A grain of sand…

2017-06-24 08.36.35 copy

Sometimes you get an idea for a piece and then you begin to write with absolutely no problems. You’re on fire and the music flows from you like images from the end of Walt Disney’s animated paint brush. Sometimes the ideas may be there, but it’s an uphill slog every step of the way, each measure bought by blood sweat. For what it’s worth, that’s how it usually is. But, other times, you may need/want to write a piece but you have absolutely no ideas. Those times can be problematic. There are some ways to deal with drawing a blank.

  • One way is to create just a rhythm without regard to any pitches. This often gives rise to highly energetic, motivic music. Use the rhythmic motive as a vehicle to explore chord changes or key changes.
  • Often composers will devise a series of pitches without regard to rhythm and then explore different rhythmic treatments of that. I’ve never seen the evidence myself, but I remember hearing that Beethoven did this. Apparently, his sketchbooks show him experimenting: sometimes applying different key signatures to the same basic note names, sometimes changing the clef but keeping the general intervals intact (this changes the mode of the melody), sometimes giving different rhythmic values to a given series of pitches.
  • Another way is to take words–and this can be prose or poetry, prose or free verse often seems to work best because of its irregular rhythm–and use the natural rhythm of the words to suggest melodies and the syntax of the sentences to suggest phrase structure.
  • You might create some sort of game with dice or a spinner (Mozart did this!) to come up with rhythms, or a series of pitches, or content of a section, or the length of a section…any aspect of music. The key to this technique is to not be in thrall to it! Feel free to abandon any detail of what you’ve come up with. This is approach is just to serve as a prompt. It should not be cast in concrete.
  • Sometimes it will be just a chord progression that is created first. This is a somewhat dangerous approach because it lends itself to predictable harmonic rhythm, especially the kind that changes on every measure’s downbeat. So use this carefully, trying to pay attention to creating a not-too-predictable harmonic rhythm.
  • The common thread in all these examples is that one aspect of music was isolated and an idea was generated for only that one aspect. Trying to think of too much at once can sometimes stall getting started.
  • After you’ve created your “grain of sand,” then you start applying other aspect ideas to it, just as an oyster overlays organic material. If you had a purely melodic “grain of sand,” try overlaying different rhythms. If your “grain of sand” was a rhythm, try pouring different pitch sequences into it. On and on…it’s just working with the materials, one aspect at a time.

By the way, this technique can be applied to everyday writing. You don’t need to save it for when you’re completely bereft of ideas.

Who You Were Meant to Be

Who You Were Meant to Be
A Guide to Finding or Recovering Your Life’s Purpose

Lindsay C. Gibson, Psy.D
New Horizon Press
Far Hills, NJ
Copyright @2000 Lindsay C. Gibson
You may wonder why I begin a blog about being a composer with a book about “Finding or Recovering Your Life’s Purpose.” First and foremost, you are a human. Somewhere down the line–nowhere near the top of the list–is a description of what you do, one of those things perhaps being composing. But way before the technical stuff comes the human stuff, including your purpose, your why. That’s what this book is about.

This book may be the most underlined and full of marginalia of any book I own. Something about this subject and her approach to it touches my soul deeply. She could easily have made each chapter a separate full book. I wish she’d do that. I would buy them all.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough to anyone who feels that one’s inner and outer life are not in sync, or simply doesn’t know what one should focus on, or simply want to better understand one’s choices.

She helped me in many ways and some of her suggestions I remember to this day and use. It’s an old book, and I doubt you’ll even find it for sale used, but if you do, snap it up. It’s the kind people don’t take to the thrift shop. I’m hanging on to mine!

3 Preludes on St. Anne

Public Domain
Angelos Akotanos – Saint Anne with the Virgin – 15th century

Recently, there was a theme build-up over several Sundays at the church where I play (Lakewood UCC, St. Petersburg, FL) culminating on a fourth Sunday. The theme of the build-up was “O God, Our Help.” So, I wrote a different prelude based on the St. Anne tune for each of the 3 build-up Sundays, playing one each Sunday, then all on the fourth Sunday.

The order in which they were written was actually 2, 3, 1, but this arrangement (1, 2, 3) seemed the best if played as a group on a church recital or something.

Here’s a link to the SCORE
Here’s a link to the MP3.

Score and reorchestration of The Geography of Dreams

I completely re-orchestrated The Geography of Dreams. I like it much better. It’s limited to strings & harp plus 3 solo woodwinds (flute, oboe, english horn) and 2 solo brass (horn & trumpet). I got a much better mix and mastering this time, too, I think (well…at least, I think I think…).

Here’s link for  SoundCloud album: https://soundcloud.com/hilton-kean-jones/sets/the-geography-of-dreams.


As part of this re-orchestration I also finally (!!!) got the score done. For free download go to https://hiltonkeanjones.com/PDFs/The_Geography_of_Dreams.pdf, right-click and “save as…”

Paired Comparison Analysis in trying to decide what to write next

Kokopelli (Hopi trickster god and patron of musicians)
Kokopelli (Hopi trickster god and patron of musicians)

I’m spending some time looking at my personal and professional priorities. Those change as time passes. It’s time for me to look at mine again and see what’s changed, what’s stayed the same, what’s become more important or less important.

In doing so, I’m looking at a lot of resources to help myself with this. I came across something called Paired Comparison Analysis. I was familiar with bubble sort from my dabbling in computer coding long ago. This is similar but with a couple extra features. The site where I learned about it–which has a handy, free, downloadable worksheet–is www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_02.htm.

I thought you might be interested in an application of this device in a creative person’s context. To understand how this analysis works, read the article linked to above and watch its very short video. No point in me re-explaining it. They do it better anyway.

