Thoughts, please

Hi all.  I thought I'd share something with you.  This piece was written for our County Youth Orchestra when they did a concert tour in China.  It was well received by both orchestra and audiences.

Just to set the background Wong Fei Hung was both a Chinese medicine practicioner and martial arts master.  The piece depicts his birth in the Pearl River delta, his childhood (A), mastery of the martial arts (C), his renunciation of martial arts and medical practice (E) where the flute represents air (feng) and the harp water (shui), and ultimately his return to violence (H) after his son is killed.

The whole is based upon a chinese folk song "On the General's Orders" about Wong, and is basicall a set of variations on that.  The original is in a Chinese key, G gung, and has western harmonies ion G major and G minor.

Just to note, the piece was finished in 2010 and is completed.  I am not asking for thoughts for revision purposes, but to learn for future works.

Thanks, Alan

wongfeihung final - Full Score.pdf


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  • So you are saying that this piece got performed live? Then what did the horn and trumpet players think of their high D's?

  • Trumpets are used to top Cs Ds and Es these days - even higher on occasions. The particular trumpet player this was performed by had no trouble, and regularly plays far higher in jazz groups. Horn admittedly struggled, but coped.

    Rodney Carlyle Money said:

    So you are saying that this piece got performed live? Then what did the horn and trumpet players think of their high D's?

    Thoughts, please
    Hi all.  I thought I'd share something with you.  This piece was written for our County Youth Orchestra when they did a concert tour in China.  It wa…
  • Hi Allen,

    While this is not unpleasant to listen to, I found I didn't get through it because it seemed too monochromatic to me. The same sounds and melodies kept occurring over and over, when I wanted to hear some contrast and variety in mood, tempo, tone. As an experiment, I dragged the sound bar forward through the piece and listened for a few seconds in various spots. Almost every time I did, I heard something from the first few pages. Thanks for posting and best to you -


  • Thanks for the comments, Gav.  It hadn't occurred to me at the time that keeping everything centred around a G tonality would have this effect.  I thought I had sufficient variance in tempo and style to get away with it, but point well made, to be borne in mind in future works.


  • Hi Alan, just some quick thoughts on a first listening and reading through the score:

    I think that the appearance of the score needs some improvement cause I see some dynamics hairpins  and other marks obscuring some notes and look as they are attached to the next stave. Look for instance bar 51 to 55. It needs more space between staves. This could be done easily on Sibelius or Finale.

    I also find the score lacking in articulations,  (and bowing marks and slurs), especially in the string parts. Look again at bar 51. The upward run by flute, trumpet, 1st violin and cello, has no indication of any articulation. Do you mean it like this? (To me the character of some motives calls for some legato playing, but this is not required in the score).

    I did not think that the high writing for trumpets and horns would be particularly taxing to professional players. But why write as transposing instruments? A score in C is better understood by lazy brains like mine, and of course you can give transposing parts to performers where needed.

    Arco and pizzicato markings  or tempo indications don’t look their best in capital letters.

    On the musical side I agree mainly with Gav's criticism. The thematic material (not bad at all in itself), could have been slightly changed, manipulated, varied and modulated to other keys for a more effective exploitation of the original idea(s).

    6'17'' is too long for one single tonality.

    But all in all there is much potential in your structure to be improved on.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Hi Alan,

    I think there is enough variety to go around, not every piece needs harmonic variety. Having said that, though, I felt the passage starting at H was a bit anticlimactic; it should be building up toward a climactic ending, but somehow it doesn't quite manage to "take off", if you know what I mean. I can hear throughout the piece references to well-known themes from old Chinese kung-fu movies, and some of those had soundtracks that were more ... intense, perhaps is the word? Although they were mostly confined to the pentatonic scale, they managed to use it in a way that's not quite as "bright" as you have it at H; I thought you could have perhaps used similar devices to intensify the momentum starting at H, perhaps with more bombastic use of percussion and more declamatory unison/octave lines.

    (Or perhaps I'm just being misled by the electronic rendering, which through no fault of yours sounds rather deflated? Not that this is in any way your concern -- no composer should have to deal with such issues in electronic playback -- but it's the sad reality we have to put up with at the present time.)

