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  • Joshua Iyer

My Summer Projects

This summer has been such a musical euphoria for me. Combining my interest in composing and playing the violin again with the lockdown, I could spend time letting my creative side run free. Last fall, I was feeling a little fatigued from music, both in terms of school and work. I wasn’t playing my instruments as much, and things became a bit more of a chore. Ever since December, I feel I have been slowly regaining momentum in enjoying music again. Nostalgia has been a big factor in that, as well as combining my passion for music with video games. Today, I’d like to share the backstory behind some of the pieces I have worked on and sketched this summer, and tease some things that I hope to release on the website in the near future.


Let’s start with video games. You may have seen my “Original Soundtracks” section with my recent Super Mario fan game score. This is the project that essentially started my summer, and I spent roughly a week and a half designing the game from an engine in Game Maker Studio 2. Musically, I did everything myself as well: sketching, orchestrating, and mixing/producing the score. While it was a quick turn-around, I basically spent all of my time and energy on this project, and I really think that kickstarted my passion for music again. This hasn’t been my only foray into VGM (Video Game Music) this year. Back in January, I participated in the VGM Academy’s #21DaysOfVGM challenge, where I was to write a new composition every day. That was a great way for me to get out lots of ideas for music, and I’m currently finishing up utilizing these tracks (alongside a few from my Mario score) in a chamber-ensemble piece, my VGM Suite. I still have lots to do on some orchestration, engraving, and reworking some of the Mario melodies into their own thing, but I hope to have some performance of it this autumn, even if it’s virtual/pre-recorded. Either way, I believe this will still be my “big” piece of 2020, just as “Muse of Fire” was in 2018, and “Birds of Prey” was in 2014.


In May, I started writing a piece for my hornist colleague at school, Anna Marshall, and the two of us have been spending all summer going back-and-forth about the writing process and recording process of a trio. I added a page on this piece on the site, even if the video isn’t up at the time of this writing. As well as being a great collaborative work, giving me more practice with recording and getting to play my instruments in my own pieces again, it has also allowed me to try writing a work knowing it will use a click track. Click tracks are very important with video game and film scores, and even if I’m reworking a concert piece in this style of recording, it could potentially be important in my future. I have used click tracks for my arrangements, so I wasn’t foreign to it. It will be interesting to see how the mixing process goes as I work to produce the final video.


Besides writing pieces based on mediums of entertainment, mostly conceived of before the pandemic, beyond those I wanted to try and capture the spirit of this pandemic as this shared human experience, and address some current events as some of my colleagues have done. I entered a couple of composition contests for TwoSetViolin and the Civitasolis Reed Quintet, the latter of which I will hope to get a recording of soon and will share on this site. Both of these pieces have to do with the concept of “play,” and are light-hearted and a bit inspired by existing Mario games and my own recent VGM score I had just finished. Then, I turned to a more serious tone with what I’m calling my Duet No. 2 (after my 2014 Duet) for violin and cello, a piece I hope to virtually perform sometime if all works out. It’s a theme and variations that revolve around various topics regarding the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, and ending with a hopeful outlook on the future. I’m not sure if I would have given it the "No. 2" label (tentatively subtitled “2020”) if I hadn’t been working on my website at the time to re-discover my composition history, but oh well. Now I have a series of violin/cello duets I can add to.


In March, I had started sketching an art song based on the text of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for my friend Abby Rose, who I have wanted to write for because I’ve always loved her singing voice. Unfortunately, I lost that composition notebook before I headed home due to the pandemic, so I had to start completely fresh, text and all. I sketched the entire piece in a couple of composition sessions late at night, when I was feeling a little down and anxious about the situation and other things in my life. This was appropriate, as the text I chose for this project was Emily Dickinson’s "I Measure every Grief I meet,” a terribly haunting piece I tried to treat gently through my setting of it. This has become a very personal work for me, but I think it will resonate with everyone, having been born right at the start of the pandemic. I am excited to put together a recording of it in some form.


I have been sketching for some new pieces as well, such as a string quartet for a composition contest (you’ll never guess the topic - the pandemic!), a Ravel mash-up inspired by Iain Farrington’s “Beethoveniana,” premiered at the First Night of the BBC Proms 2020, and a couple other things I’m trying out for the time being. While I don’t normally compose so much all at once, opting to focus on longer pieces, I think saturating myself with composition projects this summer was very important to get me excited for the craft again and sustain through the fall, when I’ll probably just be focusing on one or two things again. I haven’t even mentioned all the violin duet arrangements I worked on as well for songs from Frozen, Hamilton, and the main Zelda theme! For now, I want to leave this post here. I can link these pieces to pages in the site that come to fruition for future reference. This website has been a project in and of itself too!


Yes, I fully admit I went for quantity over quality this summer. That wasn’t really by design entirely, even if I was hoping to have lots of music to write throughout the whole summer. However, I think I am ready to spend this term focusing on just a couple of pieces as before, and enjoying seeing how I can adapt my style while taking it in new directions.


I hope you enjoyed this look at what I have been working on this summer, and I can’t wait to put that creative energy into more pieces (alongside my virtual coursework) moving forward into this final academic year for me. Thank you for reading and listening!


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©2020 by Joshua Iyer.