Kenley Kristofferson

Composer. Teacher. Writer. Voice Actor.

Category: Composition

NEW PIECE – “Colossus”

Hi everybody,

So, it’s been a big year.  In the last eight months, my family grew by one and I took a one-year sabbatical from teaching to pursue a Master’s degree in Composition from Brandon University.  I know, perhaps we could have timed that better but, as the old saying goes, “the right time is when it happens,” right?

Anyway, I’ve certainly learned a lot this year (from both experiences above) and I’m ready to share my second semester piece for concert band, “Colossus.” It’s a Level 5 piece–my first one–and it’s a programmatic tale about the dangers of human hubris… oh, and hunting a giant.

Giants are in folklore and media from across the world, though I’ve long been fascinated with the creatures who protect (rather than attack) humankind; the gryphon is one such creature, but what if it were a giant? Something like humans, but bigger? My first thought is that humanity would rather protect itself and that there would be great honour to whomever slayed the giant (because we are arrogant and often don’t trust what is there to protect us, right?).  However, even more provocative questions are “who will protect you when the giant is gone? And what were they protecting you from that you never even saw? And was removing your guardian even a good idea?” And my favourite one: “What happens now?”

(And if you think that humanity doesn’t behave that way, look no further than Brexit).

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You might also be thinking that this sounds a whole lot like the plot to Team Ico’s 2005 release Shadow of the Colossus for PlayStation 2 and you’d be right. In fact, there’s a great big quote for you about two-thirds of the way in.  I drew a lot of inspiration from the game’s narrative (including the piece’s title), but especially from the music.  I studied Gus Tredwell’s (The Slow Pianist on YouTube) piano transcriptions and looked at how all of that music was put together.  The title Colossus implies a Greek sensibility, as opposed to “giant” or “jotun” or something, so all of that is in there.

Even the structure has a Shadow of the Colossus element to it: It starts strong, but there is a long slow build as the giantslayer traverses the landscape, gradually growing in intensity as the colossus gets clearer into view, despite still being far away.  When the battle finally engages (with the band restating the opening motive), the music is dark and dramatic until the hero takes the upper hand, when it gets epic and victorious.  That last section, however, is very short and where we expect a triumphant ending, we get an unsettled ending, as though we may have done something we shouldn’t have.

Musically, I’m pretty outside of my comfort zone here.  There’s a lot of diminished and augmented harmony in the first half as dissonances stack through the band.  The second half of the piece is quite chromatic over pedal tones, so the different sections feel more like key areas and less like harmonic motion from chord to chord (slow harmonic motion is something I really worked on throughout the piece).

So, I hope you enjoy it and, if you want to play it, send me a note (in the “Contact” field) and let me know!

-K

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Sabbatical Roundup – Highlights

Today is the last day of my sabbatical.  Who would’ve thought 150 days would blow by so quickly?

It’s been a very productive five months, though, and I thought that I’d share some of my favourite events and projects from my sabbatical time.

1) Premiering Morgun with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

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There is something very surreal about getting to work with some of the best musicians in your community.  Writing something for the WSO has always been something of an unattainable goal in my musical life.  I always sensed that they were on a different level than I am (and they really are), but a select few people with the right connections took a risk on me and, before I knew it, I had the commission – paid for and all.

While the premiere was amazing, I’ll never forget the moment that they started rehearsing it.  Both the conductor and the ensemble were in plain clothes and only Matthew Patton (composer and curator of the Winnipeg New Music Festival, which all of you should attend), Peter Johnson (editor of the Lögberg Heimskringla newspaper), Vikingur Ólafsson (the amazing Icelandic pianist with whom I had the privilege of sharing the concert) and I were in the hall.  When the strings started stacking the harmony through those opening measures, there was a feeling of awe and beauty like I’ve never felt before.

I’ll write more about the experience later on because there’s just so much to say.  It is quite surprising where music takes you.  Here are some pictures from the premiere!

