2010 through the eyes of a blog

monkey-thinkingIt is December 31 and I just wondered "what exactly has happened this year?" So through the eyes of this blog, let's have a look. We'll start with January and the tail end of our South America trip, along with the workshopping and recording of my music in Brazil.

January 4th Leg Four – Argentina to Paraguay to Brazil January 11th Leg Five – Rio de Janeiro to Paraty to Auckland January 12th A day with Sphaera

After spending too many hours hunting down good repertoire for my school orchestras, in February I explored the efforts of conducting. I also set up my newsletter with MailChimp.

February 20th Conducting – 90% perspiration, 10% exhilaration February 26th Automating the monthly issue

It was a plentiful month of posts in March, many on great discoveries I recently made but also highlighted a new piece, Picture for Emily, for my niece.

March 14th Sibelius First – if you’re so inclined March 15th Moana Ataahua programme launched March 16th Picture for Emily – aiming for the small market March 16th Scoring Avatar March 18th My indispensables March 19th If Lake Taupo was a piece of music, what would it sound like?

In April it was all about preparing Moana Ataahua for its massive premiere at the ERUPT Lake Taupo Festival.

April 24th Moana Ataahua set to ERUPT in May (article from SOUNZ) April 28th Moana Ataahua, the rehearsals begin

I explored digital music stands in May, how they compare and how I wanted one. Do I still want one now? That is another post!

May 15th Digital music stands, hook me up – Music Pad, Music Reader, eStand

I summed up the Moana Ataahua premiere in June and did a very popular post on music apps for your iOS devices.

June 1st Moana Ataahua, the premiere June 2nd iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps for the music professional

It was great to see plenty of music getting performed through July.

July 12th Wild Daisies premiere July 18th Breathe In, Breathe Out – a concert of overtures and finales July 27th SoundCloud, move your music July 29th Three pieces performed by Brazil’s Sphaera Ensemble

The Auckland schools orchestra festival happened in August, so did some pondering on music theory.

August 27th Sounds great! I want it, I want it now August 30th KBB Music Festival 2010, thumbs up August 31st Music theory, do we need it or not?

Spent a fantastic few days in Wellington in September recording Rakaia with the NZSO. Also, Rhian Sheehan's amazing score for The Cult, which I helped out with, won best score!

September 9th More iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps for the music professional September 20th The Cult wins at Qantas Film and Television Awards September 23rd NZSO/SOUNZ Readings 2010

In November I did a three part post looking at music printing, engravers, copyists and how things are changing. I also hooked up Sibelius users with some great resources!

November 29th So, you’re a Sibelius user? November 30th Music printing, a journey for engravers (part 1 of 3) November 30th Music copying and confusion (part 2 of 3) November 30th Changing times for music preparers (part 3 of 3)

As you would expect, I got festive in December but also looked at a new feature for sounz.org.nz.

December 7th A Christmas wish list for composer-musicians December 24th SOUNZ moves forward, again December 24th Merry Christmas and very best wishes for the New Year

Happy New Year everyone!!

Merry Christmas and very best wishes for the New Year

A huge thanks to everyone who has supported anything to do with my music this year, people who came to concerts, those I have worked for and worked with, the many who have left such positive feedback on Twitter, SoundCloud and Facebook, readers of this blog and everyone else - it has been a fantastic year. I hope it has been the same for you and that things are heating up for another great one next year. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas with your family. Make sure you put your feet up, relax, eat lots of food (don't feel guilty) and enjoy everything this season has to offer.

SOUNZ moves forward, again

SOUNZ, the Centre for New Zealand Music, has a fantastic new addition to their website - www.sounz.org.nz. Until now you have had three ways to explore New Zealand music - via browsing the music, the people or the events. Now, with thanks to NZ On Air, you can actually experience it.

This is a great new addition, here is why. No matter how amazing a piece of new New Zealand music is, people always seem to be cautious about grabbing hold of it and giving it a life. Looking at a sample score often doesn't allow you to imagine it, reading about it or hearing from somebody else that it is a great piece doesn't help either. To give you confidence you really need to have experienced the music yourself.

With this new addition you can do exactly that, view videos and experience the music - see the mallets moving, see the staging, feel the atmosphere and be introduced to new music in comfort. Chris Watson, a New Zealand composer, knocks it on the head by saying:

"I think moving pictures are, short of getting bums on seats in concert halls, the most effective way of communicating contemporary composition – and the YouTube/Vimeo paradigm provides an international, 24/7 audience."

