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ORCHESTRAL SAMPLER SUITE (2016)

(2016; HD; 3 min 37 sec)

Why does this suite have such a utilitarian name? Because I wrote it for my 2016 Multimedia Portfolio. It's a series of four miniatures designed to display my facility with orchestration and my grasp of film music style.

I'm by nature and training a theatrical composer. Because of a long-term, undiagnosed condition, my health was questionable for many years and I was unable to pursue my career effectively. Now that those issues have been resolved and I'm bubbling with vitality again, I'm burning to do what I was trained to do: to work professionally as both a composer and/or as an orchestrator.

I've composed quite a few operas, so I've had more experience orchestrating than most. Unfortunately, life got in my way; all of that experience was years ago. But I'd never stopped studying orchestration. After a recent meeting with a young composer trying to break into Hollywood, I wondered... What would MY orchestrations sound like today?

So I found out! Digital instruments have improved beyond all recognition, way more expressive than they used to be. Of course I prefer live musicians, but the new digital instruments are a great proving ground for an orchestration; you can shake out the obvious bugs very effectively. I found it pure joy to be orchestrating again.

Composing miniatures proved a stimulating challenge. In an opera, the rules are different; you create a larger-than-life time scale. With miniatures, every second counts; the expression must be terse and direct.

My opener, the Masumoto Herd fanfare, is a case in point. For the official "Masumoto Herd Presents" tag, I chopped that fanfare in half! The first few bars (the rippling harp figure opening the video above) didn't work. Sure, the track sounds lovely as a piece of music, all gently flowing, then bursting out, sparkling with bells; the babbling creek on our property was my inspiration for the whole piece. But film fanfares need "punch" very quickly, I discovered. If I was going to consume extra screen time, those opening bars had to be arresting or familiar or something else very focused. My opening bars were too abstract, they sucked energy instead of imparting it. The second half of my fanfare played better all by itself. So I learned something.

In "Part 1: Promenade," I was inspired by "Pictures at an Exhibition" by Mussorgsky. They don't sound anything alike, but my Promenade and his Promenade have a similar vibe. Since my piece was composed as accompaniment for still pictures in my portfolio, the correlation seemed appropriate.

Unlike Mussorgsky, however, I had mere seconds instead of minutes for my Promenade. Video Portfolios are supposed to be extremely short! So, to give the music some life, I incorporated a modulation, a key change, to lead into the next work. My original intention with the suite had been to start and end in the same key, modulating in the middle. It didn't end up working out that way.

To some degree, I blame "Part 2: Epic" for my difficulties. I wanted to flesh out my portfolio with a sample action movie trailer. Most action trailers use bits of Orff's Carmina Burana or music by James Horner; I decided to emulate Horner. But the only kind of Action movies I like are old swashbucklers and cheesetastic sci fi space operas; I didn't have the Horner-Action-Movie-Trailer sound firmly in my ear. I forgot the critical, fast-paced, testosterone-soaked middle section. When I assembled the fake Action trailer later, that missing element robbed the trailer of all excitement.

No worries. I used that "Epic" music as the foundation for my documentary on the making of our Fantasium Glass; the music's doom-laden, obsessive-compulsive quality worked rather well there. Besides, a trailer would have made my portfolio video WAY too long.

But when I composed "Part 3: Processional," I had not yet realized all this. All I was thinking was: "Keep this Processional short and make it feel complete! This darned suite is too long!" Grander schemes for modulation became impractical with these restrictions. All of the pieces were tied together by my treatment of thematic material anyway. Like Pictures at an Exhibition, the linking sections ("Promenade" and "Processional") are built on variations of the same melody!

My Processional was influenced by John Williams' Star Wars Finale; his Star Wars score was influenced powerfully by Holst's The Planets. So I spent time studying bits of The Planets to develop my approach to that Processional, as well as studying Williams' Indiana Jones theme. My melodic material (carried over from the Promenade) restricted me to some extent, but I was quite happy with the result.

I wanted to show that I could compose in a Late Romantic orchestral idiom, which I think I've demonstrated. But my next orchestration project will be something with a little more scope.

--Michael Masumoto, June 16, 2016

ABOUT THE COMPOSER

Michael Masumoto holds a Master's degree in Music Composition from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he studied composition and orchestration with Eleanor Armer and Conrad Susa. During his undergraduate years at UC Berkeley, Michael studied composition with Dan Weymouth (currently the head of Electronic Music at SUNY Stonybrook). Michael has composed and produced six operas (among other works), and has recently completed his first piano sonata. As a pianist, Michael studied with Sue Hocker, Gloria Larson, Olga Quercia, and Tim Bach. As a singer, Michael studied with heldentenors Jess Thomas and Stan Norsworthy and is a proponent of the Melocchi Method. Michael does teach private voice lessons.

Last Updated: June 16, 2016
COPYRIGHT © 2010-2016 MICHAEL MASUMOTO

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