The Art of Writing Music


A Practical Book for Composers and Arrangers

Paperback: 196 pages
Publisher: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. (November 1993)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0882846191
ISBN-13: 978-0882846194
Product Dimensions: 11.7 x 8.8 x 0.7 inches

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Film composer John Cacavas, who has composed the music for 15 feature films, 70 TV-movies and more than 600 one-hour TV episodes, contributes a career’s worth of experience and knowledge in this excellent book on music writing. This is not a step-by-step guide to music composition, but an effective supplemental work full of some very practical and useful guidance.

This is not “meant to be the definitive word on the subject,” Cacavas says of his book, “nor is it the intent to compete with the many other fine books that address these matters. The French have a word, amusegueules, which is a small morsel that precedes the first course after dinner. I hope you enjoy my little tidbit and get some satisfaction from it.”

Cacavas provides numerous valuable tidbits from his own experience. Unlike the amusegueules, however, the book is best viewed as a dessert course. The book presupposes a great deal of musical knowledge, without which some of his terminology and anecdotes will be difficult to grasp. The book is valuable for someone who is already fairly well along in their musical education and can use the wealth of advice Cacavas provides. Cacavas takes the reader through commentary on music construction, orchestra sections and their use (and misuse), discusses choral and electronic music, and provides in Chapter 10 an invaluable guide to various tricks of the trade, the kind of nuts and bolts knowledge of music writing that you gain only through experience. The text is supplemented by numerous anecdotes, quotations from other film composers, and music examples from Cacavas’ film and television scores.

Of particular interest for film music fans is a 40-page chapter on writing music for motion pictures, documentaries and industrial films. Cacavas provides a lot of good, practical advice on composition, synchronization and the use of source music. It is supplemented with an interview with Morton Gould, with whom Cacavas worked early in his career. An illustrated glossary of notational terms, symbols and abbreviations completes the work.

This book is not only a valuable supplemental text for the music student; it is also worthwhile to the film music fan, to those of us with only an appreciative interest in music. Understanding breeds awareness; which breeds heightened appreciation. Cacavas helps us open our eyes ¬and ears; by allowing us to better understand the fundamentals of composition we can better appreciate the music that composers like Cacavas write.

Randall D. Larson

Originally published in Soundtrack No.52/1994


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