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2) Meeting Maddy’s Mom

During the summer, I was asked to write a piece to commemorate the life of Madison Fleming, a 10th-grader from Olds, AB who had died suddenly just after school had been dismissed for the summer.  While the research was emotional, I was hardly prepared to walk into this girl’s home and sit with her Mom, Pam.

I wrote about the experience in Olds in an earlier post, but I didn’t write about meeting Pam – I’m not sure why, I just didn’t.  Her house was beautiful and well-kept and she greeted us at the door.  She had a friend with her and they were clearly talking about Maddy before Karri (the band teacher and commissioner) and I arrived, but she still smiled as she led us inside.

While looking at pictures and hearing stories, it was clear that the family was so happy and fulfilled before Maddy died.  While she was a fighter, she had her whole family behind her and they cherished every moment.  When you see pictures of the family at the lake or at her baseball game, there was a sense that no time was ever wasted, but instead was genuinely spent together.

Pam is a profoundly kind person and you know as soon as you see her.  She just brings an energy of warmth wherever she goes and I think about her family often.  It is quite surprising where music takes you.  #Kindnessmatters

3) Banff!

It took me a few weeks to really realize how transformative my time at the Banff Centre really was.  I worked so hard, I was exhausted, I was bitchy in the middle of it, but it was so worth it.  I met some incredible human beings, some wonderful musicians, and I got to work full-time on music for an ensemble for which I’d never written before.

Some of the people I got to meet:

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Sammy, Kelsey, Abby and Neil

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These lovely ladies, Kelsey and Jodi

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Here’s Abby, Jodi and Kenna, as well as Team Australia (Jessica and Xina, who are some of my very favourites)

And so many others too! Including the wonderful Sarah Slean, who is also one of my very, very favourite human beings.

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And here’s where we were…

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4) The Release of Horus Heresy: Drop Assault

I’ve worked on very few contracts/commissions that actually scare me – DuckTales: Scrooge’s Loot, The Matters of Kindness – but Drop Assault was definitely one of them.

I play Dungeons & Dragons with someone who is very serious about the Warhammer 40K universe, but particularly the Horus Heresy origin story of it.  When I found out that Complex Games had gotten the rights to make a game set in that universe, I was hoping that I could write for it and, thankfully, I was the guy.

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The advance for the contract was almost-entirely spent on upgrading my instrument libraries.  I knew that what I had wasn’t good enough for a game of that scope and depth, so I took inventory of what I needed and went up from there.

That being said, I’m super proud of the game and I’m quite pleased with the score.  We worked really hard on it and it took many resubmissions to get it right, but we definitely got it.  You can pick it up here if you want to check it out!

5) Finishing the “Icelandic Folk Song Suite”

It was the hardest thing I ever wrote – and by “hardest,” I mean the most technically complicated and harmonically complex.  It’s Level 5 (second hardest level in Concert Band music), four movements and eleven minutes long.  I had it kicking around in my head for about a year, but I knew that I had to get it down, I just needed the time…

And it took about six solid months.  Granted, I didn’t work on it every day, but it was always there writing itself in my head as I was doing other things.

It premieres on May 4th, 2015 by the Winnipeg Wind Ensemble.  Going to be a wild good time!

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There is so much more I could write about (getting published in The Teacher, for example), but there’s something to be said for just having the time and energy to do things right.  Not to be rushed to finish a commission or a game contract, but just having the time to make it as great as it can be.

I am so grateful to my school and school division for allowing me to take one semester to write.

Now back to the classroom 🙂

-K

 

Sabbatical Week 1 Roundup!

Holy noodle, what a week!

I’ve got quite a bit done this week, which is my very first week of my very first (and potentially only) sabbatical.

I didn’t always think of it that way, though.  My first few days were quite frustrating with the feeling that I didn’t get enough done.  I put in between 4-5 hours per day because there were things coming up during the day or at night (meetings, get-togethers, shindigs in the last throes of summer).  I’ve spent all of my time on Movement IV of the Icelandic Folk Song Suite and was averaging about creating 15-20 seconds per day.

