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C.20 - "Into the Forest"

Composed: ~October to December 2012

     Ah! This was where my interest in contemporary orchestral music began (perhaps "Sol and Luna" or "Night of the Red Moon" was also in this vain). Contextually, this was the composition for my AS-level (the first year of A-level at college in the UK; equivalent to U.S. Senior High School) which asked us to score a piece suggested by the title ‘Into the Forest’. At this time, I had begun discovering Stravinsky, mainly through the film Fantasia which triggered fond memories from my earliest childhood when I used to regularly watch the film. As such, I had a go at scoring for a larger ensemble, albeit still a small ensemble of no more than 12 instruments as that was the limitation of the 'student' edition of Sibelius 6 that I used on my laptop. The result is rather jarring compared to all of my previous works until then.

     The dissonances and ragged rhythms are such a step from the Baroque-influenced compositions that came prior. I remember not being very pleased with these dissonant parts (except the penultimate chapter ‘Trapped’, which to this day I still thoroughly enjoy and might expand upon it in a later work as it holds some surprisingly excellent material). I had written a short story to build this work out of, which I will paste here in its original unedited form written somewhere in late 2012:

Figure 1: The first narrative plan for "Into the Forest"

­Into the Forest – Short Storyline


Chapter 1 – The Creeping Wood: Introduces the corrupted forest, adept of containing terror and evil. The wood moves slowly in step (All instruments playing homo-rhythmically) building tension (Dynamics growing and fading).

Chapter 2 – Peace Bird: Introduces the Peace Bird (Piccolo and Flute) which is flying through the sky. Pizzicato mirrors trees down below, as the Bird gives continuous swoops down to a section of the forest below which is not corrupted yet. As the Bird flies closer to the creeping forest, the dynamics and texture picks up for dissonant clashes as the tensions rise. The Bird is at the border of forests and proceeds.

Chapter 3 – Into the Forest: This is where everything turns dark and the forest lashes out at the bird which is flying through. We hear the shrieks of the bird (Piccolo and Flue high notes) as it succumbs to many blows from the trees. A pedal will be frequent to symbolise dissonance with every other note.

Chapter 4 – Chase through the wood: The Bird realises it is in danger, and attempts to fly away. Syncopated rhythms will give imagery to the forest chasing the bird whilst maintaining tension with contrasting dynamics and dissonances. An echo effect might appear as the Bird flies in circles, with each path ending with a swoop of a tree branch, thus making the bird unable to escape.

Chapter 5 – Hiding amidst the trees: Being unable to escape, the bird attempts to hide within trees that are too corrupt to move. Tension rises as the forest is searching for the bird (Growing dynamics with dissonance). Perhaps a motif will also add to this tension, and rising the motif will create suspense and horror for dissonance. The forest eventually finds the bird and lashes out at it, forcing it to fly away whilst it can.

Chapter 6 – Trapped: There is nowhere to go, the bird cannot escape. A new rising motif will symbolise the forest slowly closing in on the bird as its futile attempts to escape are destroyed. We hear the last cries of the bird (Piccolo) which are soon becoming distorted (Addition of Harp to accompany cries of the Bird?). The forest takes hold of the bird and draws in close for a final attack. End with a rising dissonance of the motif into a final climax of whatever key the motif ends on.

Chapter 7 – Demise: The Bird has been killed (Exit Piccolo and Flute), the forest has prevailed, and slowly the ensemble will attempt to return to the starting note to prove that these encounters are continuous and that the forest will never be cured, and anything that tries to purify it will be destroyed.

