Contests are fun to enter. They tend to push an artist into areas that would usually not be considered, and by entering a contest there is always the very slight possibility of winning a prize of some value. By very slight, I mean being able to predict ahead of time what a panel of judges might be looking for. Putting on a turban and gazing into a crystal ball to glean what other people are going to be thinking weeks from now is very similar.
Occasionally I will enter a contest when it seems interesting enough, rather than trying to win prizes or recognition, and a recent request for entries from Embertone called Stranger Themes caught my attention because it includes an element of collaboration among musicians. The contest has two parts, writing a theme, and then arranging a stranger’s theme.
The themes are not strange by any measure. In fact, there is an introductory video by Mike Verta with some outstanding advice regarding theme creation. It separates the notion of simplicity as an element lacking interest, and presents the idea that by building on something easily recognizable, a complete connection is made with the listener. In fact, he makes the comment that composers will often write interesting and complex themes that never connect with the listener, even though the composer may consider them clever and unique.
And so, with all inclination to dazzle the listener put aside, we are requested to compose themes that people can actually listen to and remember. This is quite different from other contests where a composer is encouraged to think outside the box or show off their chops. Unfortunately, the show-off type of approach leads to alienation from the listener and disappointment for the artist.
I wrote three themes and include them below. They are developed into an A-B-A form which tends to imply how the development should take place, but they are good, strong and memorable. They contain the basic I-IV-V chord progressions that people recognize and love. Indeed, there is not much else that can be depended on to communicate musical themes. Anything too complicated is usually avoided and forgotten.
In case you’re not familiar with Embertone, they are a couple of guys who sample instruments with astonishing detail and control. Their products are an exceptional value. As their mission statement is simple: sample the shit out of lots of great instruments, and bring them to you to inspire awesome new music. A definite win-win situation.
Next month I will post the stranger themes I have arranged. Not strange themes, themes from strangers!