The very first thing that I set down was the woodwind run on the second statement of the theme.  This one:

When I told my father-in-law about the 15-20 seconds per day, he laughed and said “you’d better speed it up!” I laughed too because I was thinking the same thing.  It wasn’t moving fast enough.

Today, I buckled down and wrote hard from 10am-5:00pm (with half an hour to run errands and eat a snack) and was now up to 1:40 in the piece.  Today was my first day where I really put a big dent in the piece: I worked out a bunch of the runs and voicings on paper, figured out where most things are going to go, and put almost all of it into Finale.

Then I looked at what I had actually put into the computer and it was 12 reasonably-complete pages.  It wasn’t that I’d only written 1:40 of music, I had written over 130 measures of music in four days.  That’s a lot!

(…for me, anyway).

 

PS: Movement IV is flippin’ fast.

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The adage remains true: When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

I’ll be busy most of Saturday, but I think that I’ll put some good time in on Sunday.  It’s really great to have the time to really work out the music the way that it needs to.  It gets performed in May, and will need some time for rehearsal, so there’s time to get it right.  I’ve got four months to the premiere (I’ll be gone almost all of November, but more on that later!) and it’s going to be awesome 🙂

-K

 

“Betty Boop Dance Card” Released!

bbdclogoHoly smokes, “Betty Boop Dance Card” is out for iOS!

I’m really proud of this score and it pushed me harder than ever before.  It is, by an enormous margin, the most music I’ve ever written for a game, clocking in at approximately 46 minutes of music.  The score is incredibly diverse – from swing to rock to 8-bit to modern pop… it’s got a lot going on.

It’s put together by the awesome folks at Fowl Moon Studios and we’re super excited to share it with you!

You can pick it up at the iOS App Store FOR FREE!

I learned a lot while I was writing this game.  I learned how to write a sax soli properly (from poring over Sammy Nestico’s arranging book), I learned how to use the VI chord effectively in a major-key turnaround, and I learned how to harness the YMCK 8-bit plugin for some pretty serious chiptune action.  Okay fine, other skills too, but getting swing chord progressions under my pencil was game-changing.

If you’re still thinking about it, here’s the trailer 😉

Prairie Wedding is Available!

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Happy Easter!

The day is here! Prairie Wedding is published and available for purchase! You can find it at the Daehn Publications website! (or your favourite local music dealer!)

It feels like so long ago that I submitted it for the 2012 CBA Composition Competition and here we are, halfway through 2014 and it’s finally in print.  I don’t mean that in a critical way – that’s just how long things take in the arts, especially when publication is involved.

I am so, so, so grateful to Larry Daehn for taking a risk on my and publishing BOTH Filum Vitae and Prairie Wedding.  Seriously, what a great human being.

Below is a recording by the ever-awesome Cleveland Symphonic Winds under the direction of Loras John Schissel.

When the spark catches…

So, I worked on this game called DuckTales: Scrooge’s Loot that was made by Complex Games and published by Disney.  My last post was about it and, now that the game is out, it’s starting to make some waves.

I’ve been following online magazines like Destructoid and Touch Arcade for a long time and today I saw DTSL on both of those this afternoon.  Then on Gamezebo and through YouTube videos.  There’s been so much hub-bub about DuckTales: Remastered that this game has really caught some of the mags off guard.  And really, how many people are expecting a third-person, team-based DuckTales shooter? 🙂

Very cool.

Very.  Very.  Cool.

(It would be even cooler if they mentioned the music :P)

DuckTales! Woo-oo!

