FeBland 'Live' Interview
Classical Music in the 21st Century

Jonathan FeBland in conversation with Elaine Wasilewski in 2008

 

EW: There's quite a list there on opus. How much of your music was produced before you started using a computer to help you compose, and what difference has it made, both to you and the music?

I suppose it is the creative process I am enquiring about. Could you describe how the process works, evolves, for you?

JS: Ah, now here’s a popular misconception! The computer doesn’t actually ‘help me to compose’ at all!! I write my music ‘at the piano’ and once ready, I come over to the computer and produced an edition worthy of a music publisher with the leading music engraving programme Sibelius Software.

The music is therefore nicely archived as well as being able to be offered to musicians both amateur and professional who visit my Sibelius pages.

I didn’t buy Sibelius Software until 2001 and the first works I transcribed were my Twelve Jazz Piano Pieces (2000-2001) which are now ‘real print’ published by Samuel King, UK.

Therefore (as of today’s reckoning) about 87% of my compositions were composed pre-Sibelius.

What difference has the software made? That’s a much more profound question. Obviously, it places my music directly before the public almost at an instant. I have also grown comfortable with the idea of seeing my work in a beautifully produced edition!

 

EW:  I have found the pieces I've had the pleasure of listening to thus far Jonathan to be effectively evocative, this piece (Bagatelle) for instance bringing with it images of a person at home at the piano, a breeze gently lifting a net curtain enough to allow a glimpse of grass and trees beyond whilst the sun streams in for a few short moments before falling away, leaving the pianist warmed by the soft gentleness of early morning sunlight, perhaps not quite bagatelle! Jazz Symphony produces an all together different note, bringing to mind a troupe of dancers describing the energy and movement of music on a blackened stage, and I'm sure there are many other images in other minds, so tell me Jonathan, what stirs you to compose a particular piece of music? Does a thought or feeling bring to mind a few bars upon which you build, or do you start with an intention to form a composition with a certain feel to it, a concept to convey, or indeed, as one imagines of some of the 'greats', could a whole work arise from being in a certain state. Perhaps you use other inspiration, or all this and more?

JS: Wow! This is a very complex question to get to grips with!! It is interesting that the Jazz symphony brings to mind ‘a troupe of dancers’ as one of my current intentions is to submit the work to the Royal Opera House with the intention of having it choreographed and danced by the Royal Ballet! I have no idea whether this would meet with success, but it is something I intend to have a shot at once I have a decent recording to hand!

“What inspires me to compose a particular composition?” That is more tricky to answer. Most of the time, the question simply boils down to ‘making time’. If for example I had the next 14 days completely ‘off’, you could be sure that I’d settle down to a fair bit of original composition! Of course, you have to make time even during the middle of a busy schedule, but you can’t just sit at the piano staring into the middle-distance wondering whether to start your composition on a C or a C sharp! You have to get on and jot as much down in the allocated time space – tinkering can always occur at some future point!

“Does a thought or feeling bring to mind a few bars…?” Music is often very tied up with emotion, but you can’t waste time analysing which particular emotion is being described by any given musical phrase or section! For example, I am answering these questions and dozens of different emotions are (arguably) demonstrated during the course of this masterwork. It’s fine to analyse (or simply enjoy) these emotions once the work is complete, but to try to do so at the very point of bringing them into the world might only serve to slow down the creative process.

 

EW: I suppose it is the creative process I am enquiring about. Could you describe how the process works, evolves, for you?

JS: I will give as my example the piece I have been working on most recently. I sat down at my Piano in about May 2002 and started developing ideas for a brand new Jazz Symphony. The composition was going to be scored for large (90-piece) orchestra and run for about 15 minutes.

As I started work on the new piece, I improvised on the piano until suitable ideas were formed. As each new idea was generated, I notated it down into a manuscript book in a sketch format which could (just about) be played on the piano. (Remember that eventually the work was going to be for a massive orchestra so that it wasn't always easy to get one's fingers around the notes!)

After accumulating ideas for about 7 months, I could actually play the Jazz Symphony on the Piano all the way through and in fact, I made a solo Piano recording of it at the time which I still have here on cassette.

Once the work got to that stage, I decided to number all of the major sections of the composition and (somehow magically) the number turned out to be 33. The full title of my work was born “ Jazz Symphony in 33 Grooves!"

Then the incredible process of orchestrating the entire work began. This was done using Sibelius software (the world's leading engraving programme) and took me another 10 months. At that point, I made the score available at Sibelius Music where I have my own page .

From March 2004 until December 2006 I tinkered with the scoring, dynamics (loudness/volume), orchestration, instrumentation, phrasing (smooth, detached etc), counterpoint (little extra added melodic lines), special effects (plucking strings, muted brass etc) and so on and so forth. As of June, 2006, it was about 98% finished requiring approx. a further 100 hours work.

My approach; hard work, graft, slog, grind, doggedness plus inspiration!

EW: My turn to 'Wow!' Jonathan! So many hours to produce 15 minutes, that's about 333.33(recurring) hours per minute. Could rename to 'Jazz Symphony in the Groove of 3's'! How long do you think it would've taken Mozart and the likes to produce their masterpieces, especially without Sibelius?

“…Remember that eventually the work was going to be for a massive orchestra so that it wasn't always easy to get one's fingers around the notes!...”

At this point, although you cannot reproduce the full effect, do you have a good idea of how it should sound when performed by an orchestra?

The orchestrating, the score and the tinkering.
Am I correct to assume 'orchestrating' is the stage at which instrumentation is decided, and if so, does Sibelius enable you to hear how the instruments, and the overall piece, will sound? Prior to Sibelius, how would this have been accomplished?

After tinkering with the score, does it differ from the original presented to Sibelius Music, or indeed, to your first imaginings of how it would sound?

I hope you do submit the Jazz Symphony to the Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet. Acceptance would be a fine reward for your effort I would imagine. Do the Royal Ballet do 'jazz dance'?

I'm wondering at the 'somehow magically' reference to the work having 33 major sections. Is that referring to a rule within composing, or a personal connection?

Thank you for this excellent opportunity to gain insight into your work Jonathan, very much enjoyed and appreciated.

JS: 32 or 34 Grooves just doesn't have the same ring, does it?

 

EW: How simple is it changing a piece to read for a different instrument? And does the piece still sound the same, except for the different instrument, i.e. is the tune or melody still the same?

JS: With computer technology this can be amazingly straightforward. In the example we were discussing 'off air' it was a matter of changing clarinet music to cello music. The cello plays approx. one octave lower than the clarinet so, in theory one simply transposes down an octave. Of course there is still some further tinkering to carry out as the cello plays in the tenor clef in its upper register.

 

 

 

 

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