     That was pleasant. But that was what I worked with to score the piece. I would also later return to this story again and actually write a fully-fledged short story for it, which I won’t paste here to save me from further embarrassment. For the A-level, we also had to write a ‘Sleeve Note’ to go alongside the piece, which was essentially a description of how we wrote it and what influenced it. I will post this sleeve note here in its original form (I have added hyperlinks to any pieces I reference) – it is quite lengthy and would have been written during the first half of 2013:

Figure 2: The 'Sleeve Note' for "Into the Forest" as a part of the coursework

Unit 2: Composing – Sleeve Note

     1) My piece is based structurally on seven ‘chapters’ of a short story I created for this piece (the story of a bird flying into a corrupted forest). Therefore, each chapter has its own qualities and atmosphere which can be heard from the contrasts in melodic ideas and rhythms which are introduced. Where repetition does appear, it is usually from the underlying motifs I introduce in the piece, but I achieve balance by developing the motifs as the piece progresses creating contrast:

     The theme of ‘Creeping Wood’ (Bars 1-8) creates underlying tension, created by the rhythmic motif of staccato quavers first starting in the timpani and contrabass and eventually spreading to all the parts. I did this in order to convey deep suspense, as if it was foreshadowing the piece, and combining this with the rising and falling dynamics worked effectively.

     The theme of ‘Peace Bird’ (Bars 9-28) is ‘hope’, incorporated by the major key of D major and pleasant harmonies in 3rds and 6ths. There is no reference to the melodic material of the previous section, resulting in no repetition and new material, which juxtaposes the differences of these chapters quite effectively.

     ‘Into the Forest’ (Bars 29-33) is where the atmosphere turns dark again and acts as a prelude to the remaining chapters. I subtly hint material from the first chapter by using a low pedal (tuba and bassoon) and impact notes (piccolo, flute and strings), such as was used in the first section respectively by the contrabass and harp. I did this because the atmospheres of these two sections are very similar.

     With ‘Chase Through the Wood’ (Bars 34-53) there is the rhythmic motif which follows through unexpected time signature changes. This is new material and is unexpected to the listener, so therefore it portrays perfectly how this was also unexpected to the bird, and this motif changes to an echo motif in the second half of the chapter where the bird calls out for help but only hears its own responses. This echo motif holds some material from the first chapter again with a pedal note, as the atmospheres are very similar.

     ‘Hiding Amidst the Trees’ (Bars 54-65) contains a new main melodic motif in the contrabass moving between two semitones. I created this to act as a timer for how long the bird has remaining to escape, therefore explaining why there is no repeated material as this is a new situation. The violoncello doubles this motif, accompanied by a tempo and pitch increase, to increase the tension dramatically. 

     ‘Trapped’ (Bars 66-86) is the penultimate chapter and holds the climatic motif of the piece; the ascending chromatic motif which acts as imagery for the forest closing in on the bird. The contrabass switches to invert the motif and becomes descending, which increases the tension through contrary motion and signifies that all hope is lost.

     The rhythm of this motif is continued in ‘Demise’ (Bars 87-92) to let the listener know who the victor in this story was. By repeating the rhythm and varying it slightly, I subtly changed the atmosphere which reflects what has happened in the story.


     2) Rhythm: In my section ‘Hiding Amidst the Trees’ I placed quaver triplets in the contrabass and later on (bar 59) crotchet triplets in the woodwind, strings and timpani. These two rhythms going against each other juxtapose, making the pulse difficult to discern which is what I intended as the atmosphere of this chapter is ‘confusion’. ‘Chase Through the Wood’ contains a large amount of syncopation between the woodwind and lower strings.


     Handling of Instruments: To capture the story, each instrument represents an object or character, and the extremity of ideas for what the instruments play reflects the actions of these characters. For example, the Piccolo and Flute represent the bird; this can be seen easily in ‘Peace Bird’ where they both produce a large melodic range to imitate the bird flying low and high. The strings consistently switch between arco and pizzicato as I alter their timbre to reflect the different atmospheres between chapters, such as pizzicato for the joyous and playful melodies of ‘Peace Bird’, and long arco dissonances for ‘Hiding amidst the trees’ giving a sense of unease.


     Texture: To create the full atmosphere of a forest, the textures became large, which is the reasoning for the large range of instruments. The piece begins with chordal homophony to create imagery for a forest moving as one body, instantly creating the character and setting the tone of the piece, and then further on to ‘Trapped’ the use of contrapuntal melodies creates melancholy, as all the parts move against each other for the final climax.


