How To: Write an Emotional Piece of Music

Writing Resolution for SATB Saxophone Quartet was not originally supposed to be an emotional piece for me. It was originally just going to be a submission for a school wide composition contest happening in the Fall of 2016. Winners got their pieces to be recorded by a super awesome Saxophone Quartet (Red Clay). So in true procrastinating fashion, I kept putting off writing this piece. At the time, I knew nothing about saxophone, wasn't really a fan of the timbre of the instruments (or what I'd heard of the solo rep, which wasn't much), and honestly was going to just brush it under the rug. Until my studio professor asked me one last time to consider writing it. So I did.

I wanted to write something meaningful and different from the normal Greek Mythology inspired pieces that I loved to work on. So I decided to think about what was really gut-wrenching to me. What got my mind running and my blood boiling about what was happening in the world today? I opened my eyes and saw how cautious I was when walking down the street past a group of people who may not look exactly like me. I realized how worried I was about my male family members being judged on how they looked, rather than their actual character. I would wake up in the middle of the night after a nightmare of my family being slaughtered around me for something we were born with. And I realized that I was not living, I was existing in fear, and furthermore, fear of voicing this fear. I had to get this feeling that was buried deep inside of me out into the world so that I could finally address it myself and move forward. And that became the basis of this piece.

I wanted to portray a lot of what I was feeling in this music, so I added more dissonant intervals that I had ever worked with before. I wrote notes that were close together so that there was rarely a fully consonant chord. I quoted two hymns from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, where I was raised. The first hymn is "We Shall Overcome," which was a prominent hymn in the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s. The second hymn quoted is "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which is also referred to as the African American National Anthem. At one point, these two hymns are layered over one another in a way to express my feeling of 1) Feeling like we are still fighting the same battle from ages ago and 2) trying to remain hopeful and seeing beauty in my own culture. At the end of the piece, I ended it with a "not-so ending." Because I personally see more work ahead before we can reach a period of peace.

The biggest part of writing an emotional piece, however, is actually allowing yourself to experience the emotions that course through you as you hear it performed for an audience for the first time. It shook me to the core. I had to allow the emotion to run its course so that this piece would not have been written in vain. It also helps to have an amazing group of musicians like the Saxophone Quartet featured in the following photo. I'd REALLY like to thank the Apollo/Ra/Name to be Determined Saxophone Quartet for their amazing work the led to a spectacular performance!

Shar Joyner with the Apollo/Ra/Name to be Determined Saxophone Quartet

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