Symphony: Solar Maximum

I am new to Composer's Forum and eager to begin to share my work with other musicians. One of my latest pieces is a new five movement symphony based on our sun's current solar maximum. The five movements are titled: Solar Flares, Solar Corona, Solar Spicules, Dance of the Magnetic Lines of Force and finally Solar Maximum. The work is scored for full orchestra, although the orchestration changes from movement to movement. For example, the second movement uses a wind machine, bells and chimes and a solo violin, the third movement includes two solo violins, the fourth movement includes a full saxophone section, plus jazz riffs in the brass and woodwinds. The final movement includes pipe organ. URL to my SoundCloud page and the piece:

I realize this will most likely never be performed live, as it is for a large orchestra, (plus additions), but this is what I hear, so wrote it down. Fortunately, my Notion software includes reasonable orchestral samples, so its rendition of the music is not too bad - somewhat believable.

I'm hoping you'll all enjoy this and welcome comments. Merry Christmas to all!


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  • Hi Ken, and welcome to the boards.

    This is certainly an ambitious work to start off with, and I think it is rather successful. The piece contains some unique instrumentation, but it is clear you have a handle on orchestration and a strong working knowledge of composition. This must have taken a ton of effort—congratulations. I read through your bio, and it seems you went to school for music education and bass trombone at some point, but you also note you are self-taught. I assume you mean self-taught in regards to composition and orchestration? You've made excellent progress if that's the case. How did you go about your self-teaching, and what resources did you study and utilize?

    Anyways, it is a work to be proud of—a pleasure to listen to and not a chore to get through. Each movement holds its own. The first movement was lively and energetic, with some nice use of what sounded like pentatonic scales at many moments and an uplifting force beneath. I enjoyed the softer, mysterious, and brooding energy of the 2nd movement the most—the writing for the pitched percussion here was refined. The 3rd movement was a close 2nd, and I thoroughly enjoyed the quirky nature and attitude of the writing here.

    At times, the music almost presents itself as the underscore of a game, which is no bad thing. I think the effective yet, at times, synthetic playback of your notation software brought about this connotation. However, it is not a negative observation. At times, the synthetic nature of the playback aided the music, in my opinion, rather than detracted from it. I agree that the playback, however, is not "too bad," as you put it, albeit it might be a touch dated by today's virtual orchestra standards. Indeed, it is realistic to acknowledge the instrumental forces you've called upon and taper expectations of a live performance, though you never know. I quite often imagined in my mind what this would really sound like if recorded live—what a full and intense sound that would be at many moments. I think the casual listener might overlook the orchestration at play in many moments, and again, it's a sad consequence of synthetic rendering, but we all get it and have to work with the most practical options.

    That being said, I then listened to your sonata for organ and trumpet—a really delightful piece, especially the 2nd movement, which I genuinely enjoyed very much. A work like this might be worth pursuing the effort of hiring a musician to play and record at least the trumpet part. The organ part is convincing enough on its own, but recording a live trumpet player over that would really breathe so much life into that piece and may not be all too expensive, if you dig deep enough. The work, while having its challenging moments, should be well within the scope of an experienced player. I encourage you to consider it!
    • Hi David -

      Thank you very much for listening to Solar Maximum. I appreciate your comments and am glad to hear that you believe the piece has some merit. I enjoyed writing it over the course of last summer, when very hot and humid here in SC and indoor activities are welcome.

      Yes, I graduated from the Oberlin Conservatory in bass trombone and education back in 1971. I've never had a composition or orchestration lesson. I've just listened to a lot of music and played in orchestras all my life and absorbed what I heard. Some influencers are Mahler, Hindemith, Ravel, Ives and Copeland along with some of the great early composers such as Bach, Gabrielli, Schutz, and Holborne.

      Composing is mandatory for me now. I'm grateful I've not run out of ideas. And writing for jazz groups I'm finding is gratifying as well. My latest thing is what I call Jazz Migration (also on SoundCloud) that traces, in my imagination, the evolution of jazz from its earliest years to around 1965. I'd be interested in your thoughts on this album too, if you are interested.

      The trumpet sonata was written for an old Oberlin Conservatory roommate of mine, who played co- principal trumpet in the Seattle Symphony for many years. I'm glad you like it. It has been a favorite of mine for a long time. He did perform it once in the 1990s, but the performance was marred by a poor rendering by the organist. It would be great to hear it done again properly, and I have offered it to several trumpet soloists gratis, but no one has picked it up. (Unknown composers typically remain unknown.)

      Once again, thanks for your comments.