     Melodic Development: The ascending motif in ‘Trapped’ becomes inverted by the contrabass in bar 69, and similarly, the motif is extended by an extra bar to create more suspense and variation.


     3) My piece opens with a homo-rhythmic section, which was originally inspired by Vivaldi’s opening to his Four Seasons: Winter. I decided to adapt this rhythm so I could capture the dreading atmosphere for this chapter.


     Also from the opening of his piece was the use dynamics to alter the flow of suspense from quiet to loud, which I used in my opening chapter 'Creeping Wood' growing between soft and loud.


     The chords Vivaldi uses in his opening become quite dissonant with diminished seventh chords, and I wanted to find a similar form of dissonance to use for my own piece which I achieved in the introduction, 'Creeping Wood' (Bars 1-8) by also using diminished seventh chords with a tonic of C.


     Within the chapter 'Peace Bird', I was influenced to create typical harmonies in 3rds and 6ths with reference to the Baroque and Classical periods, which can be seen between the Piccolo and Flute. This seemed suitable for this section of my composition, as I intended the chapter to hold a positive atmosphere with joyous harmonies.


     Similarly a Baroque piece, such as Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto, would usually contain numerous perfect cadences more so at the end of the piece, and so I was influenced to use a perfect cadence of C# major to F# minor on the last bar of the chapter 'Trapped' as the piece is coming to an end.


     The majority of the piece has been greatly inspired by Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and The Firebird. Firstly, the choice of instrumentation for my piece came from his works as a whole, as Stravinsky managed to choose the exact instruments to display the exact imagery, more notably his use of the Bassoon which I concluded to use in my piece because it can deliver a rich and yet demoralizing sound which is perfect for the story of my piece.


     I decided on other instruments such as a piccolo and flute because I was able to use them to represent a bird, seen by their light tone and quick succession of fast melodies detailing the agile movements of birds. This was also inspired from The Firebird.


     The timpani was suited perfectly after I heard its use in The Rite of Spring being able to produce low thunderous notes which eventually represents the footsteps of the forest.


     From the Infernal Dance section of The Firebird I was inspired to use sudden accented impact notes with dissonance, which can be heard from the start of the section labelled 'Into the Forest'.


     Stravinsky also used the shriek of the piccolo to scare the listener, which I also used throughout my piece as the Piccolo climbs to its highest pitches, seen in both the 'Into the Forest' and 'Trapped' sections.


     In The Firebird each instrument seemed to be given its own specific melody, meaning no instrument was ever ‘insignificant’ which I was influenced by to make sure each of my instruments represented an object or part of the ‘story' I based my piece off of. The representations are as follows:


  • The piccolo and flute are representative of the Bird

  • The harp, violins and viola flicker between both the Bird and the Forest (such as, in 'Peace Bird' they are representing the bird, but in 'Trapped' they are representing the forest)

  • The remaining instruments represent the Forest.


     The use of these instruments allowed me to compose the story of a bird and a forest, much similar to how Stravinsky created imagery for an Infernal Dance.


     I used arpeggios and broken chords in my 'Peace Bird' section (bars 9-28) to give the impression of trees and other large objects as the bird swoops through the forest, giving further imagery to my piece. This imagery was inspired from Respighi’s Pines of Rome.


     From Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, there were many inspirations. His piece was wholly consistent of dissonance and impact notes giving the perfect imagery for a Rite or Sacrificial ritual. This dissonance and sense of unease was want I aimed to accomplish for the majority of my piece, and it can be seen from the clashing dissonant chords in the chapter 'Hiding Amidst the Trees' (Bars 54-65). This dissonance, like Stravinsky, achieved its aim to allow the listener to picture the torment being given to the main character.


     Stravinsky also uniquely changed his time signature rapidly throughout to displace the pulse and create confusion for the listener, and I included this in my composition, mainly seen in the chapter 'Chase Through the Wood' (Bars 34-53) with a frequent change from simple duple time to compound quintuple meter which increases tension as the piece moves forward unpredictably.


