With me on the blog today is the amazing composer/musician/performer Laura Bruno Lilly, who is here to talk about her album Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) and the process of composing.
First, here is the intro:
El Space: How long was the process from composing the music to this finished product?
Laura: The actual length of time from start (inspiration) to finish (digital/cd music release) took 11 years. However, it took only a month or so to compose Goats in the Garden at Midnight by the Light of the Full Moon. While it was a complete piece in and of itself, it just didn’t feel finished. It wasn’t until after our between-homes journey came to an end that I realized it could be developed further in keeping with the structure of a suite. More accurately, those goats insisted there was more of their musical story to tell!
My Goat Suite (Saga) was composed and written while my husband and I were living on the compound in the desert outside Las Cruces, New Mexico from October 2010 through August 2011. It is a self-contained, yet complimentary slice of a larger project, Swimming with Swans: the music & vignettes of our three-year journey between homes which encompasses two standalone, yet related segments comprised of musical and literary material I created during that time on-the-road from June 2009 through June 2012.
Goats in the Garden naturally morphed into the middle movement within a larger three movement piece. Both the first and third movements were completed within a few months of each other, making the total composition time of the piece about a year from start to finish.
So you see, the composing itself didn’t take all that long. I’m very hands-on. Doodling with multiple parts on different instruments, putting it all together—I love that stuff! Composing is my sandbox where I get to play with all the parts of the piece in the course of creating it.
Next came the technical aspect of setting the music into a readable score for use in recording and later future performances. To that end, I purchased and learned a score notation program that enabled me to write down the parts more quickly than if I continued to write it all by hand. as it is scored for two classical guitars, mandolin, 12-string acoustic guitar and rainstick, I’m sure the wisdom in this time investment is obvious!
Once in final score format, I set it aside. The journey from that to the finished product took a more circuitous route. I applied for and was awarded a small grant from the Puffin Foundation to aid in the financial aspect of recording my Goat Suite (Saga). Around that same time, my 93-year-old Dad in Colorado entered hospice. Already juggling long-distance care-giving for a few years, this catapulted my focus 100% on Dad’s final days, shelving everything else.
After Dad’s passing, while getting his house cleared out and ready to sell, I managed to schedule some recording studio time with two longtime colleagues in the area. This effort yielded a finished mix ready to send elsewhere for mastering.
Once mastered, it was just a matter of finalizing the cover art, designing the physical product, pressing the CDs, registering the music with various agencies, sending it off for distribution on various streaming platforms and setting up an internet storefront.
And here it is. Now. Finished.
El Space: When did you decide to become a musician/composer? How were you encouraged as a child?
Laura: I don’t know that there was ever an actual decision made to become either. Most composers are/were also performing artists, so I view composing as a natural outgrowth of being a working musician.
As far as receiving encouragement as a child, most of my upbringing was taught by example. This quote expresses how my Jazzman Dad influenced my musical journey in general.
Each jazz musician when he takes a horn in his hand—trumpet, bass, saxophone, drums—whatever instrument he plays, each soloist, that is, when he begins to ad lib on a given composition with a title and improvise a new creative melody, this man is taking the place of a composer. He is saying, “Listen, I am going to give you a new complete idea with a new set of chord changes. I am going to give you a new melodic conception on a tune you are familiar with. I am a composer.” That’s what he is saying.
El Space: Which composers inspired you on your journey?
Laura: Beethoven, Vivaldi, Berlioz. John Cage, Philip Glass, Max Richter. Janet Feder, JoAnn Falletta, Joan Tower. John Duarte, Eduardo Falú, H. Villa-Lobos. Mike Oldfield, Herbie Hancock, Ry Cooder. Ennio Morricone, Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck. Foday Musa Suso, Billy Strayhorn, Anonymous. And more! Google the names and give them a listen.
Ennio Morricone (left), Eduardo Falú
El Space: What leitmotifs occur in the music? Why?
Laura: The second movement revolves around the most obvious one, introduced by the solo guitar within the first three measures. This Goat Bleat Motif was inspired by conversations held between Mama Goat and her kids. Based upon the intervals of each goat’s voice pitch, I assigned each goat a note and when bleating all together, their monotones made up a minor seventh chord. Then as a compositional element, a Reverse Goat Bleat Motif was used for further development of the second movement—all in keeping with the flavor of goats in the garden frolicking and dancing about.
El Space: What advice do you have for budding composers?
Laura: Learn an instrument! It doesn’t matter which one. Noodle around with banging pots and pans, humming tunes or sounding the odd finger harp thing hung on your mother’s front door. Music composition in its most basic form is merely an organization of sound. The best instrument for understanding music theory visually is indeed the piano, but that does not have to be your primary instrument. Use it is a tool in context of understanding the underlying structure of composition. Strive to actively participate in a swirl of musical styles. This will surround you with tonal possibilities, blasting through untold sonic boundaries. Along with all that hands-on sort of stuff, listen, listen, listen to a plethora of musical genres. Explore translating your feelings into a compositional piece. Try your hand at arranging already created music. Hone your craft by taking classes, studying alongside a music teacher/professor/mentor and then, just do it. The more you do, the more your own voice will emerge.
Thanks, Laura, for being my guest.
Looking for Laura? Look on her website.
Looking for Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga)? Click here.
I’m giving away two copies of Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga). Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners to be revealed next week.
Album cover, embedded intro, and photo courtesy of Laura Bruno Lilly. Photo by Terry Lilly. Ennio Morricone and Billy Strayhorn photos from Wikipedia. Eduardo Falú photo from secondhandsongs.com. Music note from wallsave.com.