top of page

C.91 - "Journeys of Ryo"

Composed: 28th to 30th December 2015
C.1 - "Free" Motif

      The variations that do appear were chosen more for a change in timbral quality rather than motivic development (figure 2):

Figure 2:

C.1 - "Free" Motif

     And were similarly coupled with consistent alterations to the tempo to emulate the expressively beautiful sways of tempo in traditional Japanese music (figure 3):

Figure 3:

C.1 - "Free" Motif

    I also listed – and recommended – that these tempo markings are at the performer’s discretion, and that the performers themselves should decide where to place their own rubato to further express the balance of time and silence, thus in an attempt to aid the listener in experiencing the ‘ma’. If the performers themselves preferred not to use their own rubato, I did provide tempo markings throughout the piece which I used when creating the recording. These tempo markings were influenced mainly from “Sakura Sakura”, but also from “Rokudan no Shirabe”, and hopefully they provide the vital component that we know as ‘rubato’.

      In an effort to imitate the koto further, I heavily used the harp technique ‘bisbigliando’ to act as a tremolo – tremolos of which are common decorating techniques for the koto as heard in several recordings – and I have used this not solely to decorate the melodies, but to add yet another timbral colour (figure 4):

Figure 4:

C.1 - "Free" Motif

     Similarly, I found that koto music will often involve chord arpeggiations – a particular example can be found at the end of “Sakura Sakura”, which influenced me to use a similar arpeggiation at the end of my composition (figure 5):

Figure 5:

C.1 - "Free" Motif

     Originally, this was titled "Journeys of Yo" out of a mistake I had made regarding which Japanese scale I had used. This was a part of the final portfolio I submitted for the year 2, semester 1 module, ‘World Music’, which was an open portfolio which could be anything relating to what we explored in the lectures. From Indian raga, to Javanese Gamelan, I decided to write a composition based on Japanese traditional music, as well as do a short essay on one particular Japanese traditional piece that influenced it.

     The piece itself was finished just shy of the new year, on December 30th, and as usual, I had to write a commentary to go with it, which also includes the short essay on the influential Japanese traditional song, "Sakura Sakura", which I shall discuss next (written by 4th January 2016):

World Music – Portfolio Commentary and Analysis


     For this coursework portfolio, I have written a composition (“Journeys of Yo”) using influences from Japanese traditional music and have the commentary written below. I have also transcribed an arrangement of a piece of Japanese traditional music for the koto (“Sakura Sakura”) which was a heavy influence on my composition. There is a contextualisation and analysis of this work and the original folk melody below.

Portfolio Context

     Originally, I had considered composing a collection of pieces all influenced from different world musics that we had studied – effectively a little world music orchestral suite – but I quickly found that this was far too ambitious for the time I had. So instead I then intended to write two compositions; one with influences from Japan, and another influenced by either African rhythms or Gamelan. However, as a result of my terrible time management (and the joys that are the ‘flu’) I only managed to complete one of these compositions – the tentatively named “Journeys of Yo”. In place of the 2nd composition, I instead transcribed one of the Japanese pieces that was a large influence on my composition, and decided to briefly analyse it in its context out of my own interest.

     With regard to other resources I used for this composition, I found Peter Fletcher’s “World Musics in Context” to be relatively brief for information on Japan. Thus I relied heavily on Bonnie C. Wade’s “Music in Japan: Experiencing music, expressing culture”, William P. Malm’s “Traditional Japanese Music and Musical Instruments” and several different audio recordings – the most influential listed in the discography – for help in composing in the Japanese style. A final vital resource was the website of “The International Shakuhachi Society”, which contained a surprising amount of detail on Japanese traditional music, and led me to discover “Sakura Sakura” and the recording from which I later made the transcription.

Part 1 (Composition Commentary)

Context and Analysis (“Journeys of Yo”)

     Foremost, on deciding which scale to use, I had originally intended to write an orchestral piece using the ‘In’ scale and what I perceived within it. However, after experimenting with ideas and motifs, I felt it was straying too far from Japanese influence, so I scrapped the ideas and scaled the concept down, opting to remain strict to the ‘Yo’ scale instead. This was in order to devise new ideas from a clean slate without a significant interference from western traditions, which was tainting the ideas I devised using the ‘In’ scale.

     However, I did aim to remain using western classical instruments as opposed to East Asian instruments as I wanted to propose my interpretation of how the Japanese style can be heard through our own instruments. As I quickly became intrigued by koto instrumental music, the western harp was the most obvious choice to emulate this instrument. I settled on using two harps to allow for a greater combinations of timbres and to mimic the koto ensemble. The existence of the harp pedal mechanism also allowed me to exploit enharmonic tunings to ensure pentatonicism, and enabled me to write glissandi that were wholly within the ‘Yo’ scale.

     One particular ensemble performance that recreated gagaku – the ancient imperial court music – shocked me substantially with the amount of pain I heard in the sounds. Thus I adopted the structural form of ‘Jo – Ha – Kyū’ which was used in the gagaku piece. I also considered scoring the inner section, the ‘Ha’, for a small ensemble of brass and flutes in an attempt to emulate the painful sounds I had heard, but ultimately I felt it wouldn’t yield a satisfying result and would most likely drive me insane.