Of course composers with their own websites have been implementing video for some time, but for New Zealand music to have a central resource where you can put your feet up and experience the music is fantastic.

This new addition is aligned with two other projects: digitisation of audio held by Radio New Zealand Concert - a joint project between the Alexander Turnbull Library, Radio New Zealand and SOUNZ. And Resound, which is reactivating recording licences and auditioning them to get them on to Radio New Zealand Concert and making them available online such as on the SOUNZ website. Excellent!

So, go experience.

A Christmas wish list for composer-musicians

It is that time of the year again and your family and friends are most probably asking for ideas of what to get you for Christmas.

Here are my top ideas for all composer-musicians:

SoundCloud gift voucher - SoundCloud is one of the most valuable online resources for composers and musicians. To really unleash its power you need to go premium and even better, get someone to gift you a subscription.

"How to Write for Percussion: a comprehensive guide to percussion composition" - Percussion is always a challenging group of instruments to write for properly - this book in absolutely incredible and an essential resource. It was given to me by EJ Dobson, get it on Amazon here.

Mollard conducting batons - Most composer-musicians will conduct their music, many twilight in conducting further. Mollard batons are absolutely supreme, I have several - they will even engrave your name on it.

Evernote subscription - Every composer-musician has so many ideas to remember and projects to oversee, with Evernote you can now remember everything!! Gift a subscription here.

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra subscription (or your local orchestra) - Every composer-musician needs a regular dose of the finest music in the land. Buy them a subscription or tickets to just one great night (PDF).

iTunes voucher - Not only necessary to top up your stock of Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Mahler and Ligeti, you can purchase all of the incredible iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch apps that are made for professional musicians. In fact, check out my two posts on the best pro music apps to get: the first post here and the second post here.

A gift of time - If you don't want to spend money why not give a voucher to say you will do all of their jobs and chores for a weekend (or heck, a week) so they can hibernate and write some very fine music. That is priceless!

I hope there is something there to add to your Christmas list. Let me know your best ideas!

Changing times for music preparers (part 3 of 3)

This is the third of a three-part post. See Music printing, a journey for engravers (part 1 of 3) and Music copying and confusion (part 2 of 3). As touched on in the previous post, roles and requirements are always changing. It is sometimes wondered, "why use a copyist?", especially these days where software is user-friendly and results are easy. The answer, as has been for hundreds of years, is found in two words: time and expertise.

Time - as mentioned in the previous post, composers have very tight deadlines and high demands on them. They call on copyists to prepare the music and have it ready on time. Any procrastination by the composer or others involved and it is the copyist who has less time, as they are the last step. This means copyists are often working through the night and even call in a team, to provide the music on time. Professional copyists work much faster and more accurately in preparing the music than say, the composer, will.

Score being edited, courtesy of www.scoringsessions.com

Expertise - copyists have a huge knowledge of the rules of musical notation (including the exceptions to those rules and rules for the exceptions...), music theory, styles and conventions as well as the varying requirements and regulations for different orchestras and types of performers. All of this knowledge is called upon through the copying process to ensure music is correctly and accurately prepared. Orchestras booked for recording sessions, for example, cost massive amounts of money and when music is put on the stand moments before the session begins, it must be entirely proofread, have everything there correctly notated and be very easy to read.

The role is always evolving. Currently, as well as composers creating handwritten and computer notated scores, there is software such as Logic, Pro Tools and Cubase. Composers and songwriters, perhaps sadly, don't need to have any knowledge of notation to create a masterpiece. The software produces MIDI files and copyists use that, instead of handwritten manuscripts, to create the notation. Obviously this process delivers the music to the copyist in a very raw state, so the demands increase. This is a very healthy trend and will keep copyists (or "music preparers") employed for many years to come, as no matter how it is created, the notated music always needs to get to the performers. If the performers are using digital music stands, their part still needs to be created.

For many hundreds of years music has been notated, prepared and produced. Between the composer's pencil and a music stand exist engravers and copyists, those very hard workers. Their methods have constantly evolved and over the last century, their roles as well. What is still for certain is that there is more music than ever that needs to be prepared!

This is the third of a three-part post. See Music printing, a journey for engravers (part 1 of 3) and Music copying and confusion (part 2 of 3).