  • I already made some comments on this on your "status" page before you opened a new thread for this work. I too enjoyed it, particularly the second and third sections (which seems to match DavidL's reaction) and returning to it, am getting more used to the individual idiom. By the way, I wasn't familiar with Debussy's quote "there is no theory, all you need do is listen. Pleasure is the law." but that sums up my own attitude as well.
  • I listened to the four pieces of Jazz Migration. Speechless, except to say, Bravo. -Ray
    • Ray -
      Well, what can I say except that I'm glad you enjoyed the Jazz Migration set! Do you believe I was able to capture the jazz styles of those years ok? Obviously, I was not there in person.

      I noticed a comment you made to another member about Dave Brubeck and since you are checking out some of my jazz works, may I lead you to my Take Two on Five piece for big band? This is respectfully remembering both Dave B. and Stan Kenton. I tried to send you the URL for this, but the site will not allow internet addresses in these discussions. If you go to my SoundCloud page a scroll down to Happy Toes or Take Two on Five, I'd be happy to share this with you.

      Please let me know what you think. Thanks.

      By the way, I'm glad to share scores for this music if you'd like to see them - for your own use, of course.
      • Oh yes, your SoundCloud page is nicely laid out and I am planning on listening to Take Two…. and your others later today.

        To answer your question on Jazz Migration, yes, you capture mood and style from the periods you delineated and then reassembled those into representative abstractions which compelled focused listening on my part. I compare Jazz Migrations to Picasso’s Man With a Guitar, or Woman in an Armchair….. real world, identifiable elements deconstructed then reassembled as an abstraction. I thought your concept and execution were brilliant. I couldn’t offer a proper response last night because I needed to process what I heard in your music. Yea, I’m going to hit your other stuff. -Ray
  • Finally got around to listening to this. Wow! I'm blown away. Each movement is beautifully constructed and definitely evokes the intended subject strongly. Your unusual instrumentations definitely work very well to convey the designated themes. I especially enjoyed the pitch bends in the 4th movement, exactly matches how I picture wavy magnetic lines in my mind!

    Unlikely as it may be, I'd love to hear this performed by a real orchestra, I think it would be a ground-shaking experience, especially the 1st and last movements!
    • Hello HS Tech
      I'm glad to see that you enjoyed the symphony! This was my summer of 2023 "sanity preserving" project. I like to write music with some "program" to it. Just like writing music to a text, it gives me a mental framework to build on. I'd love to hear this done with a real orchestra, and did offer it to the Americans Composers Orchestra in NY. They expressed some interest, but you know how that goes: when the chips are down, nothing happens unless you can pay to play. The first and last movements would "raise the roof" of any concert hall if this were performed as designed, especially if the last movement were done with a large pipe organ included. What fun!
      As usual, if you'd like to see a score, just let me know.
      • I'm all too aware that to get performed in this day and age, you pretty much need the $$$, otherwise you're just forgotten by the wayside. (Unless you're one of the extremely rare few who make it to the top and have people begging to perform their works. But if that describes you, you probably wouldn't be on this forum right now. :-P) Hiring an orchestra is wayyy beyond my budget, so for the time being symphonies and grand orchestral works are in the realm of the hypothetical for me. When I was young and naïve I dreamed of writing said works anyway, but now that I'm not-young and my free time is a limited resource, I've had to rethink a lot of decisions.
        • Yes, I certainly understand!
          It seems that a social connection to someone with "sway" is the only way to get noticed, unless you can buy your way in.
          I'm spending lots of time composing now, as I am finally, finally, retired. (I worked in high-tech. Industries for 30 years, retired, and then my wife and I had our own business raising 100% grass fed American Bison and selling the meat. After 15 years of that, I retired again.) During those "real job" years, my playing and composing was curtailed by lack of time and energy. Especially when we had our own business. But, during all those years I did compose when I could and realized that it was the only thing I could do that allowed me perfect freedom. I could write what I wanted to and was beholden to no one. If it got performed and brought pleasure to others, great, but it was not as important as the independent creative process to me.
          I've been asked by friends why write large orchestral works, as they will most probably never be performed. I tell them because this is what I hear and need to write. Furthermore, I spent over 50 years playing bass trombone in orchestras, (on and off), and love the sound and power of an orchestra! So, I write for orchestras. I've written lots of music for smaller groups: (concert band, string orchestra, small wind groups, jazz bands, etc., and they don't get performed either) but orchestras are my first love. So, I won't give it up, regardless....
          PS - I thank God for these new computer programs that can create synthetic performances. It is not real, but better than nothing!
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