String Symphony

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
String Symphony is a murder mystery. As you read this work-in-progress, you will learn interesting facts about music and computers.

Submitted: July 27, 2008

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 27, 2008



String Symphony

Introduction - “Meet Scat McDuff”

The Fluorescent Saxophone is a friendly place. One always enjoys a good beer, food and lively conversation. I know, I’m a regular. My name is Scat McDuff.

Another Sam Adams?”

Yes.” I replied.

I’m a writer for Apple Bluffs Today, a regional magazine that discusses politics, arts and lifestyles. I’m here at my “alternative office” to interview Elysse Fergussen, a classical music composer.

The Interview - “A Pretty Girl is Like a Twelve-Tone Row”

Scat McDuff?”


I’m Elysse Fergussen.”

Nice to meet you.”

It was very nice to meet her. Elysse was a beautiful lady in every way possible. Beautiful long chestnut-colored hair, and chocolate chip eyes. And to be somewhat politically correct - all the punctuation marks in the right places.

Would you like something to drink?” I asked her.


The waitress came by.

Cappuccino and another Sam Adams”.

You write classical music in an age of rap, rock and hip hop? Does classical music matter?”

Yes it does. Classical music provides a forum for a variety of instruments. These include oboes, trumpets, violas, harpsichords and many others. Classical music provides a variety of recipes for different musical formats for example, sonatas, concertos, quartets, symphonies and so on.

These recipes can be spiced up with a variety of new musical forms. For example, symphonies can include jazz segments, hip hop rhythms, or just about anything you want.”

Your latest work is String Symphony. How do you decide if a work should be a symphony or a quartet or some other form?”

It depends on what I want to express. Music always tells a story. Actually it tells two stories, the one that the composer writes and the one that the listener hears. Music is ethereal. Without words, the instruments express a different story to each listener.

I get the idea for a story. For example, maybe I want to write a piece of music that expresses my contempt for the political complacency our nation suffers. I may use the symphonic form. I can express the complacency by having a group of brass instruments play in response to a group of string instruments. They can play in tandem. This format continues with a variety of instruments.

Now we need some contrast. Good music like good writing needs drama. One lone instrument rallies against the crowd and plays a different melody. While the groups of instruments play melodically, the lone instrument plays a dissonant theme.

I take an idea, find the best musical form, and then choose the instruments that tell the story.”

I never thought of music in that way.”

That is the beauty of classical music. You have time and resources to express your ideas. A classical piece can be thirty minutes long or an hour long.

What are the different forms?”

The symphony uses all the instruments of an orchestra. It contains four movements or sections.

A concerto is similar to a symphony except that one instrument is in the spotlight. For example a piano concerto features the piano against the orchestra. It is like the solo singer and her band.

A sonata is for a solo instrument. It can be the toughest type of music to play. You need to play expressively to keep the audience engaged.

A quartet contains four instruments. They can be the same instruments, different instruments or members of the same instrument family. For example, a string quartet consists of a violin, viola, cello and double bass. The violin plays the soprano voice, the viola the alto voice, the cello plays the tenor and the double bass plays the bass voice.

There are other musical forms. These are the most popular.”

What is the story behind String Symphony?”



I am a coffee lover. I enjoy sipping my morning coffee in my garden. It is the peaceful part of my day. The afternoon is hectic. I love coffee but caffeine is not a good idea, so I drink decaf. Dinner time is perfect for a latte. Most evenings I am composing, rehearsing or performing. I need some extra energy. It is the perfect time for an expresso.

String Symphony tells the story of an average day in my life from the point of view of coffee. The symphony has four movements or sections. They are titled: cappucino, decaf, latte and expresso.”

Tell me more about how you express ideas through music?”

One of the easiest ways is to use major and minor keys. Major keys sound happy and minor keys sound sad. To be specific, this relates to Western culture, the United States, Europe, and so on. Other cultures, like the Japanese or Middle Eastern cultures use different types of scales. They don’t have major and minor scales. However, in their musical cultures, they can express happiness and sadness.”

The use of dissonance is another tool. Dissonance is easy to detect. It sounds like someone is playing the wrong notes. An easy way to achieve this is to use notes that are not in the same key of the musical composition.

Dissonance evokes uneasiness. It elicits a sense of tension, that something is not right. It transmits suspense and drama.

Keep in mind that dissonance is also cultural. What sounds wrong the Western ear may be perfectly acceptable to the Japanese ear. The opposite is also true. Western music may sound strange or lacking to the Eastern ear.

And there is rhythm. Fast rhythms express excitement and tension. Slow rhythms express a sense of serenity and relaxation. They also express suspense. Remember the theme from the movie “Jaws”?”

