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I posted this piece on the forum about 5 years ago for a discussion about modern notation and moving away from the "tyranny of the barline".  Now I'm posting it to discuss modern harmony, per a request from MM Coston.  

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Well Julie, the first thing that strikes me as "wrong" is the title, and probably nothing else is wrong.
Make no mistake, I like it very much, but why soliloquy? To me it sounds/looks like a very fine dialogue.
Thank you for starting this thread Julie. To restate my original question: 'How did you intellectually approach the harmony in this piece?'

My purpose for asking this is that I am looking for a better, more efficient, approach to non-functional harmony. I should first explain my level of harmonic understanding. I've gone through specific stages that included consulting chordleading charts (in the beginning), over analyzing voice leading and explorations in reharmonization. It was the latter that lead me away from a diatonic mindset and opened my eyes to all the possibilities. Since abandoning functional harmony I have thus far taken two different approaches to harmony. At first I calculated a list of non-diatonic, but closely related, cadences such as the flat v°- I cadence because it is basically a IV-I but with the root of the IV sharpened. During that phase I treated chord progressions as melodies translated to a scale of chord types. (The chord scale in an ascending order is C: dim-min-Maj-sus-aug, Db: dim-min-Maj-sus-aug, etc.) This was just based on how the chords sounded to me. It wasn't long and I started thinking of the chord order differently with the Maj like a natural note and the types to the left (dim and min) as bb and b respectively and equivalent sharps on the other side. This led to my more recent use of the concept of harmony colors which I enjoy and works okay for compositions with a only a few instruments but it involves a lot of trial and error since the colors of the chords are altered by the chords they precede and follow as well as timbres and dynamics.

Now that I want to write for more instruments this approach isn't practical. I feel like I'm missing some information that would make choosing harmonies a logical process but still allow for interesting and expressive harmonies. I've been thinking that perhaps the answer could be found in understanding the overtones of all the instruments and writing harmonies that compliment or contrast those but that subject seems enormous and over-whelming. The result is I've become indecisive and reverted to overuse of octaves. I get the feeling that it shouldn't be this complicated and is why I ask for a different approach to choosing or at least thinking about harmonies.

Socrates, I'd dearly love to change the name of my Soliloquy, because after all these years I still sometimes misspell it!  However .... the underlying premise is that the person who is singing (flute) is reflected by sounds from elsewhere (piano).  In other words, I might think I'm alone in the dark night, but the night itself sings my song back to me and creates, as you said, a dialogue.  What I (the flute) thought was a soliloquy is a reminder that I'm never alone.  I liked the built in contradiction of the name, but I really do need to learn how to spell it correctly!

MM - wow.  I have to admit I found your description of chordleading charts and all the rest a bit much for the brain.  If you're trying to get away from functional harmony, it seems counterproductive to create new functions or new chords.  It's more like doing the same thing as functional harmony but not quite so rooted in acoustical realities.  Perhaps even the terms "melody" and "harmony" are not quite the way to think of it?

I didn't think of harmony at all in my Soliloquy, as in chords or functionality.  The main goal for the piano part was overtones.  The pedaling is vital and creates an envelope of sound that surrounds the flute.  I used the opening notes several times for continuity, but in different contexts.  Most of the piano part is either sounds that create good ongoing overtones or sounds that imitate what the flute just did, or a combination of those.  This is more a contrapuntal piece than a piece with "melody and harmony". 

I have to admit that I didn't "think" much about this piece, but rather spent a lot of time outdoors listening to the night sky.  The result is what I heard.  I really didn't approach this intellectually, but rather emotionally and poetically.  Hope this makes sense, even though it is different from your various approaches.  There is no right or wrong, and we each must find our own way.

Well Julie, whatever guided you here worked out allright. The flute is so sensuous and evocative as a solo and even with midi, that comes across. One can always tell when listening to atonality if the voice is experienced, confident and able to express themselves with the simplest means, just like here.

Mike, thank you so much. Your words mean a lot to me.  If I didn't have a student due to arrive any minute, I'd write more, but at least I had time to say thanks!

