The Wolf King

Here's a piece I completed a few months ago.

Prestonia is a place we found on a USGS map several years back. It's tucked up in the mountains of West Virginia, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wilderness. .We went on a kind of expedition to see what it was. The old roads were still there but were treacherous and a bit frightening. We arrived to find...nothing... However, it ended up being one of our favorite places. Very peaceful and relaxing. Idyllic, with a beautiful river so clean that it churns blue in some places. We go up there a lot to camp now.

I did an internet search after we returned from the initial trip and found that had been an old logging town that was founded in the late 1800s and disappeared back in the 1920s. From what I could find, life was tough there. The townspeople were basically slaves, cut off from civilization and completely dependent on the logging company. There wasn't a whole lot of information, but I did find one interesting snippet about wolves attacking some children. I thought the juxtaposition of that with the amazing beauty and solitude of the setting would make for a great tragic story. I set out to write a suite, the idea being a sort of play on the story of Little Red Riding Hood. I planned out five parts and began to work on it.

I made it about halfway through the fourth part and suddenly realized it wasn't working. At all. It lacked something. A lot of something. I had put so much into it that I became a little disillusioned with composing. I put it away and couldn't even give it another listen for six or seven monthsa. .

This spring, having learned a little more, matured a little more, I went back over it and realized there were some good motifs and interesting parts that could be salvaged. Most were from the third piece, The Wolf King.

So I took some of the better parts from the other pieces and worked on combining them into a new stand-alone Wolf King. This is the first (completed) song I've ever written in 6/8 time.



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  • Good day, Douglas,

    A fine piece. Conveys open space and - well, you mention it, in the high hills. The opening is airy and spacious. No prizes for guessing this is a genre of music I find easy to listen to.

    Its twists and turns make it slightly unpredictable and episodic - like at approx o'36", then 0'45", 1'09"...2'03 (some magical scoring there) otherwise too many to mention often brought in by a surprise modulation in contrasting timbres. This is all fine by me. It's how I like music!  Makes much use of small themes and motifs. Through-composed - I could be wrong but it doesn't matter.  

    The close needs special mention. First listen I was watching the Soundcloud progress and I thought crikey there won't be enough time left to end it decently - but you did. The hammered chords were fine but the final one sounded final.

    Altogether a great piece, engaging. A score would have helped pinpoint a couple of things but I accept you think it's better we don't have one!



    • Thank you for listening and the feedback. And most of all, the kind compliments. It's good to have people to listen and comment again. Unfortunately, none of my friends and family really appreciate anything that isn't played on a radio station somewhere (love them all dearly, but...).

      The score. To be honest, I'm always shy about posting them because, one, I dread going back and cleaning them up - they are usually a mess - and two, having no formal music training, I always fear that a score will highlight my weaknesses. For example, I was working on a piece a while back and had a key change. After writing a long passage, I realized that I was using accidentals so that the key never really changed. I could have eliminated it. It was kind of luck that I caught it.

      But I probably need to get over this because having someone point those things out is the best way to learn.

      Since this is a critique section - and I'm already into it a bit - I guess I can post some self critique here.

      I need to learn more about the instruments and what is possible and what is impossible. I often wonder if my run of 32nd notes at 90 bpm is actually going to be playable by a human on the instrument it's written for.
      Even though I put a ton of work into a piece, sometimes I settle. Something will sound good, but maybe with a little more work, it could be great.
      On the opposite end, sometimes I overwork stuff. Part of that is the nature of the medium. It's hard to get a full, rich sound from midi, so I sometimes compensate by adding more and more parts.
      I want to learn to vary more between melodic and dissonant. A little dissonance makes that melodic part exponentially sweeter. That little sweet part can make the subsequent dissonance exponentially more dramatic. I need to exploit that more.
      I would also like to get better on having more tempo changes. It's something I ignored until recently.
      I feel like I write too much in the dramatic and minor keys. I've been thinking of trying a little exercise where I only allow myself a minor chord every 8 or even 16 measures. Hoping it would make me more comfortable with "happier" music.


      Here is the score, BTW.

