By Jenny Leigh Hodgins
Having grown up in Lexington, Kentucky, I moved to Florida to put myself through college. I worked as a performing vocalist/pianist, public school music educator, and ran a private piano studio in Florida for many years. My parents and other family members visited me in my Florida home, and I took regular trips to Kentucky.
My father battled cancer in the last years of his life. He called me periodically by phone and asked about my Florida life. He spoke about how proud of me he was and told me he loved me. The fact that he talked to me by phone, and expressed positive feelings toward me was a new and surprising experience for our relationship. We had not been close. He had not been particularly warm, communicative or expressive to me until his final few years. His gruffness was well-known. This change in our relationship was and still is, one of the greatest treasures of my heart.
One day he made the comment that he’d like to visit Florida one more time. I knew that was not realistic. But we had a dreamy conversation about the peaceful, beautiful ocean and beaches. I described the warmth of the Florida sun, which he coveted, as he was notoriously cold-natured. He talked about our fishing trips when I was 12. We spoke of my childhood family trips to beach cottages, and how we cooked family dinners from the catch of the day.
My father single-mindedly opened his heart to me, to assure I felt his love for me before he left this world. Whenever I think of this, I’m overcome with gratitude and love for my father’s effort to express himself. Even though that previously had not come naturally within our bond. He was selfless for my sake.
THE HEART OF CREATIVITY
As a creative person, I often start a project by searching my heart for what I can give to someone that is meaningful. I started thinking about my father and how positive our relationship grew to be in his later years. One Saturday afternoon, I reminisced about our warm phone chats. I decided to bring the ocean waves to my father through music. I sat at my piano and computer, recalling my father’s loving tone and wishful comments about the ocean.
I opened my digital audio workstation (DAW), Logic Pro X, and selected a piano instrument. I set a beat using a basic drum pattern and let it repetitively loop for 32 measures. I envisioned my father smiling while standing at the sandy shores of the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico. I visualized him enjoying the gentle ocean waving at him with rich blue and green smooth rolls of water.
CLEAR THE WAY
The first thing I do as a creative when I start any project, is clear the way of any censorship. I have a quick conversation with myself to set it straight; There will be no critique of anything I produce. The mode is create, not edit or review.
Once I clear the air of any self-judgments, I turn my attention to the creative process. I focus on what I want to communicate from my heart. That is all I focus on. I leave the rest to randomness and chance. When I allow myself this space, my creativity opens up and flows forward. I get out of my way.
Setting my intention to not look back, I pushed the record button on my DAW. As my father had done for me, I challenged myself to communicate to him through music. I played my piano to capture the mood of my father enjoying our trip to the ocean. I aimed for my music to function as a kind of medium through which my love and appreciation for my dad could flow.
I focused on that mood, the ocean, what it would mean for him to see it, and the joy of being able to bring his wish to fruition. I played my heart through the piano. I let my fingers settle on whatever keys felt easy, natural, and in sync with the rhythm beating through my headphones.
USE WHAT YOU KNOW AND INTUITION
I had a music foundation to pull from, though. I played through a few chords until I discovered a chord progression that matched the mood. Sometimes musical theory knowledge aids my ‘discovery.' Often ideas arise from intuition.
I used a repeating chord progression to emulate the ebb and flow of ocean waves lapping onto the shore. I improvised piano melodic lines with my right hand. I followed the chosen chord progression with my left, or sometimes, both hands. After I recorded the piano part to the drum groove, I selected a guitar sound and improvised again on my keyboard. This added a new layer of sound to imitate waves on top of waves, rolling in from the sea.
The mood was relaxing and peaceful. Melodic lines rising and falling like the height of the waves rushing in and falling onto the beach. Next, I thought of the sun setting, and this inspired me to choose a flute to start a new section of music. I played a slower, more soulful melodic line. The flute represents the orangey-pink orb’s graceful, slow descent. The last moments of togetherness with my father, before saying goodbye.
I added a few ambient sound effects, including the gentle sound of waves crashing on the sandy shore. The ending subtly fades to a quiet stop, much like my father’s final breath months later.
ART STRENGTHENS RELATIONSHIPS
When I listen to this music, it reminds me of how intertwined we are as people, and how art strengthens that relationship. Even through time and space, our memories and what is in our hearts, keeps us bonded. The power of art opens this channel of communication between us.
