MUSIC 160R: Composition Seminar: Working with Words





Th - 9:45 am to 11:45 am


This course will explore how literary and other textual sources can provide the creative stimulus for original vocal and instrumental composition. From popular music to experimental contemporary music, how is it that the integration of words and music can achieve an expressive affect that is greater than the sum of the parts? Likewise, how can the concepts and sounds of a text influence and even determine the creative character of an instrumental composition?

In answering these questions, and by way of establishing background and context, we may look at examples of music and performance as diverse as anthems (such as de Lisle’s Le Marsellaise), Western popular music (including Velazquez’s Besame Mucho and Cohen’s Hallelujah), indigenous songlines from Central Australia, slam poetry, and some classics of twentieth century concert repertoire (by Crumb, Berio, Schwitters and Walton).

Also, we will analyse the creative process and approach to text in some of my own works: for example, The Children’s Bach and Journey to Horseshoe Bend (operatic works based on books by Garner and Strehlow); Dead Songs (settings of epitaphs collected from Australian coastal graveyards); Paradise, The Line and Lake Moonrise (settings of my own original texts); Le Moliére imaginaire, I am writing in this book and Simplify, simplify (vocal works based on adaptations of texts from Moliére, Shonagon and Thoreau); Ekstasis, Song of songs and Wild Flower (choral works adapting biblical texts); and Diver’s Lament (an orchestral work drawing on a text from the Torres Strait).

In addition to short journal and analytical assignments the emphasis for assessable student work will be on creating new vocal or instrumental works which draw on ideas from the course and in which a text provides the stimulus and/or substance of the composition. In the final project students will be encouraged to draw on literature, found texts or original words that are connected to the Cambridge area. There will also be the opportunity in the course to develop relevant practical aspects of a composer’s craft and technique including writing for voices, notation strategies and using relevant technology. The final project will be presented in a public performance of the new works by class members.

Recommended Prep:


One course in music theory, composition, or consent of the instructor.