Thursday, August 6, 2015

Composition in the group

I recently received a comment on a post I wrote late June, asking me about the composition process as it related to working with the group.

It's something I've not really talked about, although I've talked about composition in general.  So what happens when you move off of theory and introduce your ideas to the group?  Eek!

SJT has been having composition workdays meant to give potential composers time to work on ideas and bodies for them to utilize.  While this is a really useful thing, most groups probably don't have the luxury to have that much time.  And that's ok!

So here's how I view a good composition session when working with other people:

Make it clear when introducing something to the group what the purpose is.  Maybe you just need to hear people play stuff, maybe you're looking for feedback (or maybe you don't want any feedback!), maybe you'll need them to be flexible as you change things on the fly.  The more they know your needs, the less likely anyone will get annoyed - including you!

It's also important to have a plan, even if it's just "teach/play pattern A, then pattern B, then pattern C..." so that you're not wasting people's time thinking what to do next.  Just as important is taking into consideration the setup you want.  Do you want as many people participating as possible, or a smaller amount of drums with people rotating?  What equipment do you need ready to go at the beginning so that you're not having people build stands in the middle of your session and lose momentum?

You also have to take into account how you're teaching.  If you want everyone to "get it", then you have to be able to explain/demonstrate it in ways that everyone will get.  If you don't have time or if you're not worried that everyone will get it, then that's ok too - but it's important that *you* know what you want ahead of time.  Maybe you'll want to see how people figure stuff out, so you don't say too much, but it needs to be intentional and you might need to explain that it was your intention to do things that way.

Also important to consider is what you want to have covered by the end of your time.  If you need to teach A before they can do AB before they can do ABC...and your goal is ABCDEFGHIJK, then you may have a time crunch.  If you know there are certain things more important than others, try to schedule your session to get the important stuff covered early on.

There's likely going to be issues that arise.  Maybe you don't like how it sounds once you hear people playing it.  That happens!  It's important to accept the output in that case and be gracious for the time you have.  Maybe people can't play things the way you want them to play.  Are you asking for too much skill-wise?  Will it just take time that you don't have in a single session?  Or maybe people are offering advice when you already asked that people hold their comments.  It's important to restate your preferences without getting upset.

Then again, sometimes the mistakes/accidents lead to some interesting paths you didn't foresee.  Don't be too quick to discount them as you review the process later.

Of course, different groups operate in different ways and have different dynamics.  Your experience may completely differ from mine.  The important thing is to try, to learn, to get better, and come back a stronger composer!

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