Music copying and confusion (part 2 of 3)

This is the second of a three-part post. See Music printing, a journey for engravers (part 1 of 3) and Changing times for music preparers (part 3 of 3). With a clear overview of music printing in the previous post, it is easy to see the role of music engravers - those painstakingly etching out wood, hammering metal, collating plates of symbols to be pressed or using incredible skill to write it out by hand. All of these methods have one purpose, to definitively print and publish music.

Where do copyists fit in? No different to today, composers hundreds of years ago had extremely tight deadlines to meet. Those employed by the courts and monarchy had next to no time to write music for church services, social and countless other occasions. So, they used copyists to make a copy of their score, often omitting the many scribbles and corrections to produce a score ready for performance. They would also then copy out all of the instrumental parts for the players.

Hand written score

There were certainly dedicated copyists who had done this for many years, but there were also a younger breed of copyist who were budding composers themselves who wanted to study the music of the masters - no better way than to copy their music. Copyists would most often work very closely with the composer and in the same quarters, turning up at the door simply with manuscript paper, a calligraphy pen and ruler. This is seen in the films Amadeus and more prominently, Copying Beethoven. It is well known that Beethoven had contentious relationships with his copyists and put them under huge stress and burden - it is no wonder his copyists often made mistakes.

Jumping ahead to today, it is clear to see that computer software has blurred the distinction between copying and engraving, with a high quality always being produced (well, by a professional). There is now one method to create music notation, whether it be "engraved" or not. Music publishers of course set their music to that beautiful engraved standard, but do it just as a copyist creates some orchestral parts, or as a songwriter throws down some backing string ideas into the software. So, the term "music engraving" is somewhat obsolete. It is what role you have in the process and the standard of the product you produce that determines your identity. Times are always changing and now there are a greater variety of preparation needs broader terms are becoming common such as simply "music preparation".

This is the second of a three-part post. See Music printing, a journey for engravers (part 1 of 3) and Changing times for music preparers (part 3 of 3).

Music printing, a journey for engravers (part 1 of 3)

Lying in the sun on the deck with your MacBook Pro in one hand and a cool drink in the other... Need to get the parts for your latest masterpiece? No problem. Stay where you are, open the score up in Sibelius or Finale and view them. Want to change a chord? No problem. Alter it in the score and breathe a sigh of relief as your parts are automatically updated. Ready to print? No problem. Click, click, head inside to the printer to collect the score and parts. Easy. Yes, your heart is joyful, but it wasn't always like that! Recently I've been thinking about a few topics. Firstly, what exactly did it take for engravers to set and print music one hundred years ago, or even before that, and what has developed to lead us to where we are today. Secondly, what exactly is the distinction between music engravers and copyists and why is it so often confused. Thirdly, how are these roles and this information relevant to today? Let's start by looking at the journey engravers have taken over hundreds of years in order to set and print music.

This is the first of a three-part post. See also Music copying and confusion (part 2 of 3) and Changing times for music preparers (part 3 of 3).

In the Middle Ages very little was written, both in music and generally. The only music that was notated was sacred, as the church was such a huge force on society and they felt that having it written in music raised its meaning to a higher level. It was notated by hand on red lines with a calligraphy-type pen.

During the 15th Century, woodblock printing emerged. This is where you would level off a plane of wood and draw the music on in reverse. You would then carve the wood so that the symbols were elevated, ink it and then press it to paper. The consistency of this technique varied greatly, due to the soft and temperamental nature of wood and the often inaccurate process of inking the carved plate.

In the mid 15th Century the printing press was invented and was very quickly adapted to accommodate music and other mediums. Music symbols were now collated on a plate and then prepared for printing. This process was more reliable and allowed for easier reproduction, but the finer details of manuscripts were unable to be copied. These limitations meant that a new method needed to be developed - engraving.

Engraving was more time consuming but allowed for every fine detail to be notated. This method used a gradual process of etching and hammering into either zinc or copper. Again music would be set in reverse and in this method, unlike those previously, errors could be corrected easily by hammering the back of the metal.

In the late 18th Century in a bid to lower the cost of printing, lithography was invented. In this method oily ink was used to draw on the stone (or much later, a metal surface) and then acid was applied to burn the image to the stone. Water was then added, but repelled by the oil and therefore creating an environment for printing.

Music Typewriter

Music typewriters developed over a number of years but became popular in the late 19th Century. They were known for their relative user-friendly nature and so were popular with copyists and everyday musicians - unlike earlier methods suited more to dedicated engravers. They worked similarly to standard typewriters, just with music notes and symbols instead of letters, although some had extra keyboards and similar additions.