     He also included numerous motifs in his work, one of which from The Rite of Spring inspired me to create the ascending motif in my penultimate chapter 'Trapped' (Bars 66-86).


     The final chord of the piece was influenced by the prepared dissonances that appeared throughout the Baroque period, in particular with the works by Bach; however, whilst this dissonance would usually resolve down to the tonic, I have left it in suspension as a painful reminder that this story is continuous – it is carried out every day – further given by the fact I conclude the piece on the same note on which it began.

     Needless to say, you will be as surprised as I am to know that this piece and its sleeve note received full marks. Looking back, I am a little concerned that the piece did actually achieve full marks, considering how terrible parts of this piece are.

     Anyway, that's enough text for now, here is the full score of the 'Final' version of this piece which is the final version I created (huh, never would have guessed), as opposed to the 'Original' and 'AS' version, the latter of which garnered full marks in the coursework. The recording I've attached is the same recording that I submitted for the assessment. It is with this recording (provided to you by the Sibelius 6 Symphony Orchestra!) that I originally envisioned how the piece would sound, as much as I am loathed to admit, I relied too heavily on Sibelius playback, as usual.

     The 'Original Version' is exactly that - the original finished version I completed before I made some alterations following feedback from my teacher (seen in the 'AS Version'). And the final version is, yes, the 'Final Version', which is a combination of the other two versions with the elements that I preferred the most.


     On the score of the 'Final Version', you will notice the original C-Number I had given this piece. This was before I promoted "C.1 - Free" and rediscovered the pieces "C.2 - Blah Blah :)", "C.7 - Sol and Luna" and "C.19 - Theme and Variations in C Minor".

     As a little extra resource, I dug up an incredibly early "Test" score dating from 11th November 2012 that contains some of the earliest versions of 'Creeping Wood', 'Peace Bird', and 'Into the Forest', which I attach here in its unedited form. The sporadic appearances of the text "Vc." are simply a template error on the Sibelius software that I never corrected.

Figure 3: An early test score of "C.20 - Into the Forest"

     And even more recently, I dug up something predating figure 6 which contains an even earlier (and drastically different) sketch. Dating from 22nd October 2012 (when I last saved the score), this file was entitled "Sol and Luna segment" but the title printed on the score intriguingly reads "Into the Forest [Test]". Glancing through its pages, several memories flooded back to me. Not least of which by the filename "Sol and Luna" (which I shall now go and create an entirely separate 'C List' entry for!) but also as I remember sitting in a college practice room and fiddling around with this very material. As you will see, it is incredibly different from the final score given above, and none of the material, barring perhaps the prevalence of the piccolo and flute, return in the final score.

Figure 4: An even earlier sketch of "C.20 - Into the Forest"
C.20 - Into the Forest [Test] - J.Shaw

  I did later submit the finished piece to the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) in an application to become one of their composers. It is then even more surprising to know that I did actually receive an interview for this piece, the e-mails surrounding it reading thus:

Figure 5: Email #1 received on 3rd September 2013

Dear NYO Composer applicants,


Thank you for your patience whilst we sort out the auditions for the orchestra. As you may know, the majority of the orchestra have two rounds of auditions in September and October but we invite composer applicants to come for an interview in October. Our wonderful composer tutors, [Name] and [Name] will be looking through your portfolios in the next few weeks and will decide who they would like to ask to come for an interview.


Please note that we are holding the interviews on the 26th October in central London, please do keep this date free and I will let you know by the end of September if you have been successful.


Please do get in touch if you have any further questions.

Best wishes,


     And the confirmation e-mail:

Figure 6: Email #2 received on 5th October 2013

Dear Jonathan,


Thank you for submitting your application and portfolio to be a member of the 2014 National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. We’re very pleased to invite you for an interview..


Please log into your account at [Website] to find full details of your interview which will take place at Somerset House.