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I’m so glad that I can talk about this now.  I can’t believe I got this gig – it’s one of those types.  The type that keeps you up at night from being both excited and terrified about writing it.  Where you’re out for dinner and you can’t stop thinking about how you voiced the harmony coming into the B section of whatever, or if you really want to double the melody in octaves off the top of a piece.  It’s that type 🙂

DuckTales: Scrooge’s Loot soft-launched in mid-July and I couldn’t be happier.  “Soft-launch” means that it launched in a region (Canada, in our case) without much hub-bub so that the technical bugs can be worked out before it goes live around the world.  I’m not sure when the worldwide launch is, but I can still talk about it.

Essentially, the DuckTales villains have stolen Scrooge’s loot and he needs you to get it back.  It’s a multiplayer third-person shooter and it’s pretty fun! The plunger gun is my favourite – yes, there’s a plunger gun.

Sadly, I can’t post the music because I don’t own it anymore.   Sorry, gang.  But if you want to hear it (and have an iOS-capable device), then you can download it for free below!

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/ducktales-scrooges-loot/id638515629?mt=8

More to come!
Kenley

PS: Waaaaaaaaaay more to come.  Some fun things in the works!

PPS: The most fun part to write? Unlocking the perfect slap bass sound in the opening.  Which slap bass? This slap bass:

Music Ed Monday – The Space Between

I stopped complaining about how busy I was a long time ago because I realized that I wasn’t really as busy as most people, especially parents… and especially moms.  I have no kids to drive to soccer practice, I have no lunches to make, I have very little laundry to do (comparatively), I enjoy my job, I have an easy commute…

Organizationally, my life is pretty good and I’m grateful for that.

Sometimes, I forget and I take on new commitments, work extra late at school, and take on new composing projects.  And some times are just busier than others, right? That’s real life.  I often feel like that’s my whole life, then I have to remind myself of this post’s first paragraph.

Yesterday, I had some contract work that I had to finish.  I had been working on it for ten weeks and I was at the end of my rope.  It had to get done that day.  No more extensions, no more self-deceptions, no more excuses.

Buckle down and get it done, Kenley.

After about three hours, I finished it and was quite happy with it, but I was so resentful that I had to do it on my Sunday (even though I’ve had plenty of other Sundays to get it done).  I puttered around and cleaned the house, still miserable.  Finally, I made a bagel, frustrated that it wasn’t cut all the way through, I held it in my left hand and hacked into it…

… and through it…

… and into my pinkie.

Let’s start with honesty: Blood everywhere.  Kitchen floor, hallway, up the stairs, into the bathroom… everywhere.  I didn’t know that a hand had that much blood in it (but the more that I thought about it, it’s full of capillaries, what else did I think would be in there?).  Off to the emergency room and, three hours later, I had four stitches in my hand.  Something like this…

Something like that, but bloodier and on my pinkie.  That’s not my finger, it’s someone else’s.

As I got home, I was still bored and grumpy and just went to bed, but my wife had the laptop so I couldn’t watch a show as I fell asleep.  I grabbed my phone and, for some reason, listened to my inner Michael Brandon and tried to meditate via Meditation Oasis.  As I listened to the string loops and soothing voice of Mary Maddox, I realized that my mind was racing.  It’s thoughts like those that often prompt a meta-voice that thinks over your storm of thoughts, usually with something along the lines of “what the hell are you so worked up about?

Then, somewhere between those two voices, there’s the distance where you actual have a bit of clarity and you get to work through some problems.

It is the space between thoughts.

It’s the space where you cut your finger because you acted emotionally, rather than rationally and with a measured reason.  You worked at a coffee shop, Kenley.  You know how to cut a bagel.  When you act emotionally, you do stupid things. 

Oh, right.

As you stand above your thoughts (figuratively, of course), you get a chance to look down and see what’s actually kicking around inside your head.  There were some troubling facebook statuses that you were thinking about, hoping the people were okay.  There was your hand, and how dumb you felt after you realized that you could have avoided it had you actually thought like a reasonable human being.  There was getting your oil changed, which you still haven’t done.  There was the chord changes in the music behind Mary Maddox, and if that extension was a 9th, or just the fifth of the V chord held as a pedal above the other chords.  There were the cadences that you hoped your students remembered after the weekend in Fundamentals of Music.  And, among many other thoughts, will you actually teach the isorhythmic motet in Music History, or will you just teach it as a precursor to metre in common practice music?

