The national anthems process

So i’m a little behind in some of my project work because of Hurricane Isaac, but i’ve started the process of listening to all of the national anthems i was able to get a hold of for my wind ensemble commission. It took me a little while to decide what and how i wanted to go about the listening process. It went something like this:

  1. Download all of the national anthem MP3s as is available on The Navy Band website.
  2. Have one of my friends create a script to rename all of the files (because the files were all named the country of the national anthem) into a random 1 to 5 digit number.
  3. Put all of the mp3s into a playlist on my iPhone, listen to them whenever i get a chance on shuffle. Make notes on interesting things by file number via a note in Evernote.

I opted to rename the anthems to random numbers and have someone else do the randomizing because i wanted to be able to listen to and evaluate the music without bias as to where the music originates from or what it represents. Clearly there were a few national anthems that i recognized (US, UK, Canada, France, for example), but for the most part I have no idea what i’m actually listening to.

After having spent probably a few hours listening to the playlist (i’m not sure if i’ve actually gotten through all of the anthems since i’ve had to start the shuffle over at times) and mostly passively (as background as opposed to paying attention), i think i’ve come to the conclusion that my original idea of having all of the national anthems get their spotlight isn’t going to work. Although the piece is going to have a medley sort of feel to it by default, i still want it to be feel more compositional than cut-and-paste-medley.

So what i’m working out in my brain now is making it a little more “Ivesian” for lack of a better made up word – i want to mash anthems together, but in a complementary way as opposed to a clashy way. I may also take some anthem themes and stretch them out rhythmically to provide some sort of slow moving bass line or something, and maybe do some other “masking” to give some of the anthems a unique sort of feel, but without losing the integrity of the anthem itself (so i’m not planning on playing any of them backwards or doing set inversions or silly things like that).

I still have several days of constant listening before i’m going to take some serious notes, and then a few days of listening after that to see if i can start to get a feel for the shape of the piece. That’s really the key – how to take the key material in my head and give the piece a big picture shape and form – once i have that, all of the details can be filled in pretty easily and/or get morphed. If after all of that i can’t get a feel of the big picture shape, i’ll probably go back to the drawing board.

Mendel Lee

I'm a composer, musician, and music educator residing in New Orleans, LA.

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