Composing a Fanfare for Crew Dragon: Day 8

SpaceX launched today, and I am launching the rough draft of Fanfare for a New Era of American Spaceflight” to honor it!

Assumed Audience: Anyone interested in the process of writing composed music.

Today, SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon capsule on top, with astronauts. I was, to say the least, excited. This is one of those moments that doesn’t just come along every day!

The launch was originally scheduled for Wednesday, and as I hoped, I was able to actually finish it on the day of the launch. Not quite early enough to have shared it with SpaceX via social media… but then, I’m not on social media, so I don’t actually know how I would have done it anyway.

I have a few further comments, but first, the music!

rough draft of the complete fanfare! (read the score)

Further thoughts

Now that I have actually completed a draft of this piece, I have a bunch of further thoughts:

Title

You may have noticed if you looked at the score (today or previously) that the title on the page is Fanfare for a New Era of American Spaceflight. I titled the blog post series Composing a Fanfare for Crew Dragon” because I did not actually have that title when I started work, but I like it. There is a long history of Fanfare for…” and while this piece will never stack up next to something like Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, that’s at least the kind of thing I had in mind!

Dorico

Scoring in Dorico is great! I’ve made good use of their 30-day trial, and I will definitely be purchasing Dorico Pro. I intend to have a full review up in the next week or so, now that I’ve actually worked start to finish on a piece in it. The thing that continues to amuse me most is something that caught my attention within the first day or so of scoring with Dorico: despite not having used Sibelius in earnest in over a decade, I still reach for its keyboard shortcuts sometimes!

The next thing I’d really like to figure out is how to handle playback with a good deal more nuance. Dorico’s built in mapping from notation to MIDI expressions is very good, so this doesn’t sound terrible… but despite the quality of the Halion Symphonic Orchestra (HSO) samples, this recording is not going to fool anyone that this is a real orchestra for even a second. To really make this sound the way I want, I think I would need to export it over to Logic (which I’m fairly familiar with, having used it for podcast editing for many years) and use a MIDI keyboard and actually learn all the ins and outs of MIDI expression mapping.1 I would like to do that, but I honestly don’t think I should spend the time to do it as things stand: I have other projects to work on!

Orchestration

I’m still going to plan to pick up an orchestration book. I’m reasonably pleased with how this came out — it is substantially the most interesting and careful orchestration work I have ever done — but I also found myself constantly aware of my gaps here. My current plan is to pick up one or both of the volumes recommended to me by a couple professors of music composition I trust:

Again: it’s not that what I did on this particular piece was bad. To the contrary! I’m proud of it, and particularly of the fact that I meaningfully improved my orchestration over the last things I wrote for orchestra.

Even so: working through some exercises would be helpful, I think. Perhaps even more importantly, getting a clearer handle mentally on the way that the pieces of the orchestra can work together in a technical sense would be great. I am profoundly grateful for my music theory classes — in this very piece I drew on things I learned about counterpoint in those classes almost fifteen years ago! — and I find in general that deep technical knowledge only improves one’s work in categories like this, at least once it is well and properly internalized.

Revising

I expect to revise this a bit over the next few weeks. I will probably listen to it as it stands way too many times over the next few days, then give myself some time away from it. Much as with writing words, I find it helpful when writing music to do a draft, then get some space and distance, then come back to it. Right in the aftermath of finishing a draft, I am too close to the material and it is easy to be precious about it and attached to it.

I don’t expect that I’ll make any large structural changes to the piece when I come back to it… but of course, I would say that today: I just finished it, and I’m feeling very precious about it! A few weeks or a month from now, I might just hear some things that need to work differently.

Recording

This is a long shot, but… if you happen to belong to (or lead!) an orchestra, and you like this piece enough that you would be interested in performing it, please email me! For all that I hope to eventually be sufficiently competent with a DAW like Logic for its intended purpose of music production, I would always infinitely prefer a live recording of real musicians playing my music.


  1. What’s more, to make using a DAW like Logic pay off, I’d also need to invest in the full version of HSO (or something like it): the version that comes with Dorico Pro is VST-only, with no AU support. That is no joke price-wise, and while it would definitely be worth it if I were going to be doing this all the time… I expect to be composing a few times a year going forward, not week in and week out. ↩︎