Is rhythm cultural?”

Yes rhythm is cultural. Western music’s rhythm tends to be standardized or mechanized. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s great for dancing, easy to listen to, and is enjoyable.

We have many patterns. There are sambas, tangos, rhumbas, waltzes, rock, country, swing, and so on.

Other cultures use different rhythmic patterns. Rhythms of India are very complex. It plays a more prominent role in their music than in Western music. They also use polyrhythms.”

What are polythythms?”

Polyrhythms are two or more rhythms played simultaneously.”


Yes. Remember you need to think culturally. In some cultures rhythm is just as important or more important than melody.

Polyrhythm can be fun to listen to. Imagine listen to a swing rhythm and a samba rhythm played together. It’s pretty easy to listen to and quite accessible. Try it sometime.”

O.K. Tell me more about String Symphony.”

String Symphony is a modern symphony. It is not written in the style of Beethoven. It uses a compositional technique called serialism or 12-tone row.

Most music is based on a key. Remember practicing scales for your piano teacher? Each key is a scale.

A scale consists of eight notes. For example a C major scale uses these notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C. These are the white keys on a piano. No black notes (sharps and flats) are in this scale.

The D major scales uses these notes: D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D. This scale contains two black notes and six white notes.

Scales use a combination of white and black keys. There are seven white keys and five black keys. Of course this is cultural. The piano is an instrument of the Western culture and is tuned to play the scales of Western music. In other words, the black and white keys analogy is cultural.

A twelve-tone row uses all twelve notes. Think of it as a politically-correct way of composing. A key or scale includes some notes and excludes others. A twelve-tone row treats all notes equally.”

In what key is a twelve-tone row?”

It is in no key or depending on your train of thought, it is in all keys.”

I thought all music is in some key.”

Not modern music. Modern music does not have to be written in a specific key. In fact, the twelve-tone row technique is anti-key or anti-tonality.

Arnold Schoenberg developed this style of composition in the 1930’s. He believed that the tonal system of composing, writing in a specific key, was too limiting. It placed restrictions on expressive techniques.

All twelve notes are used in a specific order specified by the composer. For example, the twelve notes in ascending order are: C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A# and B.

I decide to play the notes in the following order: D#, B, F#, G#, C, A#, C#, D, A, G, E and F. There is one rule - a note cannot be repeated until every note in the pattern is played. The order of the series cannot change. This rule ensures that each note has equal treatment; no note is favored; there is no tonal center.”

The interview continued for another half hour. We discussed musicians, music technology, and the music business in general.

She left but I stayed. Since I was never one to waste a good time at the Fluorescent Saxophone I decided to spend the rest of the evening with the regulars.

Another Sam Adams.”

Another Interview - “Dead Musicians Have No Rhythm”

Scat McDuff?”

I turned around. There was a policeman behind me. In the distance I saw a detective I recognized and the crime scene unit.

Yes. What is going on?”

Do you know an Elysse Fergussen?”

Yes. I was just with her. I interviewed her for Apple Bluffs Today.”

She’s dead.”

Rule number one. Answer yes or no until more information is requested.

Interesting. Did either of you have anything to drink?”

Sound professional.

Yes we had coffee.”

The waitress said you had a beer and Elysse had coffee.”

Rule number two. Never lie to a policeman.

Yes I did. My editor really doesn’t like me drinking when I am working.”

The policeman gave me a blank stare.

Rule number three. Remember rule number one.

Did either of you have anything to eat?”

If he knew what we drank he obviously knew if we had anything to eat. Be polite, regain his trust, answer truthfully.


What was your interview about?”

I was interviewing her about her new composition, String Symphony.”

What did you talk about?”

We talked about classical music and different ways of composing music.”

Was the interview friendly?”


He gave me a hard stare.

No personal questions? Just questions about music?”


Did Ms. Fergussen act agitated or nervous?”


What was her mood?”

She was relaxed, professional, and happy to be interviewed.”

The officer stared at me.

Do the numbers 3673659 mean anything to you?”

Yes. It is my phone number.”

The officer stared at me.

Is there a problem?”

That number was scribbled on a piece of paper with the words String Symphony”.

I relaxed.

I gave her my phone number in case she wanted to give me additional information for the article. Many people think later of things they forgot when they are being interviewed.”

The officer stared at me.

There’s a problem?”

Your phone number was written in on a napkin. It appears that she scribbled it as she was dying.”

Rule number four - answer questions don’t ask them.

Will any of your upcoming assignments take you out of town?”


He stared at me.

Good. We’ll be in touch.”

© Copyright 2018 acohen843. All rights reserved.

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