dots, lines and scratches on paper together with articles made of woods, strings, plastics and metals. Bones, gourds, and in later times even a B♭ brake drum from a junk yard.

That is all they shall all remain without performers to induce sounds and provide interpretations.

Hopefully what follows below is the result... 

 harmony that is... and on all levels.

See? I told you this would be brief.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Megantic Quartet No. 1 in A Minor

Dots, lines and scratches on paper with articles made of wood, string and metal. That is all they shall remain without the performer to induce sound and provide interpretation.

I   Moderato – 88 dotted quarter notes per minute
II  Allegretto – 88 quarter notes per minute
III Allegro ma cantabile  – 120 quarter notes per minute
III Adagio  – 40 dotted quarter notes per minute

Work on the A Minor Megantic Quartet commenced in July 1997 and was completed about a year later in July 1998.

My desire had long been to compose a string quartet. To this end, a few feeble attempts were made about twenty-five years ago, however, those were quickly placed aside. Twenty-five years ago I would have been content to simply try and imitate the Classical era, but who would have wanted to listen to a garbage-poor attempt at rehash?

The assistance of technology has now enabled me to pick up a few remnants and continue to completion some of the musical ideas that have percolated in my thoughts for the last quarter century. The passing years have provided me with different perspectives about life and about music. Today I am free to go in any musical direction and within this particular work I can claim to have accomplished that freedom; the freedom to use and shape the sonata form to express my own musical ideas and ultimately, to praise the God of Israel.

The Megantic highlands are located in Quebec adjacent to northwestern Maine and New Hampshire. That southeastern corner of Quebec was settled by Hebridean Scots who were forcibly driven out and exiled from the Isle of Lewis in the northern Hebrides of Scotland. Most of those displaced and unwanted Gaelic-speaking highlanders settled in that area of Quebec with little or nothing, but many came with a deep and profound faith in God.

Life in the Megantic highlands has had a strong and profound influence that will always remain with me. My life-long love of music was awakened in my grandparent’s home, hearing and listening to my grandmother play the piano and practice hymns for the Sunday worship service.

I am of the last generation to have heard maternal and paternal grandparents of the Megantic highlands area speak in their native tongue Gaelic; to have heard the old-timers speak first hand of the hardships they and their parents experienced when they arrived in Quebec; to have been able to join those seniors in worshipping God in the native tongue of our ancestors. 

Those people of old have gone but the truth of God remains, having been passed on from generation to generation as desired and ordained by God.

The Bible tells us:

“There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow”
Ecclesiastes 1:11

God’s word is true. What I can remember of the Megantic highland’s men of old shall die with me, and no one shall be left to have heard and to remember.

The Oddblock Station Agent
Written in summer 1998