As you look back up to that meta-voice in your head, it answers with its common refrain: Do you really need to think about all of those things right now? Did you really need to have ALL of those thoughts kicking around your head all weekend?

And my common answer: No, not really.

The problem is that we (myself included) get so busy that we rarely listen to that voice, or even take the time to look down at our thoughts and see what we even have kicking around our head.  As a student, how many times has your teacher walked in and looked like hell, yelled disproportionately in class and left in a worse mood than they did when they walked in (which was pretty bad to begin with)?

Teachers, how many times have you done that?

Kenley, how many times have you done that?

Oh right, I’ve got it pretty good.  Sometimes I forget that.  When I’ve had teachers, students, or fellow workers (at any job) like that, I remember thinking: “Whatever’s going on with you, don’t take that out on me.  Sort yourself out and we’ll talk later.”

Whoever is reading this – teachers, friends, students, compatriates – this week’s homework is to actually look down at your thoughts and see what you’re carrying around in there.  Find the space between.  What needs to stay? What needs to go? You can’t get out of your mortgage or car payments, but you can probably stop stressing about things you can’t do anything about until tomorrow.  Your marking won’t get done if you’re lying in bed and you can’t rehearse your band while you’re out for drinks with the guys.  Let it go.

Before I wrote this, I was in a disproportionately frustrated mood.  Not for any reason, but a measured and rational bit of writing did me good and I feel a lot better than I did an hour ago.  I invite you to do the same.  Meditation Oasis is also pretty great 🙂

Until then,
Kenley

PS: Thanks to Sarah for kicking my butt into getting back on these.  Even teachers need a kick sometimes…

PPS: The stitches pic came from here.

PPPS: This week is the one year anniversary of my radio play, The Constant.  Feel free to check it out!

Revisiting the Ghosts

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada.  It is the day where we take time to remember the service men and women who fought in Canada’s military to protect the peace and freedoms that we hold dear.

I’ve always felt reasonably impacted by Remembrance Day.  Maybe it was because my grandpa fought in World War 2, or that my Afi (Icelandic grandfather) was supposed to, but had a very fortunate bout of pneumonia that kept him sidelined.  Maybe it’s because my dad is still still very interested in the World Wars and we’ve talked at length about Midway, Juno Beach, and Normandy, among other things.  Maybe because I played in the military band and got to see Remembrance Day from inside the ranks of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.

Even while in high school, standing for O Canada during a Remembrance Day service felt different than doing it at 8:55am every other week day.

But, it didn’t really affect me until I started writing Ghosts of Vimy.

It started in June 2010, when the Performing Arts department was having its planning meeting for 2010-11.  When Remembrance Day came up, we really wanted to collaborate Band, Choir, and Drama in a way that was meaningful and authentic, not just each doing different things for the service.

We are all very motivated by storytelling and Kris, our drama teacher, took the lead on the idea of writing about people, and separating the lives of the soldiers with the statistics of war.  That idea really resonated with me and I wanted to write something for Band and Choir, while Kris made a positively visceral slideshow and led her kids’ dramatic performance.

I knew that the work was going to be big and I got to work right away, but I made sure to start researching long before I set pencil to paper.

The content really needed to reflect the price of human life and the human cost of war.  That’s why we remember, isn’t it? I found a painting by William Longstaff called “The Ghosts of Vimy,” where ghosts of soldiers were scaling the hill at the Vimy Memorial.  It’s a powerful juxtaposition of a symbol of Canadian victory and unity, with those who paid for it with their lives.  They were the choir.  They needed to be the ones telling the story.  And with that, the first seeds of “Ghosts of Vimy” were planted.

When I was growing up, there was an initiative on Canadian TV to run 1-minute slots of Canadian history stories, called “Heritage Minutes,” and I started with those, especially the military ones.