Then during the mid 20th Century computers and software started to emerge. There were various programs created and to various degrees of success. One was called "DARMS (Digital Alternate Representation of Musical Scores)", what a brilliant title.

Later in the 20th Century Sibelius, Finale and many other smaller and lightweight pieces of software were created. These programs, now hugely powerful, have not only massively changed how music can be published and produced, but how we write music in the first place. This undoubtedly is the greatest step forward in this journey we have taken.

Of course, perhaps most importantly, is handwritten music. After the Middle Ages and through all of the developments in technology mentioned above, handwritten music has continued to develop. From beginnings only at the highest sacred level, handwritten music gradually became more common throughout the classes, just as society became more literate. Music engravers doing it by hand had extreme skill, accuracy and a mighty attention to detail. Firm opaque paper was always used with black ink. Until music typewriters and later music software was invented, copyists solely performed their craft by hand.

This is the first of a three-part post. See Music copying and confusion (part 2 of 3) and Changing times for music preparers (part 3 of 3).

So, you're a Sibelius user?

If you know what Sibelius is, then I'm sure you are a user and a lover. There are so many fantastic resources available - here is a checklist to make sure you are aware of each and every one of them.

Essential resources:

Ways to connect:

Ways to shop:

  • Avid store - purchase all versions of Sibelius and all other sibelius products
  • Computer Music NZ - New Zealand's distributor of sibelius

A way to learn:

  • Whether you use Sibelius at home, school, university or in the studio, getting the most out of it is a never-ending journey. Whether you are just starting out or need to refine the skills you have already learnt, I can help. Find out more information here and then feel free to contact me at any time.

What have I missed? Got other resources to share? Leave a comment below and I'll add it to the list.

NZSO/SOUNZ Readings 2010

I'm sitting on the plane after a fantastic two days in Wellington at the 2010 NZSO/SOUNZ Readings. It seemed very relaxed this time around as the format was slightly different. Usually the pieces are purely workshopped and are often early on in their development. This time the pieces were chosen from previous NZSO/SOUNZ Readings to be recorded properly and then released. So it was a nice relaxed atmosphere with no nervous composers, or players for that matter. Also the fact that one piece had pulled out meant all of the other pieces got extra time, which made it even more stress-free.

NZSO SOUNZ readings 2

The pieces were a nice mix from Tom McLeod's epic film work, to Claire Cowan's very clever Legend of the Trojan Bird, to the heavier pieces by Gillian Whitehead and John Rimmer. All fantastic composers, so it was great to hear their recordings being created.

My piece, Rakaia, went really well. I knew everything worked, so it was just a matter of getting a good solid recording. Well, what do you know? After rehearsing a few spots, they nailed it very early on. I was very pleased - it sounded incredible.

NZSO SOUNZ readings 1


You've got to wonder what these players, and conductor Luke Dollman, are made of, as the NZSO/Todd Young Composer Workshop was (rather ambitiously) scheduled in the two days before the SOUNZ workshop. All up, in four days they recorded fifteen pieces - pretty good effort and great to see so many New Zealand works getting workshopped and recorded.

During the trip I managed to pop in and see the new SOUNZ office. They are now nicely situated just off Cuba Street and they've got a wonderful view of Wellington City. Also great to finally meet Julie Sperring, the new Executive Director of SOUNZ, who's going to be a superstar ambassador of New Zealand music.

Another recording down, bring on the next one...

The Cult wins at Qantas Film and Television Awards

Big congratulations to Rhian Sheehan, who won Best Original Music in General Television at this year's Qantas Film and Television Awards for his score on The Cult. the-cult

Rhian asked me to do a series of string arrangements for his score based on his main theme. These were then recorded by members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in Wellington and used throughout the thirteen episodes.

The Cult also won awards in acting, design, editing and cinematography for the Great Southern Television production.

More iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps for the music professional

This is a follow up to my previous post iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps for the music professional. In that post I looked at several apps that I found were essential in my work between music rehearsals, conducting, composing and teaching. As I mentioned in that last post, I've used all of these on an iPhone but most are all available (or will be very soon) on the iPad. Since that post, others have mentioned some further apps to me, and I have discovered some others myself that I think are well worth sharing.

NumPad - Using a laptop or on an Apple wireless keyboard? Do you miss your extra keypad and are slowed down because of it? Then this app is for you. It wirelessly connects to your computer and away you go. There are various layouts you can choose from, from a standard number keypad to the Sibelius layout shown below. You can also choose the colour/key type to match your current keyboard. Genius.

