Category Archives: composition

R.I.P. Glen Campbell (1936-2017)

I’m writing too many of these. Am I nostalgic? Or was there a truly golden period, filled with stars who so much that their passing inspires grief in even the most removed and passive music fan?

This morning, I leaned of the Glen Campbell’s passing. He was 81 and has only recently retired from performing following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2011.

Beyond the country-pop hits Campbell enjoyed in his long career (‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ to ‘Gentle On My Mind’, as well as the classic ‘Wichita Lineman’, in the video below), he was also an accomplished session guitarist.

Campbell’s early influences included gypsy jazz legend Django Reinhardt and one of my own guitar heroes, session guitarist Barney Kessel. Campbell’s career would see him in the same first-call bank of musicians as Kessel (now referred to as ‘The Wrecking Crew’ – I highly recommend you read up on these amazing musicians and the inumeroua hits they helped to create). In this role he performed on records by Phil Spector, The Monkees, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys and countless others. In fact, he was the live replacement in The Beach Boys for Brian Wilson, who was not up to touring by the mid-sixties.

Aside from and indeed above his beautiful singing voice, I will remember Campbell as a highly versatile and talented guitar player. I hope you enjoy the video below.

R.I.P. Glen Travis Campbell (1936-2017).

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R.I.P. Chuck Berry (1926-2017)

R.I.P. Charles Edward Anderson, AKA ‘Chuck’ Berry (1926-2017).

To say that Chuck’s guitar playing was an influence on mine would be to do him quite a large injustice – he influenced everyone!

Building on the foundations of the early blues and jazz single-line players (such as T-Bone Walker, for one), and making great use of double-stops (two notes played at once throughout a phrase) to emulate the horn sections of larger bands, Chuck Berry created rock’n’roll as well know it today.

I could have picked any number of Berry’s songs to share here, but opted for ‘You Never Can Tell’. Best known from it’s inclusion in Pulp Fiction, I sang this tune with Switch as a first dance request for one of our wedding gigs last year. Great fun & a guaranteed floor-filler whenever we’ve played it since…

https://youtu.be/qK5N2LavUZQ

The live version by Berry & band in the video above below features some pretty cool soloing by the big man (not featured on the original 45rpm recording). Enjoy! x

Albêniz’s ‘Leyenda’- open to interpretation

Interpretation is key to making music more than the robotic sounding of written notes on a page. It plays a large part in ensuring music remain an art, rather than a means of sequencing sound (this too can be a form of art, when done well, but that’s another article altogether).

I was recently asked to perform Spanish guitar music at a friend’s wedding service. Amongst other choices was Leyenda (meaning ‘legend’), one of the ‘big’ pieces classical guitar repertoire. Originally written by Spanish composer Isaac Albêniz (1860-1909) for piano, but transcribed for guitar within Albêniz’s lifetime.

The most famous transcription of this piece is by Andrés Segovia. Hear the great player performing it himself on this YouTube video. You may notice that Segovia’s interpretation is slower than more recent recordings. I’ve had some pretty interesting discussions with guitarists in the last few weeks and months regarding artistic interpretation. In almost all of these chats, the focus has been on the interpretation of the performer

However, what we hadn’t considered is the interpretation of the composer, or the arranger. When I say arranger, I mean one who transcribes music for other musicians to perform, rather than a player making interpretive changes solely for their own performance.

I came across a great article by composer & arranger Stanley Yates about this piece, which I wholeheartedly recommend you read here. In this article, Yates not only provides a large (and most welcome) amount if background information on the piece, but explains why his new arrangement differs more from Segovia’s than you might expect. The chief differences for me are the absence of sixteenth triplets in the opening section, which was Segovia’s invention (be honest, how many of you knew that?!) and a few differences to the interval of certain ‘grace notes’.

You can download Yates’s arrangement of Leyenda for free via this link to his website. I strongly recommend that you do this, in order to see these differences for yourself, and experience a very different side to a piece you thought you knew intimately.

