I like to compose standing up


During the past month I have been working on a couple of commissions for percussion ensemble. One brief was for five players using a limited number of instruments with an idea of the performance experience of each percussionist specified.

I made some sketches on manuscript paper and wrote down some key words and phrases that would remind me of the concepts I was going to use and then left it for a while. I often do this and when I return to the ideas and they still excite me then I know that the music will be what I intended.

Feeling confident with the material that I am arranging usually means I can work reasonably quickly, normally it takes one hour to complete one minute of music, and I enjoy the process. There is nothing wrong with enjoying your work and I am happy to have found a vocation that allows me to do this.

When I am scoring, arranging or orchestrating I like to walk around. To some this may seem an odd concept when accurately placing small blobs, sticks, curved lines and the odd bit of text on lined paper. This is the first score, the handwritten one, and not the typeset version that most people expect in these days of desktop publishing software for computer. The standing and walking helps my creativity to flow, sitting down is for the more mundane typesetting and score preparation activities.


I hand-write the score because I find the ideas flow on to the paper. The process from consciousness to pencil to manuscript is quick and precise and is not stifled by the restrictions the software places on the creative path. I have tried playing the music into the computer but then had to spend too much time editing the half completed result so paper for me every time.

When the handwritten version is finished I will either type it up on the computer or hand-write the score and parts. Most professional performing colleagues I know prefer the handwritten version as it is easier to follow when the copyist writes the parts in a way that they find the most appealing and accessible to read and perform. This look can be achieved using computer software but it is very time consuming editing bar by bar, line by line and individual part by part.


The photographs are stages in the creation of the work 5:45 for percussion quintet. I hope to hear the performance in a few months time somewhere in deepest Lancashire.

© P.R.Birkby 2015


About derangeddrums

Composer, percussionist, musical director, teacher and educator. My music has been written for audiences in palaces and in the street. Music is my vocation and my passion and I hope you enjoy it too.
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