You should come to main reception in Seaman’s Hall and inform them that you are here for an interview with NYO.  If the steward is not there already, someone will come and meet you.  Please arrive 30 minutes before your interview as there will be a short task that we would like you to prepare.


The interview panel will consist of specialist NYO composition tutors and a member of the NYO management team.


As well as discussing your portfolio and looking at the task you have been asked to prepare there will a short interview with the panel.  NYO is a dynamic team of exceptional players and composers and whilst we are looking for the highest musical standards we also want to offer places to individuals who can enthusiastically contribute to our team and are excited by the opportunity to inspire others.  Members are role models for other young people and representatives at a national level for what dedicated teenagers can achieve. They speak proudly and passionately about NYO and the vital role music can play in all our lives.  The interview is your opportunity to tell us why you’d like to be a part of this team, and what you will bring to it.


Your interview time has been scheduled to take into account the distance you need to travel. However, if you have any problems or if you are unable to attend your interview please contact us as soon as possible on [Phone Number]


We look forward to seeing you at your interview.


With best wishes


     I did attend this interview – an intriguing date one day prior to my birthday – and I am pleased to share that I failed the interview miserably. The task beforehand offered a series of composition questions, asking for how you would interpret certain tasks given to you, such as what would you do with a palindromic melody, or how would you arrange a piece for performers of each ABRSM grade. This task was all the interviewers discussed, and with my emerging compositional intuition, I interpreted these tasks very poorly resulting in the unsuccessful interview.

     Here is the final email:

Figure 9: Email #3 received on 1st November 2013

Dear Jonathan,


Thank you so much for applying to be a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.   The standard of applications this year has been incredibly high and I am very sorry to tell you that you have not been successful at gaining a place as a composer this time.


The panel saw a lot of potential in your writing and how you spoke about music, so we would like to invite you to spend a day at an NYO residency with the composers.  This will probably be on the Spring residency in Durham, one a day between April 8 – 14; if any of these dates would not be possible for you please let me know. 


We know how much work goes into preparing for an interview, and that those who apply to NYO are dedicated musicians who are keen to improve and learn from all their musical experiences. We hope that you enjoyed the workshop that formed part of your audition and that you took away some valuable insights from it. If you would like some feedback on your audition please email [Email] with your name and ‘composer’ clearly stated in the subject line.  We get a huge number of requests and would therefore ask you to let us know within the next two weeks and we will aim to respond to you within a month of receiving your email.


In the meantime, please stay in touch with NYO. You will be added to our mailing list to receive our newsletter from which you can unsubscribe anytime you wish. Through this you’ll find out when and where we’ll next be performing, about our Inspire Days and about the recruitment process for the 2015 orchestra. You can also keep in touch with our residencies and musicians through facebook, twitter and the NYO blog which we hope will inspire you to apply again next year.


With best wishes



     The further confirmation of invitation to the NYO residency never arrived, and as of writing I am not entirely sure what the situation was there – I assume they had to discontinue the idea.

     They were looking for far more contemporary-focused composition - a style which I have only recently (as of writing) come to appreciate and compose in for myself during my time at the University of Surrey. Thus, it was far out of my league and my compositional style of the time, and I could not compare to the other applicants. I should note that I was not the sole applicant from my college that year – one of my closest friends, and an absolute genius of composition well ahead of his time and incredibly contemporary, had also received a successful interview. Needless to say, he easily passed his interview – deservedly so! – and worked with the NYO for the next year.

     Regardless of my own outcome from this competition, I am still incredibly grateful that my composition was graced with an interview as this gave me the much needed motivation to continue pursuing musical composition which was still a very new profession for me. This interview made me think, "Hey, people might actually enjoy my music", and I have clung to this determination ever since.

     I think I have discussed this piece long enough, but I must reiterate that this was the start of my keen interest in orchestral composition, an interest which I cherish to this day.


Reminiscence written on 6th and 11th May 2016

Last updated: 20th October 2018

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