     As the traditional structure of ‘Jo – Ha – Kyū’ is relatively long-lasting, with the ‘Ha’ section alone usually being around seven to ten minutes (Malm, 2000), I aimed for a shorter duration to ensure that I could actually finish the composition on time. I did however keep the ratios of the three sections as similar as possible – with the ‘Ha’ section being the longest, and the ‘Kyū’ section being the quickest and most abrupt. The ‘Jo’ section was therefore an introductory section without a definite metre. It was also improvisatory in nature to set out which scale is being used, similarly to what I had heard in koto music, particularly “Sakura Sakura”.

     As a general rule, I attempted to dissuade myself from following the typical ‘motif and variation’ format and instead put more focus into tempo and dynamic expression. As such, the only melody that recurs does so with as little variation as possible (figure 1):

Figure 1:

      To touch more on the ending, I scored the final section ‘Kyū’ to be similar to the opening section ‘Jo’ but to be faster and more abrupt, as a traditional ‘Kyū’ would be, although not to our Western ears. As the ‘Kyū’ is traditionally a metred section (Wade, 2005:39), I kept it close to a 4/4 time signature for nearly its entirety, but I did score it unmeasured in an attempt to aid the impression of abruptness and a rushing conclusion. It should also help communicate to the performer that their use of rubato should try to hide any sense of pulse.

Reflection (“Journeys of Yo”)

     For my first composition influenced from world music, this certainly was an exciting task. I hope that the emphasis on tempo changes has succeeded in portraying the sense of pulselessness, as well as the expressive power that can be conveyed to the listener in their experience of the ‘ma’. However, I think I may have focused on this aspect too much – so much so that it is more of a distraction than a form of expression. Additionally, I don’t think I gave enough opportunity for a pause – a silence – which is a vital expressive aspect of traditional Japanese music.

     Similarly, whilst I did restrain myself to the ‘Yo’ scale, I didn’t exploit the colouristic power of the occasional non-diatonic note, which I found was surprisingly common in my transcription of “Sakura Sakura”.

      Further, I regret that I still let western traditions influence me far too much – particularly with evidence of a climax at the end of the ‘Ha’ section where there isn’t typically anything of the sort. This is also present with a cadential ending, although a weak one, which is not common for traditional Japanese music.

       I feel that there was a sufficient combination of timbres, but I never found a way of incorporating the technique ‘près de la table’ into the ‘Ha’ section, which would have been another welcome timbre.

      With regard to metres, I am not too sure if the feeling of pulselessness was truly present for the introductory ‘Jo’ section, mainly as I remained close to relatively common time signatures of 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, and 6/4 – nothing as improvisatory as 7/4 or perhaps even 9/4. Similarly, I was not entirely happy with the ending ‘Kyū’ section as it does not feel ‘rushed’ (in an Eastern sense) or, at the least, quicker than the previous sections. So it is quite possible that I could have left out the ending section entirely and thus only have written for a structure of ‘Jo – Ha’. This would have been plausible, perhaps even moreso than the end result, as Japanese traditional music does not have to use all three sections in one piece (Fletcher, 2001:395).

Appendix A – Bibliography for Part 1

  • Fletcher, P. (2001) World musics in context: a comprehensive survey of the world’s major musical cultures, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 395

  • The International Shakuhachi Society (2016) Sakura, available at: (Accessed: 3rd January 2016)

  • Malm (2000) Traditional Japanese music and musical instruments, London: Kodansha International

  • Wade, B. C. (2005) Music in Japan: experiencing music, expressing culture, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 39


Appendix B – Discography for Part 1

  • Yonekawa, Toshiko (1988) Flûte & Koto Du Japon [Vinyl record] Nippon Columbia


Appendix C – Other Information for Part 1

  • The final word count for the introductory section (page 1) is 309.

    • This does not include the main title.

  • The final word count for part 1 (composition commentary; pages 2 - 6) is 1,160.

    • This includes all text within the commentary, all figure headings, subheadings and all in-text references.

    • It does not include italicized text within the figures, nor text within appendices, bibliographies and discographies.



     Again, that more or less sums up the whole context of the piece. You will note my persistent error in calling the used scale the ‘Yo’ scale, which I later found out to be wrong when I was revising for the exam. The scale I used was, rather, a variation on the ‘Yo’ scale which started on the 3rd scale degree, known as the ‘Ryo’ scale. A small error, but one that makes me chuckle when I remember just how confident I was with my commentary!

     I do vaguely recall what the other compositional idea I had for this coursework was – the orchestral piece which used African rhythms. It was going to explore the Agbekor rhythms from the Ewe tribes of Africa, with each instrument exploiting, in some way, a rhythm from the Agbekor, and playing a melody to it with an abundance of counter rhythms.

     Nevertheless, the portfolio received 77%.

Reminiscence written on 22nd July 2016

Last updated: 20th October 2018

bottom of page