Audio Tool - There are lots of dinky apps to do the odd music job. There are some though that are appearing that combine all these little features and make a more weighty app, like this one from www.performanceaudio.com. There are currently four tools on the app but more are coming. You have a decibel meter, microphone to hook up to your sound system, a bit calculator to calculate drive space needed for a recording and also a handy audio atlas - hundreds of audio/electrical definitions you may come across while working in the studio or on the stage. Never be embarrassed again by not knowing a term, as it covers everything from absorption and attenuation, to scrubbing and SMPTE, to vocoder and VST.

SoundCloud - More and more people are signing up to this wonderful website. I now host all my website audio through SoundCloud and it is mindblowingly good (see a previous post about SoundCloud here). In this app you can view all of your music, that of your friends, your favourites and of course once you're with a track you have all functionality you would have online.

Pitch Primer - This app analyses your pitch in real time, you can record and afterwards have a detailed analysis (visually or by listening as well), you can retune your recorded audio to a desired temperament and replay it at the correct pitch, or it can just be used as a tuner. You can choose from six different temperaments, different scales and calibrate it. If it sounds a little heavy going, it's actually quite informative, interesting and dare I say it ... fun.

Air Display - This app gives you an extra wireless display. Beautiful. So it is not a music app as such, but one that is hugely beneficial to musicians, particularly those using an iPad. Most iPads or iPhones sit beside a computer doing nothing anyway, so this is a great way to make the most of them. If you're using Sibelius, Pro Tools or Logic you can have many windows open at one time. With Air Display you can easily drag windows in and have full functionality using the touch screen. Don't count the iPhone out for its size either, even just drag the playback window to the iPhone screen, go back and sit on your couch and have full control. I quite like the idea of avoiding apps like the massively priced ProRemote (which I talked about in my previous post), which really is another program connecting with Logic or Pro Tools. Where Air Display is you actually you, on your computer.

Cowbell Plus - I think we are all guilty of trying out some percussion instruments, cringing at their sound quality and then deleting them minutes later. Cowbell Plus, however, is quite above these other apps. The 22 instruments not only sound really authentic, but on each you can play at different volumes and the actual sound will change. For example, hitting a gong gently sounds completely different to hitting it hard. This app makes that change depending on how you tap it. It is very clever and although it is not yet going to replace your array of real percussion instruments, it is nice to have.

MTF Native InstrumentsMTF Pro ToolsMTF Reason, MTF Synthesis, MTF Mastering V1 - The Music Tech Magazine is of course a hugely popular magazine around the world and in these apps it brings focused features, concepts, interviews, techniques, tutorials and reviews of these (and other) softwares. Perfect for reading if you're on the go, or even just if you are mighty serious about this software.

Enjoy checking out these apps and let me know your comments below.

Music theory, do we need it or not?

I have been thinking about music theory after working with some amazing instrumentalists, whose knowledge on the basics was very low. Of course, as a composer and copyist, I have music theory constantly shooting around my head, but it got me wondering, is it actually needed by a good musician? music clipart

Of course there are amazing professional musicians out there who can not read a note of music. There is also a whole new generation of producers and composers - who have been traditionally the theory superstars -  who do not need knowledge of the finer elements of music to put notes on paper. I'm not saying theory needs to be a foundation - unbounded creativity and following the ear in creating music should be paramount.

We learn to speak by ear as a child, then we go to school and we learn how to read and write. Then in later years we develop these skills further and it only increases our level of understanding and ability to communicate. The same goes for music, and with this in mind, the thought some have that knowledge of theory can restrict musical creativity is crazy.

Is being an absolute wizard of music theory going to make you a better musician? Put it this way, there are amazing musicians who severely lack good knowledge in music theory, but can get by just playing note after note. Little do they know what they're missing! Similarly in creating a masterwork of your own at the piano, you can make something sound good but once you know what is happening musically, it suddenly comes alive and makes sense. To communicate effectively in music, whether it be via performing or writing, you need to have a good vocabulary in music. It is like English or any other language - speaking it is one thing, but once you are literate, it opens a whole new world of possibilities, allows you to actually understand what is happening, and allows you to express your musical ideas, and this, in turn, will dramatically accelerate your musical development.

So, instead of letting your students slip by, or being held back yourself, get up to play with music theory. You'll be far better off for it. If you want to learn from me, here are the details.