  • HI all.  Thanks for all the comments.  I'll try to give my reactions to each.

    Socrates - Agreed about score appearance.  I thought I'd sorted all that out previously.  This was written on a previous version of Sib (5 I think) and I don't know whether opening it for the first time in 7.5 has caused some of these layout issues.  Probably not, but I should have checked the PDF file before uploading.  Fair point about articulations, and I remember adding some slurs, accents, staccatos in rehearsal.  I must have forgotten to update the sib master file afterwards.  As far as bowings go, I know next to nothing about the black art of string playing, and left that to the section leaders to sort out.  Transposing scores is what I'm used to, and always work that way.  Something to do with my brass band background, probably.

    Bob - Threre was a video made of the performance, which I will try to find.  May not be able to share it, though, due to safeguarding laws in UK about displaying images of minors, but I may be able to extract the audio, which was very poor quality.  One of the Chinese teachers had a home video camera, and the mic sensitivity was set way too high, with the result that it sounds overdriven almost the whole way through.  And your second post sets out a valid point about sibelius et al.  I remember at college writing out stuff by hand on score sheets.  I just wish sib could export a better rendition, and preferably as mp3.  Listening again here shows the limitations of both sib playback and the terrible converter I used (what wav-mp3 converter do you guys use?)  If I can find the audio I will try to upload the performance, whcih was given at the opening concert for the Asian Games in 2010. (Pic here shows rehearsal on stage)

    HS - Yeah, more percussion.  You shouldnt say that to a jazz drummer, we get carried away ;) But you're right.  More like a kung fu movie soundtrack, which was sort of the sense I was aiming for anyway.  But I did want to get the marriage between east and west very obvious (because of the audience and the performers)

    Thanks again

  • Bob, I didn't mean to come across as despising electronic playback in any way; if I did, I apologize. Especially, since I myself would have been almost completely incapacitated when it comes to orchestral composition, had I not had the means to hear electronically whether what I wrote is even anywhere near what I hear in my head. I merely bemoan the fact that electronic playback, at the present time, isn't as good as it can be, and therefore for people like myself who do not have ready access to a live ensemble who would play our works, we can only ever get a probably-inaccurate impression of what our work actually sounds like in real life. Thus I'm in the constant struggle of how much to trust the electronic playback, which may be far removed from the sound from a live orchestra, and whether I'm unconsciously falling into the trap of writing what sounds good on the computer but may not necessarily sound well in an actual performance.

    But if this imperfect means affords more prospective composers an easier entrance into this fine art, then it certainly outweighs its flaws. Nonetheless, the flaws are certainly there, and it is really no fault of the composer but just the unfortunate limitations of current software.

  • Alan,

    It seems you've written a lot of unison for the wind voices.  Explore using them for some harmonic development as well.  The G centric is not the problem to me, it's the lack of timbral variance.  You have a number of instruments available to you, I don't feel you've used them well.

    Sorry Socrates, performance scores should be transposed.  In the midst of a rehearsal, I don't have time to try to decide what note the player has in front of him.  If you want to write in C, that's fine, but publish transposed.  You are correct in that the score needs a lot of editing.  The score is a reflection of our intent and must be clear!  If not, it's just sound design!

    HS, orchestration is a never ending study.  Don't rely on playback from the notation or DAW.  You need to know what the instruments are capable of and what the result of the part will be.  There are no shortcuts to learning this art.  Score study and listening and score study and listening are the only path!

    Keep exploring different ensembles Alan, your brass band work is quite good.  Spend more time learning the other instrument families.


  • I'm rather illiterate in Chinese music, despite being ethnically Chinese myself, but from the little that I know, polyphony is something quite unique to Western music. (That is, polyphony the way we understand it today, as in two or more essentially independent lines of melody.) My impression is that even the idea of doubling at the octave may be absent from traditional Chinese musical thinking, which would mean that it boils down to a lot of unison lines. But of course, I don't think the goal of this piece was to reproduce traditional Chinese music, so one is certainly allowed to take artistic liberties. Much (all?) of modern Chinese music borrows many elements from Western musical concepts anyway, so it's really more about reproducing the mood / exotic timbres / pentatonic modalities than any historically accurate reproduction of ancient Chinese music.

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