Music Writing: Ave Maria for Christmas

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Every year for the longest time, I have written (aka arranged) at least one piece of Christmas music.  This started out in church, where my family often sings or plays instruments.  We couldn’t find solos or duets for songs we wanted with our weird amalgamation of instruments and voices.  So I started arranging the music, and a personal Christmas tradition was born.  This year, I have chosen two: I want to write my own melody for an Ave Maria, and I want to arrange Riu Chiu for a choir.  Whether or not anyone actually sings or plays this remains to be seen, but I don’t care.  I am writing them.  First up… Ave Maria.  I am going to try to write my own melody to this beautiful and poetic prayer.

I use the freeware program called MuseScore to write my music at the moment.  In the “old days” I would use handmade staff paper, a pencil with a fresh eraser, and my mother’s piano.  Ah, how times have changed.
Before I wrote the music, I had to decide whether to have the song in English or Latin.  I put the lyrics below.  After a lot of flip flopping I decided to stick to traditional Latin.  I think it sounds more lyrical.
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Now for the fun stuff: creating the titles! When you open a new project in MuseScore, this is the first thing that pops up, so it is easy to do. I just love looking at the title, and seeing my name somewhere underneath it is just another perk.
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Next, I put together the musical instruments on the staves.  The instruments in question are 6 voices to cover a complete choir.  I intend to make a solo version and a piano version, but this is what I want to start with.  Now, the voice sounds on MuseScore do leave something to be desired, so while I am working on the song the voices will be exchanged for woodwind instruments.
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I have been humming a tune for about a week that I decided was perfect for this carol.  So I put that down before I could forget it.  It sounded amazing to me.  And, if I remind myself to keep the melody simple, this little diddy should harmonize well.  MuseScore allows me to type the notes in using alphabet keys, as well as just use the mouse and literally place the notes where I want them.  And I can play back whenever necessary to keep the harmony in place.  However, I will say that computer instruments really do lack the emotion and personality of a live instrument.  That is why the sample below has all the dynamics below.  I wanted to hear the main melody of the alto (third bar line) above everything else.  Real singers could just be told where the melody lies, but the computer doesn’t like to be told such things.  Finicky computer…
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As I wrote the tune out, I decided to type the lyrics in.  This is done by clicking on a note once, and pressing .  Better still, you can go from one note to the next by typing a – or the space bar, so I can separate syllables without constantly clicking over and over again.
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Okay!  The melody has been put down, now time for the accompaniment.  In my opinion, the accompaniment is the most fun to write, because you can use it to create the mood of the song.  Yes, the melody is super important.  But the accompaniment decides if it will be a somber tune, a lively and up-tempo song, or a chord-chord-chord Christmas classic (if you don’t know what this is, look at how Christmas songs are written in any hymnal).  I love a plainsong, so my accompaniment will hopefully keep the song somber and just a little bit… melodramatic.
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I give the accompaniment license for a few measures at the beginning and the two stanzas of the prayer to give a little color to the song.  Oddly enough, my fingers decided that the accompaniment would be a round, with the voice alternating the same rhythms between the right and left hand.  I do this both times, with different musical rhythms.  It works so well, I can’t believe I wrote it when I hear the playback.  >POP!<  Pardon me, that was just my ego exploding just a little bit.
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Ahhh… the song is coming along nicely.  But, as what often happens when I do something new, I have added a little too much dissonance, I think.  There are several places where I flinch now when I hear the clashing notes, and that shouldn’t happen in a Christmas carol, especially if I want it to be an instant classic (just kidding).  So I am now revamping several small bits of the accompaniment to keep it on the pleasantly plainsong side of slightly dissonant.
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Of course, some of the areas are sacrosanct.  I absolutely love the harmonizing for the Iesus bars.  If I change that, my whole song would be totally different.  But, in the 6-part harmonies there is enough wiggle room that I may have gone a little out of control.
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I am so almost done.  I only have a few small pockets of nothingness between me and a listening party with all my 2 readers!  Unfortunately, the burst of creativity that started this endeavor ran dry two days ago, and now I am slogging through a strong urge to stop.  I will continue until I am finished, but I will end this post for now.
To be continued on the second installment of Music Writing: Ave Maria.


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