Even watching them as I write, I feel my throat close and eyes water.  There is a consistent resonance there – an intense emotional response every time I watch them.  They’re about people and their stories, their loved ones, their comrades, and their families.

As I did more research about Canadian involvement in World War I, there were three angles that really stuck out to me: Saying goodbye, doing what’s right, and (surprisingly) the thrill of adventure.  The last one struck me as incredibly out of place, but the more stories and letters I read, the more that I understood that the young kids who were going off to fight had no idea what they were getting themselves into.  I tried to imagine myself graduating from high school and going to fight for my country and be a hero, only to find No Man’s Land, machine gun fire, and mustard gas.

But what about the more mature angles? What if you had a family and you had to say goodbye, knowing full well that you may never see them again? How do you tell your child? What do you say? And what do they say to you? I knew that was the first story:

The first story (1:56) was saying goodbye.  It was heart-wrenching to compose, but that’s because it must have been heart-wrenching to go through.

The second story (3:13) needed to be about saying goodbye as well, not only to another person, but to an age of innocence and youth.  This section is about two lovers parting ways.  They’re young and don’t have a family yet, but they have each other.  She implores him not to go, but in young arrogance (an emotional with which I’m quite familiar), he needs to prove himself to her, himself and his country.

The third story (4:56) is of two friends who leave for adventure to become heroes – a surprisingly common sentiment among Allied youth during World War I.  They had no context of war, the experience, the battlefield or the enemy.  “To war, to war, and heroes we will be.  Adventure lies before and rewards for victory.”  During the third story, they dispatch with a tenor calling “Ready, men! 3-2-1…” and then into a section of unexpected darkness.

Then, like the beginning, the ghosts complete the story.  “This must be the last great fall, the last great war to end them all.”  And, of course as history notes, it wasn’t and the next one was even worse.  We try and learn from past mistakes, but those who don’t learn from history…

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While I am hardly an advocate for war or military force, I understand the irony that sometimes peace needs to be fought for, though it took me a long time to wrap my head around.  Two years from now will be the 100th anniversary of World War I’s beginning.  That’s a long time ago.  It was fought across the Atlantic Ocean from where I lived in small town Canada.  That’s a very long way from my home in Gimli, MB.  But even as I kid (and moreso as an adult now), I understood to weight of my ancestors going to a far away land to fight for my freedom.

Watching 1100 kids at my school’s Remembrance Day service be quiet and respectful reminds me that the impact is still there.  Seeing students act, speak, sing, and perform about the cost of war touches my heart very deeply and it reminds me that, as the adage goes, the kids are alright.

Remember not to forget and don’t forget to remember,
Kenley

Its song, so sweet, compels me…

This past month, something that I always felt inside was confirmed:

The world is craving emotional classical music about our place in the natural universe.

We Are Stars is getting published, Filum Vitae is in submission (but has generally been well-received) and, perhaps most surprisingly, Cosmos has been shared by prominent astronomers, is being featured by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Vancouver) and has connected with thousands of people.

Literally thousands.  We’re almost at 13,000 views.

There is a hole that needs to be filled in people’s hearts that is filled with an awe and beauty of the natural world.  I know it because I have it too.

Whatever connects with us is often what comes out best.  So, I know that there are more like me now.  I always knew, but there’s still that shred of doubt that always lingered.  I want to say that it doesn’t matter if no one gets it, but I think that it matters to me.  It matters if you are sending a message into the air or sky or universe and no one is receiving it.  My music resonates with me and I want it to connect with people like it connects with me.

Here is a snapshot of one of my next pieces.  Here’s the text:

We are wanderers
in a darkened sky.
We are wanderers
to the stars.

We are travellers
through the veil of night.
We are travellers
to the stars.

The horizon softly calls.
I hear it in my heart.
Its song, so sweet, compels me
to cast my light into the dark.

This is the beginning.  More to come 🙂

Kenley