The source for Yates’s arrangement is the original published piano work. He argues that he has attempted to stay true to the original piece without being pressured by the subsequent traditions of this piece which have grown over the last century. To say any more would be to rob Yates’s article completely – take some time to read it for yourself, and as always, please let me know your thoughts. Artistic interpretation has been a keen area of interest to me for a long time, and I am happy to open up a long-running conversation on the topic with readers & fellow music lovers. Get in touch!

Tim x

Where have I been?

As the late, great David Bowie sang, ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…

Hi all, been a while! So where have I been?

In one respect, nowhere new. I have however been rather busy as wedding season came around & I took on a lot of additional limited-run teaching work about the same time. I’ve also been keeping busy preparing for the first big change to my work/life balance…

I have been successful in securing a place to study for a MSc in Music Therapy in Edinburgh. This means for the next two years I will be in Scotland for two days (one night) per week. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that qualifying as a music therapist has  been one of my long-term goals for a while now. I expect it to be a pretty intense period of study, but I will aim to keep this blog updated of my progress. I’ll also continue to post any interesting insights into MT that I discover on the way.

Using ‘bedsit research’ as an excuse to travel up to Edinburgh this week, my partner & I spent a few days enjoying the Festival Fringe. You can expect blogs reviewing the shows we saw showing up here very soon…

Any other ch-ch-changes?

Well yes, actually. Remember that new music project I’ve mentioned starting (or attempting to start) intermittently over the last year? Expect a new update very soon – new (heavier) sounds are on the way!

Tim x

#5×4 (demo) – New Music

New music! Listen to it by clicking here.

In recent posts, I’ve discussed one of my current works-in-progress, a four movement minimalist work. You can read about the opening movement, #6×5, here.

The new video is the next movement to be almost entirely completed, #5×4. Again arranged for solo or duo piano, this is the slow movement of the work. Though using the same principles as #6×5, this piece is the exact opposite in a number of ways.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, is the ambience of the movement itself. It was created as a reflective piece while I thinking about the recent passing of a dear family member. The rhythm has an unchallenged 4/4 feel throughout. All of th parts work together well harmonically, so there is nowhere near the level of dissonance as we hear in #6×5.

Secondly, the ‘rules’ (for want of a better description) of the overall piece are more relaxed in this movement. Where #6×5 features six separate motifs, each of which are five notes in length, #5×4 is more general. True, there are only five motifs throughout. However, the number of notes in each ofthis piece’s musical phrases is an average. For example, the lead phrase uses five notes, so to balance this out one of the other motifs is comprised of a mere three notes. Also, the four notes (on average) in each motif refer to unique notes. For example, one of the repeating phrases runs: D A D A F# D B. While there is reputation of D’s and A’s, there are only four separate pitches in the entire motif.

 

Image from the video for #5×4 (Tim Higgins)

So, why have I used such a relaxed approach in this movement? And does it go against the principles of minimalist music?

Here are the main arguments justifying my compositional choices:

  1. First and foremost, good music is good music. I like how this piece sounds, very much the way it first came to me.
  2. Rules are made to be broken (a topic I have covered in several previous posts)!

This piece came very quickly for me. In refining it, I’ve tried to ensure a small element of development while retaining the simplicity of the soft, repeating lines. To me, I still think of the same person who inspired the creation of this music. The remaining two movements will be a combination of the frantic style of #6×5 and the hypnotic repetotion of #5×4. However, as always, I’d love to hear what your thoughts so do get in touch!

Give the new trailer a listen. Visually, I used pictures from a recent visit to Marciac and the surround region of Midi-Pyrenees, in the south of France. The gorgeous vineyards & crop fields on those beautiful sunny days seems to lend itself well to the calm and reflective elements of the music. I also noticed that juxtaposing this piece over pictures of Marciac and Bassouse added a certain air of melancholy to the images, as if the towns had been abandoned (they most certainly haven’t been). Feel free to leave a comment below – updates on the remaining two movements to follow very soon!