I shared this composition at my father’s memorial, as my gift to him. I sense that he hears the ocean waving at him, and feels the warmth of the sand under his feet. We both enjoy how music still connects our hearts beyond this dimension.
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FILM SCORING & ORCHESTRATION APPLIED
FACEBOOK GROUP BLASTS OFF!
[Formerly Film Scoring Practice]
Tailored Niche For Composers
Facing the unceasingly busy swarms of social media groups vying for the attention of composers across the globe, UK-based Violinist/Composer, Victor Lloyd got an idea for a very specific niche. There are plenty of online groups and forums that address film score composers, allow self-promoting music/video posts, and that offer resources on film scoring.
Chance For Real Practice
However, Lloyd launched his unique idea for an online global group that would address, in particular, composers interested in practicing the art of film scoring. Even further, Lloyd envisioned a kind of community-led masterclass, with open discussions providing supportive, honest, constructive feedback to all participating members, regardless of musical background, training, level of professionalism, income, locale, or other differences.
Composer Committee Launches Group
Gathering additional administrators with diverse musical journeys (including four men and two women spanning Italy, Ireland, UK, Australia and USA), to share the load of moderation and technical tasks, Lloyd and his composer committee (see full admin list below) started Film Scoring & Orchestration Applied (FSOA) Facebook group (formerly Film Scoring Practice) on December 3, 2017. Within 10 months, the newly formed composer community grew to 5,600+ members, and is averaging an addition of 40-100+ new members daily.
One of a Kind
FSOA group stands out as the only group known to be offering weekly film scoring practice assignments, and positive peer feedback specifically focused toward each participating member’s development as a composer. FSOA offers several weekly opportunities for members to practice their skills at composing to picture, improving their technology skills with mixing, mastering, and using virtual instruments and digital audio workstations. Additionally, members may post any original composition for peer feedback and exposure, so long as they accept constructive criticism politely, and do their part in listening and offering positive feedback on fellow composers’ music.
Administrators monitor discussions to maintain the group’s requirement of giving and receiving constructive criticism in a polite tone. That wholly famous artistic temperament, known for egotistical complaining or berating of fellow musicians is absolutely not tolerated from any member in FSOA. In the vast online culture of competitive self-promotion, and ego-based, cruel commentary, FSOA's mutually supportive atmosphere delivers a refreshing change for composers everywhere. Since the group began, members have expressed appreciation for the positive, supportive tone of FSOA community (apparently not as evident in similar online groups).
Apart from abiding by the group rules to only post original music within admin-approved weekly discussion threads, the group also functions as a forum for composers to ask and answer any question, and/or chime in with resources, helpful advice and expertise. Members share experiences, tips for learning a multitude of music-related skills, and explore the diversity of talent within the weekly assignment posts. Engagement and growth is steady, according to Facebook group and management insights. FSOA recently added a team film scoring challenge, offering opportunities for members to collaborate on a short film score. The group is the first to offer practice in real-life composer issues, including team-building, communication with directors (based on assigned director briefs), technology workflow and problems, and skill-development in composing for film, orchestration and mixing.
Lloyd’s original idea has exploded with interested composers joining in discussions, assignments, and offering resources to peers. The advantage of FSOA is that its membership includes a range from total novice to full professionals. This opens the discussion and community to both mentoring and mentorship, with FSOA's professional, supportive platform.
As the group grows, Lloyd’s wheels are already spinning toward development of an in-house agency with diverse, genre-specific, talented composers for film, TV and corporate projects.
Join Film Scoring & Orchestration Applied
FSOA Administrator Music Links:
Victor Lloyd/UK Jenny Leigh Hodgins/USA
Bryce Francis/Australia Caroline-Jayne Gleave/UK
Watch Film Scoring & Orchestration Applied Promo Video
Give Effective Composer Feedback
(This was written for Film Scoring & Orchestration Applied Facebook group, a growing community of composers with 5,600+ members)
FSOA features weekly admin-approved threads where composers may share original music and exchange positive, constructive feedback with peers. Below are suggestions to offer ideas for how to offer feedback to fellow composers.
