How I compose for the VSO


On Wednesday, May 1, I attended a VSO (Vancouver Symphony Orchestra) music educational experience called “Musical Encounters”.

This is put on by the volunteers at the VSO, and features a composer or musician sharing their experiences with the general public.  The doors opened at 6:15pm for a wine and appetizer reception, then the talk began at 7pm.  At 8pm, there was a Q&A period, and the evening ended around 8:30pm.

This was such a fun event – tickets were only $15 for wine, appetizers, and an educational musical evening!

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What is a composer? If you’ve ever felt like the piece you are listening to or practicing is boring and you want to write your own, you’re a composer.

— Edward Top, VSO Composer-in-Residence

This Musical Encounter featured the VSO’s Composer in Residence, Edward Top.  He is commissioned to produce around 3 pieces for  the orchestra each year. He also teaches composition at the VSO School of Music

Some interesting points I learned from Edward’s talk:

  • He comes up with a rough sketch of random musical ideas, then organizes them, and finally orchestrates the music
  • He was taught how to compose using paper and pencil, but today’s composers often turn to the computer to make things faster, cleaner and easier. He now incorporates both in his composing
  • He is inspired by paintings and ideas.  For example, Bosch’s “Last Judgement”, Ensor’s “My Skeletonized Portrait”
  • His favourite computer program for composing is “Finale”
  • Today’s “modern” music may be more difficult and confusing to understand (compared to music from the Classical or Romantic eras) but all music has its own language and rules.  It may be difficult because we do not understand and appreciate that language

I greatly enjoyed his talk, supplemented by musical examples.  Furthermore, he elaborated on his process on composing one of his recently performed pieces, “Totem” (see my previous post here).  I previously wrote that his music sounded like the background to an eerie scene, and he explained why he composed the piece like that, and his purpose (he wanted to immerse the listener to be completely surrounded by a huge sound, and to be overwhelmed by the sounds from the orchestra).

His talk inspired me to continue to think about sounds and composition in a new way.

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