 

Image from the video for #5×4 (Tim Higgins)

 

My demo video for #5×4, as well as all of my current demos & videos, are available on my Vimeo page.

#6×5 – Part one of a four-movement minimalist work

Following on from the re-publication of last week’s trailer for #6×5 (which you can read about by clicking here), I thought it was time I told you a little more about the wider work (as yet untitled).

#6×5 was an idea I had for a movement of a minimalist work. It’s title comes from the six separate motifs, each five notes in length. The interplay, juxtaposition, and indeed, dissonance derived from how these motifs are arranged becomes the complex – yet ultimately simple – basis for this frantic piece.

Since it was the first idea of the four smaller pieces which came to me, I still consider this to be the first movement. Originally arranged for tuned percussion, the trailer demonstrates ensemble or solo or duo piano. The opening statement (which starts the trailer) forms a strong setup for the piece. Clearly showcasing each of the six motifs, we then descend into a something much more complicated. From here, the listener should know roughly what to expect from the remaining four movements.

The next movement to be almost entirely completed is #5×4. Again arranged for solo or duo piano, this is the slow movement of the work. Using the same principle as #6×5, this slower, more reflective movement features five individual lines which use four unique notes each*.

[*On average, for which a lengthy explanation may be required. To read this, please see my post of #5×4, coming soon]


The remaining two movements currently remain very much in the drafting process. I have yet to settle on the final motifs which will form the basis of these pieces, though the most recent versions have shown a lot of promise…

What I can tell you is that one of the movements will feature a triple time beat. These will utilise triplet-quaver phrases for their motifs, though how many variation will end up in the final draft is yet to be seen. It could be called ‘3×3′ or ’14×3’ depending on how strict I am with myself in the distilling and editing process!

You have spotted a pattern by now, which means you’ll be able to guess the number of notes in the final movement…

That’s right: two.

Again, as with the triplet-time movement, I have yet to ‘kill my darlings’ and finalise which motifs will form the base components for the the piece. My greatest challenge in both of these movements is the overwhelming similarity to the work of Philip Glass. I have long been a fan of Glass, and his reputation as one of the foremost minimalist composers leaves me with the unenviable task of following in his footsteps, hopefully without appearing as a poor imitation.

My next post will be a publication of a full-length demo for #5×4. In the meantime, you can watch & listen to the trailer for #6×5 by clicking here. Enjoy!

Happy (belated) birthday to Billie Holiday

Yesterday, 7th of April, was the birthday of the great Billie Holiday.

  
Holiday was undoubtedly one of the greatest singers – in jazz or otherwise – of all time. There’s a few great posts which tell you about her troubled life, but for me, the most important thing is always the music.

With that in mind, here’s is the song with which she is most regularly associated – the seminal tune ‘Strange Fruit’. Written in 1937 by Abel Meeropol (originally using the pseudonym Lewis Allan) as a poem, then later set to music, the song is a direct response to the practise of ‘lynching’. That is, the hunting, murder & stringing-up of African-American people in the USA. Meeropol has since highlighted a photograph of one particular lynching, of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in the state of Indianna, as the main source of his disgust which prompted him to create the song.

Now, imagine yourself growing up & living in America at that time, as an Africa-American woman. This song is Billie Holiday’s song. Though it’s message is powerful enough to remain in our consciousness, I don’t believe there will ever be smother version of this time which carries as much emotional weight. You can feel every bitter word & syllable on Holiday’s delivery.

A picture might paint a thousand words, not to mention inspire them in verse, as in the case of this song. But some words, carefully chosen, masterfully set to music, and delivered by a performer who truly believes in the subject matter of their art, can sometimes deliver even more. Like good literature, the best music allows you to paint the pictures in your own mind. Thanks to Holiday, this song can be counted as a supreme example of this within popular song.

Happy belated birthday, and rest in peace, Billie Holiday (1915-1959).

For those of us who remain, please lend your ears to Holiday’s original recording of ‘Strange Fruit’ from 1939 by clicking on this link.

Enjoy, reflect, and never forget.