WHAT DO YOU WANT
Remember, in Film Scoring & Orchestration Applied group, our united goal is to help each other improve as composers. Think about what you’d want listeners to tell you about your music. It’s nice to hear positive things about our original ideas. But getting a few ‘likes’ and generic comments about how great your music is does not tell you anything useful.
You want to hear what makes it great music, right? If you get feedback on what's working, you can compose more music, equally as great! Or, if your music needs work, you'll want to know how to get it from ho-hum to legendary status.
THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG
Some people have studied music formally, while others are self-taught. The important thing is to find a way to express your feedback that shows what you know about music, and communicate that naturally. None of us need to be a musical legend to give useful, effective feedback to a composer! We just need to be willing to offer what we know.
Some of my most useful feedback has come from non-musicians, without any use of music vocabulary! We know that experiencing music is completely unique to each individual, so there is no right or wrong about how it’s perceived. And every artist enjoys hearing about someone being affected by their creation.
ONE WAY: DON’T TALK IN MUSICAL TERMS
Don't worry about whether you have enough musical vocabulary or knowledge to offer feedback to your peers! In FSOA, we’re aiming for scoring music for film directors. So, communicating without musical language can be super-helpful!
Think in terms of mood, speed, color, character, scene, and story when commenting on FSOA assignments. Use these words as a basis for describing the music, and compare how the music stands up to those elements.
Did it work? Does the music match a character’s personality? Does it show something in the story we don’t see readily? Does it point something out in the story or character that isn’t obvious, or does it make something obvious even bigger? Does the speed of the music fit the emotion, dialogue, and/or action of the scene?
For example, in regard to how music can suit a character, let’s consider Hans Zimmer’s music for Batman. By using only one ominous, spacious, long, low pitch, Hans Zimmer created a musical theme that represented the Joker character. He used one sound, which he elaborated on through electronic manipulation, and later built orchestration as textures around that sound.
Think about words you could use to describe what worked with that or not. For example, you could say, “I always knew to anticipate the Joker’s presence whenever I heard that one low pitch. It signaled evil, and that something unpleasant was about to happen. That music fit the scene, and especially expressed the dark personality of the Joker.”
ANOTHER WAY: USE MUSICAL TERMS
If you know music vocabulary, use specifics! Here are suggestions about what to listen for when preparing a feedback comment to your peers:
Or, if instrumentation overwhelms the vocalist in dynamics, range or texture, make suggestions to thin out the instruments or change the range of frequencies used to allow the vocals to be heard.
If the scene requires heroic music, suggest switching out the strings for the French horn section at a particular point. Or, suggest another instrument choice that is known for conveying a heroic mood.
Give specific tips on how to improve the mix, such as panning instruments to emulate where they sit in a live orchestra.
Explain how production quality may be improved if you boost the volume through compression.
Or, offer a link to a tutorial on the topic that would be useful for the composer.
It may be the harmonic progression, a particular chord or a note that adds an unexpected color to a traditional chord.
It may be a catchy melodic or rhythmic pattern that hooks your interest.
GIVE PROS AND CONS
Don’t just offer compliments on what works well in the music! The goal is to improve, and we need to know our weaknesses to develop our skills. So offer at least one comment on what didn’t work for you and make a suggestion on what you would do to improve it.
These are a few suggestions. There are plenty more things you could listen and comment on besides those discussed here. As you receive feedback on your music, ask yourself what you intended to work successfully? Are there things you remain unaware of, or need to learn? Getting feedback in those areas may open up blind spots for you so you could become better as a composer, right?
So let’s give something useful to a peer composer; Talk about what you know. Listen for it in the music. Think critically. Think about how you’d feel if someone gave you constructive criticism that helped you improve your skills. Now, go do that for someone in FSOA Facebook group!
What do YOU listen for in a music composition?
Share your ideas here as a comment!
Get more content on composing, composer interviews, creativity and piano at:
By Jenny Leigh Hodgins
• Think about what you’d want listeners to tell you about your music.
Don’t just offer compliments on what works well in the music. The goal is to improve, and we need to know our weaknesses to develop our skills. So offer at least one comment on what didn’t work for you and make a suggestion on what you would do to improve it.
Give something useful to a peer composer; Talk about what you know. Listen for it in the music. Think critically. Think about how you’d feel if someone gave you constructive criticism that helped you improve your skills.