A few years back I followed a music forum. One cool thing about this forum was the recurring composition challenges. Everyone would submit a piece of music on a given theme. The compositions would be posted anonymously. We would then be given the opportunity to vote on our favorite. The winner had the honor of creating the theme for the next challenge.
Of all of the challenges I entered and all of the pieces I created for them I liked Challenge 13 and the piece that sits at the top of this post was my favorite. Obviously I enjoy the more obscure themes that challenge the imagination and force me to expand my boundaries. To me the simple themes that many of the participants liked were a little boring, musical chewing gum if you will. Listen to this little country dance
It might be pleasant but I wrote and recorded it in less time than I wrote and uploaded this post. Now listen to this little passacaglia:
If you think of Pachelbel’s Canon then I succeeded. Did you notice anything else about it? The ground bass is the same theme as the country dance. (If you’re a composer or music professor please don’t grade me! This was a bit of a joke so I purposefully did a bad job on the counterpoint and voice leading. You see, the 2 pieces above were played simultaneously with a march in straight 2 to create an Ives-like soundscape. The last notes of the three pieces combined to create a giant C Major chord.)
The above two pieces demonstrate one of the great things about the challenge: it is very possible to come up with music that is totally different even if everything is based on the same theme. Some of the entries were wild and original. Others sweet and simple. It was great listening to what everyone came up with. Very inspiring.
In an earlier post I wrote about doing the 750 word challenges on the Writer’s Digest web site. In many ways this composition challenge was the same thing but with music instead of words.
I really like these challenges. They work to sharpen your skill set. In my opinion the harder the challenge the better they work. I want to burn a few brain cells when I create a new piece, not just let it fall from my fingers.
I think all artists want and need to be challenged. We thrive on it. It helps us grow. I would never have been able to compose my hour long “Hamlet Symphony” without doing these two to three minute challenges.
If your art seems to be getting stuck in a rut it might be a good idea to find a challenge. Win or lose, you will be rewarded.
I’ll finish with one more challenge piece. I liked this whole tone theme. I had originally wanted to do a hoe-down like song, but then it went in a totally different direction… Think rush hour….
All music written and performed by Trent P McDonald