"Experience is the teacher of all things...."

....so said Julius Caesar (although he more than likely hasn't been the only one!). We would apply these wise words when it comes to mentoring or offering tutelage on the art of music composition. Recently, we have welcomed several composers from around the world to our Composition Mentoring Programme seeking to improve and build on their existing skills ... what is notable though is that they all begin very nervy about what might be said about their pieces and preface the initial conversation by saying ...'I've sent you something but I don't know whether it's any good or not...'.

We begin by saying that it's of no consequence whether we like a piece or not, but that an experienced composer can offer help to another who may just be starting out, or has become stalled with a piece, because an experienced set of eyes can see things that may work better or be more suited to the chosen instrument (it's amazing how often composers forget that woodwind players and singers need to breathe!). So, where to go from there?

Plan, Plan, Plan......

Nothing clears the mind faster than a sheet of empty manuscript paper and its absolutely rule No 1 to plan your piece before you start: Who are you writing for? What is your piece going to say? Plan plan plan...

Part of Tim Knight Music's mission is to help other composers to explore their potential and encourage them to take these steps when they aren't sure they have anything worthwhile to say or have become despondent, feeling like they could wallpaper the house with rejection letters from publishers. But sometimes:

  • with a few minor changes, an 'ok' piece can become something special;

  • a piece is just bubbling over with too many ideas which could make 5 pieces so just paring back and developing one or two can bring clarity and new focus;

  • the beginning of a piece is beautifully written but then it won't go anywhere because no clear picture of its direction was made at the start.

Are you writing purely for your own pleasure or use? Or are you writing for an 'end user'... such as a Choral Conductor, Musician or Orchestra? In his book, "The Dynamic Choral Director", Royal Stanton outlines the various points that he, as a conductor, looks for in new repertoire. These make for thought provoking reading and show the other side of composing, i.e. what the conductor as the end user is looking for, and so can help to give us direction for when we start out on a piece.

Royal Stanton says he is looking for music that has discernible strengths in either melody, or harmony and vitality of rhythm. Music that, if written to a text, that the text is meaningful and the music adds to the expression of that text. He is looking for music that speaks to the performer, because if it doesn't do that it won't speak to the listener and he is looking for music that doesn't just add to a long list of similar pieces and that may have a specific performance opportunity.