      918.9 KB file on MEGA
      • Thank you for the score. I'll study it later on today when allowed enough time - the rest of the family settled down watching their TV.

        I understand your concerns about scores. I was in the same situation - posted music but never the score. I still initially work on paper and set it up in a daw. To give it a kind of humanity I never work to the grid and the music notation view it offers is SO literal it resolves my piano-roll to 1/128 notes. Besides, its notation view is poor and difficult to edit. I eventually bought some notation software just for the engraving but this means a further bash in the daw, a copy to snap every note to the grid.

        Then send a midi to the notation software. It still needs a lot of editing, adding all those nice things like dynamics and instructions; pagination and dealing with dropouts. .xml is hopeless so I now send a multi-track midi. So what took maybe a week to compose ends up taking a month to get to score. Just a pain.

        I formerly wrote scores by hand and I doubt the software is much quicker but the advantage is extracting parts, so just in case a piece is accepted somewhere that'll save a fair bit.

        Still, like your work, my orchestral things tend toward 30 staves, maybe more which are difficult to read on a small screen.

        As an afterthought, does formal training count for a lot, if you have a good inner ear and can write down and mould it from there? It can help getting to what you want quicker but that comes with experience anyway. I find I rely on formal training only in formal situations which aren't many these days. Like I still work in 4/4 and technically C major but nothing is in C major and rarely 4 beats to the bar. Well, if Stravinsky could get away with his mess of off-beat accents and stuff in The Rite, why shouldn't I?!

        Cheers, and thanks for sight of the score.


        • Good to hear your experiences.  I agree that rules and formulas can suck the ingenuity out of any creative work.  There is a balance there.  It would be nice to know when I hear that chord in my head, knowing what chord it is and what key it is in, but like you said, it may come with experience.  One thing I've noticed in the last few months is that I dont have to search for individual notes like I used to.  Maybe one day the chords and keys will get that way too!  Gives me hope.  

  • Wonderful score and rich in variation, unpredictable harmonies and rhythms and still easy to listen too. It has something filmish and narrative, which I always like. Music has to tell something, I consider it as a form of communication.

    Thanks for sharing,


    • Thank you very much!  I agree that music tells a story.  Something I'm still getting used to with orchestration.  I always love to hear what people "see" when they listen.  It's always interesting.  

  • Very well done Douglas, good sound, development of themes, orchestration and dynamics, you have a good command of musical technique and materials.  This would be great for video but can stand alone also.  My own personal taste would want some more 'modern' touches but that won't get you very far in this business!  Thanks for posting.

    • Thanks, Ingo.  I wanted this one to be a little more listenable.  I think that was one of the things I was missing in the original suite.  It was clever.  It hit all the points.  But in the end, it wasn't fun to listen to.  

  • Hi Douglas,

    Excellent rendering (according to my hearing).

    I noted the beginning carefully.  Wide open/spread parts both pitch and colourwise...

    gives a beautiful feeling of space and sets the stage.  Then melody enters with close

    accompaniment.  Could be done better? Maybe.  But the trick is there.  Gorgeous.


    I liked the existence of sections/sentences existing in a through-composed flaw.

    The problem is you end up using too many material, which makes it tiring after a point.

    I could not perceive a base line or urline if you like as in Schenker.  A base line,

    that can be remembered may help a lot.  I mean a base for example E in one section

    than F in the following and E again in the next...


    You may put/use any dissonant interval/chord over a pedal with no problem and create

    freshness which will help your economy on using colors/instruments...

    I am not against through-composition as Dane has voiced but economy please ---

    a human being can perceive seven plus minus two things (Miller theorem)...

    You may group things but still I feel I am lost....


    True I was lost in the beauty of your work Douglas, if that is what you have intended for.



    Note:You and Dane will make me by a large largggeee monitor.  Thank you for the score.

  • If I may offer you a little criticism, I wouldn't try to come up with something new in the orchestration every few bars or phrases. I also find the harmony a bit flat. Not much is happening.

    The type of music you are trying to write requires a thorough knowledge of harmony, a certain dexterity in voice leading, and a lot of experience in orchestration. But you probably already know this. You're obviously talented. You just need some more time.

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