Julie, thank you for providing such insight. I might be misunderstanding what you mean, or if you even meant anything at all, about your mention of melody and harmony not being quite the way to think about it but given your further points it sounds like another way to think of it would be in terms of "event(s) and envelopment". Please correct me if I'm wrong as I want to better understand.
This information in conjunction with previous advice about shape seems to indicate a "big picture" approach and suggests to me that I'm getting caught up in the small details.
Your mention of the concepts of continuity, overtones, imitation and poetic strike me as important. Now that I think about it, poetic might be the key reason for some proper compositions not being very good and some improper compositions being incredible.

Hello again MM-

Marion Woodman, the great writer, poet, Jungian analyst and just plain amazing woman, once made a very astute suggestion.  She said each of us should practice our craft every single day so that "when the God comes in" we will have the skills to notate what we've heard or experienced.  Her craft is writing, one of yours and one of mine is music. 

I don't want you to think that I just went outside and listened to the night sky and then wrote Soliloquy without really thinking about it.  On the surface, that's what happened, but in reality I have spent every day of my life since I was about 8 years old studying my craft.  Over the years I studied at two different music schools, and then with four different composers beyond college.  I spent an entire summer poring over Messiaen's "My Musical Language" about 3 - 5 hours per day.  I analyzed and sight-sang Bach four-part chorales twice a week for a year with three other musicians.  I did the Fux counterpoint exercises many times over.  I did the Auralia/Musition exercises 2 - 3 times per week for several years.  I listened to everything I could get my ears on.  For at least three years I listened to classical music 4 - 5 hours per day, mostly with scores.  I still listen at least an hour or more every day, again with scores.  I'd say overall I do more studying than composing.  I'm a scholar by nature, and I love to study, so it's just like breathing.

I started teaching composition to keep my skills alive and well and to encourage and guide other incredibly talented composers.  The students and I do the Joanne Haroutounian Explorations in Music workbooks which are great for theory, analysis and composing.  The more advanced students do the Royal School of Music theory program, which I oversee.  We also continue to do Auralia/Musition and for the younger crowd the really fun "Tonic Tutor" theory and ear-training games.  We listen and analyze, we work on shape, texture, voicing, orchestration and so on in addition to the basic building blocks of melody, harmony and rhythm.

In other words I study and think about music so much that when I get ready to write a piece I don't have to think too much about details - they are ingrained in my vocabulary.  I really didn't want to suggest that emotions and poetic sensibilities alone can create a good piece of music.  When combined with extensive study and training, they might make the difference, as you said between "not very good" and "incredible".  Let's hope that could be the case!! 

Good luck with your studies and all your compositional projects.  You might enjoy some study that isn't related to a piece you're writing.  That way you can concentrate on details of particular skills until they come naturally to you, then have a bigger picture when you're working on a piece.  That method may or may not work for you, but it has worked well for me.  Hope these ideas help!

By the way, MM, your description of "event(s) and envelopment" is perfect for Soliloquy.  I've started using "foreground" and "background" terms a lot instead of "melody and accompaniment", but I really prefer your two words for some situations. Envelopment suggests something quite enchanting!

Hi Julie, You stated,

In my Soliloquy for Flute and Piano, which I've attached, I wanted to express the beauty and longing of the night sky, the mystery of a solitude that never feels alone, and the feeling of reaching for something that can never be grasped. 

These are not poor words, in any language. This is a sentiment that 'we humans' have been attempting to express for eons.

Whether inspired from within and 'projected',  or inspired by some divine connection beyond our ken, for me, this is Art. This is the essence of what true art should be. In Nature, form follows function... and I think this applies to music as well.

I doubt that without the 'words' you chose to use, I would have been able to interpret this piece in the same way you intended, but I think the title is fitting, yet vague and generic, leaving the element of wonder to the listener's imagination. RS


I have to admit that I didn't "think" much about this piece, but rather spent a lot of time outdoors listening to the night sky.  The result is what I heard.  I really didn't approach this intellectually, but rather emotionally and poetically.  Hope this makes sense, even though it is different from your various approaches.  There is no right or wrong, and we each must find our own way.

I have to agree that composing is more emotion/poetry than intellect/theory.  The ratio is probably 90% poetry to 10% theory.  Although Beethoven planned his symphonies a year in advance, that is certainly not my style.

Thank you for taking the time to explain, Julie.

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