Tag Archives: contemparary music

Challenge Thirteen


One of the very first posts I ever put up on this blog was called Challenge Me!  It was about musical challenges that I used to participate in when I followed a music forum back about a decade ago.

Here is a super quick synopsis of that post.  Someone would post a phrase or a theme.  The “contestants” would compose music based on that theme.  The music could take any form, any genre, etc., as long as it used the music software that the music forum was about.  The winner of each challenge would post the theme for the next challenge.  You can read more on the original post. Continue reading

Thirteen! (Music Video)

Small clip of score - music by Trent P McDonald, phot by Trent P McDonald

Several years ago, when I was deep into composing contemporary classical music, I belonged to a music forum.  One of the things we used to do on the forum is have challenges.  You can see this post for more detail, but basically the winner of the last challenge would come up with a motif and everyone else had to write a piece of music based on the theme.  I thought I had a real chance to win Challenge 12 (I might have if I would have only put in one entry) so I decided to create a theme for Challenge 13, just in case.  I wrote a short sample piece to go along with this little motif, not to play as I posted it (no influence to the competitors) but just to show that the abstract motif wasn’t that far out.  I didn’t win Challenge 12, so I never used that theme except for this short work.  I posted it and everyone loved it, but that was the end.  I had always meant to expand it, and the people on the forum expected me to, but I never got around to it and eventually stopped writing classical music.

I really liked the music, Thirteen!, and so I decided to make a little video of that snippet I created as an example.  It’s a little dark at the end, so I thought “Halloween”, but I didn’t have time to make Halloween graphics.  I used fall foliage scenery, including short videos of me running around in the woods behind my house and call it “autumn inspired” instead of “Halloween”  Enjoy! Continue reading

Video – Hamlet Symphony IV

Since today is a special day, I had to post another movement of my Hamlet Symphony.  This is the Fourth Movement – Remembering Ophelia.

(Click here if you don’t see the video)

This movement is in some ways the most beautiful, the most sad, the most delicate, the most simple, the most complicated the… well, you get the idea, there are a lot of contradictions.  It is by far my favorite.  It doesn’t end here, but goes right into the fifth movement, so the ending is abrupt.  Anyway, here is what I wrote about it as I was actually composing the music (I worte most of the below before i wrote the music and then corrected i to fit the music after I was done) ::

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Video – Hamlet Symphony, 3rd Movemenet

Hamlet Symphony, Movement 3, Scherzo – Mad North by Northwest.  Here is the video:

(Click here if you don’t see the video)

If you want a really indepth look at my thought process, which goes a long way into my interpretation of the play, continue reading… Continue reading

The Hamlet Symphony – 1st Movement

Hamlet Symphony | Trent McDonald

I have decided to do videos for every movement of The Hamlet Symphony.  I started with the second movement last year because it is the most accessible.  Yesterday I posted the First Movement – Introduction, The Midnight Watch, to YouTube.

The main purpose of the movement is to set the mood and to introduce the main musical material.  Both 12-tone rows are given near the beginning and there are many short motives that will return.  The Death Theme is played several times.  This theme will return! In ways this is the seed that all of the other material grows from. Continue reading

The Hamlet Symphony

(Click here if you don’t see the video)

In my life I’ve done a few things I’m proud of.  For example, I’ve written two books.  The first of these books has undergone extensive revision.  And yet, in my mind these two books combined pale in comparison to the accomplishment of the Hamlet Symphony.  From the first note to the last, every part of this hour long symphony, from notes to phrases to themes to sections to entire movements, interrelate and work together to form a cohesive whole.  A note in the third movement is impossible with one from the second.

As many of you know, I decided to release the symphony back in February.  All I’ll say is that although The Hamlet Symphony may be the culmination of my musical life, it is definitely not my most successful achievement!  The Hamlet Symphony is available on iTunes and Amazon.  It’s also available on CD Baby. Try here for Amazon UK.

The Hamlet Symphony is a companion to the famous play and portrays a little of its complexity in music. There are a few scenes set to music, but this isn’t a straight forward soundtrack, being meant more as a reflection on the characters and the action. In some ways The Hamlet Symphony is the emotional reaction one might have while reading or seeing the play. Continue reading

Mohr’s Circle (Music) (Throwback)

New Studio

I did a lot of experimentation with music back in the 1990s.  This was before my deep study of classical music.  My style ranged from very simple pop tunes to very complex pieces that where almost classical in complexity and scope.  Often, though, I did little experiments.  Sometimes these “test tunes” would be me playing with turning rhythms around & polyrhythms  or writing a simple pop tune that happened to have a 7 beat per measure time signature.  Or alternate between 4 beats and 5 beats per measure. Continue reading

Modular Modulations

(Click here if you don’t see the video)

Just 25 second, that’s all.  The story takes much longer to tell then the song lasts.

Simply put, in music a modulation is a change of keys.  There are several main ways to do a modulation and when I was studying classical music, I studied many of them.  You see, modulation is the grease that keeps classical compositions moving, that moves them from place to place, makes it a journey instead of a song form.  When I was doing studies I usually did block chords with proper voice leading and such.  I once did a very short study with several different types of modulations, just looking at the actual change, not the set up or anything – tonic  chord -transition chord – new tonic chord – etc.  It was pretty boring on its own, but was an exercise like the thousands of others I did.  Literally thousands.

Later I entered a challenge to write a meaningful modern composition using 100 notes or less.  I dug out the modulation exercise and wrote a quick melody for clarinet with a bassoon bass line.

Great.  Skip ahead a few years to today.  I wanted to make a very short demo of my modular synthesizer, or the few pieces I currently have.  Digging through some printed out music I found something called “Modulations”.

So, quick lesson here: never throw anything away.  You never know when you’ll use it again.  And again.  And, well, you get the picture…

I think this sounds like incidental music for a show aimed at very young children. Perhaps when a character moves from one activity to another.  What do you think?

Challenge Me! (Again)

Hamlet Symphony - Trent P McDonald

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 Continue reading

Briseis: That was Yesterday – Video


Last year I posted a song, “Briseis: That was yesterday”, which is based loosely on The Iliad.  I had at one time written a poem/song cycle based on Homer’s great work but seen from the eyes of Achilleus, or, using the better known Roman version, Achilles.  The song cycle would have been called, and may still  be if I finish it, “Songs of Achilleus”*. Continue reading