Below is my analysis of the items I couldn’t really decide among. The results conform to what I sort of suspected, but nice to know there’s some data to back up my suspicion. The list is what to write next since I feel an urge to do them all (anthems, piano solos, short concerti for piano a la Mozart scope, orchestral music of which several pieces are already started, 4-hands piano pieces which can be fun to bang through with friends, or some more purely electronic music).

The basic chart with choices and values
The basic chart with choices and values


Totalling up the values for each letter
Totalling up the values for each letter


Results as percentages and listed highest to lowest
Results as percentages and listed highest to lowest

Now…don’t be fooled! The creative mind will have its own way. It may cooperate and do what this analysis suggests or it might not. More often than not, Kokopelli has other plans. As Woody Allen said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” Also, every time–and I’m pretty sure it’s EVERY DAMN TIME–I tell anyone what I’m going to write next…I never do. So, we’ll see. We’ll see.

Paired Comparison Analysis does seem like a useful tool as a helpful hint in decision making, though, even if it’s not an oracle.

PS: this was originally posted on my personal blog, hkjones.info.

Tales of the Laughing Wizards

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 6.03.15 AM
It is so easy to get distracted in life, isn’t it?! My intention with this blog was to regularly call attention to past pieces I’ve written as well as new ones. It’s the “regularly” part of that intention that went astray. So, today, I’m trying to climb back on that wagon and see if I can stay on it.

Tales of the Laughing Wizards is a suite of pieces for electronic sound. Each piece within the suite is a different wizard with a name suggestive of the tone of that piece. I don’t write much electronic music any more, but at one point in my life that was “my thing” so to speak. Now, I prefer to write music that humans enjoy playing on acoustic instruments.

I wish I could find a way to make the sounds that are possible to make with electronics, but with an acoustic orchestra, but that’s beyond me. That’s ok… Getting older has taught me one’s limitations are best just accepted sometimes.

Here’s Tales of the Laughing Wizards!


Organ and Choir

There are some recent additions to my website in the Organ and Choir listing. If you get a chance, please listen, especially to the newer organ pieces. Of course, if you know any choir directors or organists who might be interesting in any of this, please forward them the link to this post. I’d love to get some performances.


Twilight Peal (organ) MP3 SCORE 2011
Mystic Procession (organ) MP3 SCORE 2012
Sortie (organ) MP3 SCORE 2007
Arabesque (organ) MP3 SCORE 1982
Carol (organ) MP3 SCORE 1980
Siciliano (organ) MP3 SCORE 1980
Cantabile (organ) MP3 SCORE 1980
Nine Seasonal Voluntaries
  1. Angels We Have Heard On High
  2. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  3. Good Christian Men Rejoice
  4. Lo How A Rose Er Blooming
  5. O Come All Ye Faithful
  6. O Come O Come Emmanuel
  7. O Little Town Of Bethlehem
  8. Cherry Tree Carol
  9. What Child Is This
    (score available from Concordia Pub. Co.)
(organ) MP3 SCORE 1985
Festival Prelude
  1. Mov 1
  2. Mov 2
  3. Mov 3
(organ) MP3 SCORE 1982
3 Songs for 4 Composers
  1. Igor
  2. Erik
  3. Claude & Maurice
(organ) MP3 SCORE 1976

NOTE: Choral recordings may differ slightly
from scores because of later editing. Both 4-part
and simpler 2-part versions are available for most anthems.

O Loving Founder Of The Stars (SATB) MP3 SCORE 2015
I Look to Thee in Every Need (2-part mixed) MP3 SCORE 2014
The Brightest and Best of the Stars of the Morning (Unison with EZ 4-part mixed) MP3 SCORE 2014
The Lost (2-part mixed) MP3 SCORE 2014
The River’s Song (2-part mixed) MP3 SCORE 2013
All Bless the One (2-part mixed) MP3 SCORE 1993
Be Still And Know (Psalm 46) SATB (or TTBB)) MP3 SCORE 1993
Have This Love (SATB) MP3 SCORE 1993
Bound by Love (SATB) MP3 SCORE 1993
Follow Me (SATB) MP3 SCORE 1990
Happy Are the Lowly Poor (2-part mixed) MP3 SCORE 1990
In You We Live (SATB) MP3 SCORE 1990
As A Doe Longs (Psalm 42-43) SATB) MP3 SCORE 1990
Psalm 40 (May We See Your Radiant Face) 2-part mixed) MP3 SCORE 1990
Kol Mishp’chot Haahdamah (SATB) MP3 SCORE 1986
Beloved, Let Us Love (SATB w/soprano & baritone solos) MP3 SCORE 1980
Music for Eucharist; Rite II (unison congregation) MP3 SCORE 1980
Three Hymn Tune Anthems (SATB) MP3 SCORE 1968

LYRIC RAGS — a sonata for violin and piano

LYRIC RAGS — a sonata for violin and piano
Mov 1 – City Nights
Mov 2 – Silent Waltz
Mov 3 – Sky Highway

Composed in 1975, the 3rd movement is my favorite of the three, but I’m also fond of the 2nd movement. The first movement is a bit severe…more dissonant than I remember. The score is available at https://hiltonkeanjones.com/scores/Lyric_Rags.pdf.


Recording downloads available at Bandcamp

I now have a page at hiltonjones.bandcamp.com where it’s possible to buy tracks and albums of my music. It’s free to stream at that page as well as at my SoundCloud page.

The newer music posted there is Meditations & Reflections. Also available there is my old album, Cantus, which I’ve remastered.


Score video of Jasmine

I tried my hand at a video of the score of Jasmine, tracking with the recording. The YouTube link is http://youtu.be/Dphi8YA8Hg0. Below is the embedded player.

%d bloggers like this: