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Stephen Lines (added 05/09/2019)

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Your music background and anything else you'd like to share.

I am comparatively ancient in a chronological sense but still feel and think like a 30-year old. Initially I took up music at boarding school at the age of eleven – not because I was particularly keen on music but it was a good way to avoid getting involved in muck and bullets as a member of the school Combined Cadet Force. I took up French horn simply because a near neighbour of my Royal Air Force parents was the band sergeant and played that instrument. I guess my main interest at school was cricket and eventually I became quite decent at the game. As a whole, though I absolutely loathed the school so left at the first opportunity (age 15) and became a junior musician in the British army.

In 1967, I attended a 12-month pupil’s course at the Royal Military School of Music (Kneller Hall) and studied horn under Alf Cursue who had been a member of ‘God’s Own Quartet’, which included Dennis and Aubrey Brain.

In 1968, I was posted to the band of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment as their principal horn player (it was a good section in those days with 5 experienced players).

In 1975, I was selected to attend Kneller Hall as a student bandmaster – the course lasted three and a half years and was arguably the best time of my life. The training staff were excellent (Harmony and aural training for instance were taught by Gordon Reynolds who was also the organist and choir master at Hampton Court Palace – a suave gentleman and effective teacher). Apart from the harmony, orchestration, arranging, conducting and composition classes we were kept very busy as performers. There were numerous highlights including nearly being blown off the castle ramparts whilst performing at the Investiture of The Prince of Wales; performing ‘live’ on ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ on BBC Radio 3; taking part in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations and many other prestigious engagements. In our ‘spare’ time, we students had to learn to play and were tested on scales, arpeggios, quick and slow solos and sight-reading on every wind instrument from flute down to tuba. This was a difficult thing to achieve, but as intended has proved rewarding when composing or arranging for such instruments and being fully aware of their limitations (e.g. which trills are not playable on woodwind instruments), and in understanding the difficulties experienced by performers.  

How would you describe your musical style or styles?

My musical style is principally classical but in recent years has veered in a slightly more Avant-Garde direction. I believe that mathematically there is an almost infinite number of compositions that can be produced simply by utilising ‘standard’ major and minor keys and modes, and it is this belief that kept me on the straight and narrow as a composer for many years. My understanding of harmony is firmly based on Kitson’s harmony books I, II and III and, if I have a moment to spare, I will regularly go back to book I to ensure I have the basics firmly in place in my works. Recently, after a little experimentation, I have moved into a more modernistic world of discordant and chromatic harmonies: I find these more in tune with modern expectations whilst also facilitating greater degrees of expressiveness in my writing. 

What and/or who are your chief influences?

The first recording I ever owned was Dennis Brain performing Mozart’s four horn concertos and concertina. I can distinctly recall feeling so pleased (at the age of 12) that I turned it up full volume and opened the drawing room windows to share this fabulous music with my neighbours, not all of whom were as enamoured of it as I was. I think my love of classical music grew directly from these archetypal examples. Although I compose for many disparate groups of instruments, I will always consider the symphony orchestra as the ideal medium for expressing myself musically.

Can you name something you did in a piece of music of which you are particularly happy?

My first foray into the Avant-Garde was with a composition for orchestra that I called Thema Obscurante. This was not the original title and it was first composed for piano. A commentator on CF thought the original no more than an exercise in exotic harmony and wondered where the melody was. I immediately took up the challenge and arranged it for orchestra where the initially obscure thematic material could more easily be expressed and subsequently discerned. I was so pleased with the result that I extended it to three movements and received (on CF) considerable praise for its inventiveness and overall musicality. I initially thought of this as no more than an interesting diversion from my usual style, so reverted to type with subsequent works that I thought might have greater public appeal. An example of this is a piece for horn and piano entitled Orion the Hunter which I think has universal appeal and is written in the mould of Ron Goodwin or similar. Having satisfied myself on its commercial viability I again moved onto a slightly more advanced route and composed The Road to Perdition. 

Are you published anywhere? How could someone who is interested purchase your music?

I publish my music on numerous sites, the two main ones being Score Exchange and Sheet Music Plus. All my scores are available via https://www.scoreexchange.com/profiles/Stephen-Lines

If you could offer one piece of advice to other composers, what would it be?

Nowadays, with the advent of musical software programmes with an instant playback facility such as Sibelius, (which, incidentally I use in conjunction with NotePerformer3), there is no excuse for not writing with one’s ears. My basic principle is that if it sounds good it is good, irrespective of what the ‘rule book’ says. My only piece of advice is to forge ahead and write what you as an individual enjoy. Remember that the process of writing music is not always easy but there are few things in life more satisfying than sharing with others something that you personally have created.

If you could put 3 pieces of your music on the Voyager spacecraft for dissemination to the stars, what would they be? Also, please give a brief description of each piece and a link.

I think I can illustrate how musicality can grow with experience and over time by inserting here my first published composition that was written during my final ‘Competitions’ year at Kneller Hall. It is a military march initially entitled Gordon’s March (after General Gordon of Khartoum – the founder of my boarding school) but subsequently amended and retitled Die Soldaten von Celle (The Soldiers of Celle) and used by the massed bands as the march on for the Celle Tattoo in 1980. It was subsequently recorded on an LP entitled ‘The Vikings’ by the band of the 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0ZZZqF5WIk&t=26s

Second is a piece for symphony orchestra called Bramshill – a 50th Anniversary Concert Rondo. This was composed at rather short notice and performed live (conducted by me) by the British Police Symphony Orchestra at the National Police Staff College at Bramshill in Hampshire in 1998. The music is written in large ternary form. There are features within it that depict and draw together various facets of Bramshill House as a Jacobean dwelling with that of its current role as the national police staff college. After a declamatory eighteen bar opening in the key of C minor, the piece leads towards the principal theme that is introduced by the horn, quietly accompanied by chords from the clarinets dipping in and out of their chalumeau register – a haunting, ethereal theme that depicts the mystery of the ancient building and its numerous reported wraiths. The theme evolves and is pronounced giacoso in the strings with light accompaniment in the higher woodwinds. A restatement of the main theme is followed by a section, fugato; this depicts a police officer on the beat in the early hours of a cold, wet winter’s night. This theme then transmutes into a quasi-stately dance such as may have been performed in Bramshill’s great withdrawing room or its long gallery in the 1600’s. A series of 6/3 chords then develops into what sounds akin to a police siren; the section culminates in a wash of sound with police theme, stately dance and siren sounding simultaneously. In the final section, the principal theme is re-iterated in various guises and sub-themes are further explored. https://youtu.be/zzlwMxlFThc

Finally, my latest offering The Road to Perdition composed this year (2019). This programmatic piece describes the kind of journey experienced by Christ in Hades; Faust, or Dante (The Inferno): It ends with a triumphant brass chorale that depicts the hero, after having overcome the trials and tribulations of such a trek, achieving a high state of wisdom. It is a further example of my progress towards a slightly more modernistic style of writing and I have been humbled by the extraordinarily kind comments about it received from fellow CF members and elsewhere. If asked, I would say this is the highest point of my composing career to date. https://youtu.be/jKGFcBlUt8Y

Is there anything else you would like to say?

Never say die – we all know the old rune that genius is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. That is not to say that I or anyone else on CF might actually be adjudged a genius, but the principle holds good…work, work, work until you are satisfied with what you have achieved…and remember it is never too late to learn.

Finally, I would like to pay tribute to CF – I think we are very fortunate to have such a platform with so many talented people from which to learn and with whom to communicate. Keep up the good work.

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I have finally found time to read this article and I very much enjoyed it.  Stephen, I have always liked your music and I was impressed that you successfully took a new direction with it at this stage in your career.  That takes talent and courage and a powerful love of music.  Well done!

Your life has been quite different from anything I have experienced for many reasons and it is fascinating to me to hear about it. I am glad that you took the time to share it with us.  I'm sure that many others here at CF will also enjoy this interview when they are able to find the time to read it.

Many thanks Ingo. I think Gav’s idea of interviewing members is a good one and I look forward to reading more about others on CF - I’m sure there will be many more interesting than mine (including yours of course).

Stephen, what a fascinating and interesting career. Thank you for talking about it.

It comes as no surprise though given your accomplishments. Your work, Perdition, has inspired me to a) have a try at brass writing – something I’ve tended to avoid – and b) a longer work.  I was also taken by your mention of Kitson. It’s rare these days to find anyone who’s heard of Kitson although his Part 3 was like opening a treasure chest!  

I look forward to encountering more of your work here. 

All the best,

Dane

Thank you Dane. Good luck with the brass writing (don't forget to dovetail the instruments for a fuller and more balanced sound - although I'm sure you know this already).

Kitson - takes you back a while doesn't it, but he certainly knew how to get his points across and is as useful today as when first published about 300 years ago (slight exaggeration that)!

Good fortune with your new (longer) venture, I look forward to hearing it.

Stephen

I also enjoyed this article. 

"Never say die", that's my motto too. The power of persistence is a key element in music, and Stephen shows that if you stick at it, eventually you will find the way through and likeminded people who support your music.

Good on you Stephen, long may you compose.

Rob

Very fascinating to read through your interview and learn more about you Stephen! I kind of half-suspected your career  before I read it because I had one or two friends at college (Maria Grey in Twickenham) who later followed a music career in the military. Like Dane, I was also pleasantly surprised at the name of Kitson mentioned as he was a good source for harmony study (albeit not for counterpoint) before the Walter Piston books came out and became universally known in England. I always listen to your compositions in my rare visits to this site and I always like them, even though I may not always comment. Good works, keep them coming!

regards

Socrates

I always find your comments and evidence of your expertise interesting and illuminating Socrates so it’s a pleasure to hear from you. Yes, Piston’s books are quite brilliant in my view - he’s an excellent and extremely clear writer who leaves no stone unturned when explaining his subject.

I don’t know Maria Grey School - maybe it has been established since my time at Kneller Hall which, incidentally, I am very distressed to hear has been sold recently. I wonder where army musicians will be trained in future!

Socrates Arvanitakis said:

Very fascinating to read through your interview and learn more about you Stephen! I kind of half-suspected your career  before I read it because I had one or two friends at college (Maria Grey in Twickenham) who later followed a music career in the military. Like Dane, I was also pleasantly surprised at the name of Kitson mentioned as he was a good source for harmony study (albeit not for counterpoint) before the Walter Piston books came out and became universally known in England. I always listen to your compositions in my rare visits to this site and I always like them, even though I may not always comment. Good works, keep them coming!

regards

Socrates

Thanks for pointing us to Kitson's Elementary Harmony.  I'd been looking for a book like this, and didn't know about this one. The book, parts 1 2 and 3, was published by Oxford in 1920 with subsequent reprints.  It'available from on line vendors either used or "new," meaning usually a photo-reprint by the sort of publishers who specialize in photo-reprints of old scholarly books; I've found that such phot-reprints are often of poor quality, sometimes to the point of making the book unreadable.  Prices range from surprisingly cheap to outrageously expensive. Those interested could also try on line archives like Google Books or archive.org.

I don't know what exactly your needs are here Jon but harmony is kind of like algebra, it's basically the same no matter who teaches it.  Ideally you'd combine it with ear training and directed listening exercises, but one of the standard texts still widely available is Piston's Harmony. 

If it were me though I would combine this:

http://openmusictheory.com/contents.html

with a decent online ear training program.  Learning theory in abstraction is useless IMHO.



Jon Corelis said:

Thanks for pointing us to Kitson's Elementary Harmony.  I'd been looking for a book like this, and didn't know about this one. The book, parts 1 2 and 3, was published by Oxford in 1920 with subsequent reprints.  It'available from on line vendors either used or "new," meaning usually a photo-reprint by the sort of publishers who specialize in photo-reprints of old scholarly books; I've found that such phot-reprints are often of poor quality, sometimes to the point of making the book unreadable.  Prices range from surprisingly cheap to outrageously expensive. Those interested could also try on line archives like Google Books or archive.org.

Thanks for the reference, I will check it out.

Ingo Lee said:

I don't know what exactly your needs are here Jon but harmony is kind of like algebra, it's basically the same no matter who teaches it.  Ideally you'd combine it with ear training and directed listening exercises, but one of the standard texts still widely available is Piston's Harmony. 

If it were me though I would combine this:

http://openmusictheory.com/contents.html

with a decent online ear training program.  Learning theory in abstraction is useless IMHO.



Jon Corelis said:

Thanks for pointing us to Kitson's Elementary Harmony.  I'd been looking for a book like this, and didn't know about this one. The book, parts 1 2 and 3, was published by Oxford in 1920 with subsequent reprints.  It'available from on line vendors either used or "new," meaning usually a photo-reprint by the sort of publishers who specialize in photo-reprints of old scholarly books; I've found that such phot-reprints are often of poor quality, sometimes to the point of making the book unreadable.  Prices range from surprisingly cheap to outrageously expensive. Those interested could also try on line archives like Google Books or archive.org.

Ingo,

This is the first time I've come across this publication and I must say I'm very impressed indeed, it's a very modern evolution of Kitson, Piston et al and it's terrific that there are samples included that are immediately available to playback. I for one will look into it very closely to see if there's anything I've missed in my own programme of education. At the very least it will help to cement what's already there in my head.

Thanks for posting it...very interesting indeed and good advice for Jon.

Stephen

Ingo Lee said:

I don't know what exactly your needs are here Jon but harmony is kind of like algebra, it's basically the same no matter who teaches it.  Ideally you'd combine it with ear training and directed listening exercises, but one of the standard texts still widely available is Piston's Harmony. 

If it were me though I would combine this:

http://openmusictheory.com/contents.html

with a decent online ear training program.  Learning theory in abstraction is useless IMHO.



Jon Corelis said:

Thanks for pointing us to Kitson's Elementary Harmony.  I'd been looking for a book like this, and didn't know about this one. The book, parts 1 2 and 3, was published by Oxford in 1920 with subsequent reprints.  It'available from on line vendors either used or "new," meaning usually a photo-reprint by the sort of publishers who specialize in photo-reprints of old scholarly books; I've found that such phot-reprints are often of poor quality, sometimes to the point of making the book unreadable.  Prices range from surprisingly cheap to outrageously expensive. Those interested could also try on line archives like Google Books or archive.org.

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