The Gambler’s Den

This composition technique exercise took inspiration from ‘Casino Brawl’ from Marvel Studio’s Black Panther—or more specifically, the rhythmic motif played by the trumpet at the climax of the track, which I quoted with slight paraphrasing. In addition, this piece is intended to illustrate a ‘Casino Brawl’ scene for woodwind instruments, without specifically depicting the events that happened in the actual film.

The main challenge of using the trumpet motif was emulating its fierce, fanfare-like nature and blaring sound quality through the bassoon. Thus, I made sure that the motif was not played at too low a pitch, so that it would still stand out against the higher-pitched flute and oboe. It is also played crisply to compensate for the bassoon’s lower pitch range and mellower sound quality. This motif heralds the moment the brawl breaks out within the den.


In bars 12-23, instead of being at the forefront like before, fragments of the above motif now form the rhythmic base, thus setting up a pounding tattoo as the brawl continues to rage on. The bassoon line is also restricted to four notes, which reinforces the notion of stability, and places it in contrast with the flute and oboe lines, which feature undulating contours and interchanging lines, thus portraying an image of turbulence and violence.

Finally, at bar 23, irregular note groupings and the technique of polyrhythm (combining contrasting rhythms) are used, drawing out the music and creating the impression of a deceleration. This serves as an effective transition to the ending coda, resolving the previously built-up tension and thus the brawl.

In this exercise, another technique used is that of additive rhythm, which can be seen in bars 1-7 and bars 24-31. In bars 1-7, I added two beats to each phrase whenever the bassoon motif reprises. The lengthening of phrases further builds tension and suspense, which is resolved in bar 8, where the piece reaches its first climax.


This technique also applies to the oboe line, where the rich yet acerbic-sounding oboe is paired with soft dynamics and a dissonant, chromatic melodic line. This culminates in a smooth yet reedy tone carrying slight suspense, which directs the music towards the much sharper and more aggressive climax in bar 8.


I also explored the flute technique of flutter tongue (flz.) in bars 8-11 and bars 24-32. The rapid repetition of a long high-pitched note depicts a sound of shrill alarm, thus creating a sense of agitation and tension. It is used in the first climax to complement the oboe, which has a dynamically-contoured and staccato melodic line, as well as the bassoon. In the coda, it is used to strike a contrast against the resolving oboe and bassoon lines, thus preserving the underlying tension even as the brawl dies down. Furthermore, whenever it appears, the flutter tongue enters on strong beats to strike a contrast against the irregular rhythmic groupings and polyrhythms. Ultimately, through this composition, I hoped to apply and experiment with some compositional techniques I have learnt in my MEP lessons, as well as explore the timbral possibilities of three woodwind instruments that were foreign to me. Using ‘Casino Brawl’ as a source of inspiration, I attempted to emulate and illustrate the spirit of a brawl through my own interpretation of the title, as well as by using its trumpet motif as a cornerstone of my composition, developing it to eventually create something new and unique.

Elizabeth Ho (19-E1)


The title I chose to pursue – ‘Gusto’ – was chosen as I intended for this piece to be played with happiness and joviality. The music depicts a group of hunters, out in the woods to shoot and attack their prey – the birds. Their pride and positivity lies in the way they see their superiority over their prey and are fully aware of their abilities to conquer them. While the hunters feel power as they stomp in with their troops, the birds on the other hand, struggling for survival, are desperate to seek their freedom, to see the light of day, and to survive this treacherous situation.

As such, each time the 8 quaver beat motif from the opening bar recurred, I wanted to liken it to the action of hunters stomping in with their troops to hunt down their prey. The use of key clicks on the oboe (notes with heads marked x) symbolises the pressing of the trigger as the hunters attempt to shoot the birds. The semiquaver-quaver motif was meant to imitate the sound of a bird chirping or crying out in attempt to flee the hunters. The slower and more lyrical middle B section depicts a clear sky with no birds in sight as they had all gone into hiding. The use of polyrhythm – duple against triple meter – gives rise to rhythmic complexity and metrical ambiguity which helps to bring out the extra-musical element of confusion and uncertainty as the hunters seek to find the prey they cannot locate. As the first melodic theme recurs in bar 25, the hunters catch sight of the group of birds which they then chase after again. At the very end, the hunters had conquered all the birds, with the final bird chirp being the last sound made by the last dying bird. The use of a faster tempo at the coda was to bring out the frenzy in the final chase as the birds put in their best effort and utmost energy in attempts to flee the hunters’ clutches but to no avail. 

In this composition, my main objectives were to consolidate and apply some compositional techniques I have learned in class, such as extended instrumental techniques and polyrhythm, as well as to gain a better understanding of writing for wind instruments which are new to me. Ultimately, after drawing inspiration from various sources, such as the compositional styles of 20th century composers like Igor Stravinsky, or the image of a rural countryside, I hope I was able to portray my intended programme and storyline to you – my audience! 

Gusto MIDI Recording

Anne Thong (19-U2)


InsanityRachel Aow (19-U3)

This composition is titled “Insanity”, where tension and anxiety in the piece is brought out through a variety of composition techniques learned in my MEP class. The composition is inspired from a horror computer game, “Don’t Starve Together”, focusing on the part where the main characters lose their sanity and turns murderous at night. Therefore, I also borrowed and made use of the game’s theme song, “Don’t Starve”, in my composition.

Fig. 1: Theme song of Don’t Starve, melody borrowed from bars 1-8

The tonality of the music centres on a combination of C Phrygian (C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C) and C Aeolian (C D Eb F G Ab Bb C) scales. This makes the music slightly eerie due to the natural minor scales creating dissonances at times. Chromaticism is also used to create more dissonance in the music, with special attention to parts where the chord progressions move to an unexpected Db major chord, due to the flattened second (Db) in the C Phrygian scale, and resolving the Db to a D natural, forming a less dissonant chord of G major. This helps to lead the music back to the tonic C minor chord.

I also explored a variety of rhythmic techniques to further create dissonances – interlocking rhythms, the displacement of certain rhythmic patterns, additive and divisive rhythms. For interlocking rhythms, I used 3 rhythmic patterns, layered them over one another, producing the interlocking effect of different rhythmic patterns. This is seen in bars 1-4. The rhythmic displacement aspect is also brought out by the Oboe when its rhythmic pattern is displaced by a crotchet beat. The change from crotchet to quavers to semiquavers in the second and fourth crotchet beat in the flute (bars 1-3) helps to produce an increasingly dense texture, driving the music forward. These rhythmic patterns are repeated over the piece either in full or fragments, till bar 18. The interlocking rhythms aim to bring out the distortion of the minds of the main characters.

There is also the use of additive and divisive rhythms in my composition (bars 9-13, 18-19, 26-29). When the time signature is changed to reduce the number of crotchet beats in a bar, it drives the music forward and brings out greater tension in the music. When the number of beats in a bar increases, it extends the music to make the music grander, especially at the ending. The music ends with a 4/4 time signature as I wanted the music to feel more complete, in which the detached quaver I used as the last note signifies the detached interlocking rhythms I used at the beginning of the composition.

Furthermore, I also explored the use of klangfarbenmelodie (colour melody – having a melody played by different instruments of different timbres/tone colours) in the composition (bars 5-8, 13-15), with slight melodic variation, rhythmic variation and adding of ornaments.

Finally, I explored the use of dynamic markings – crescendos and diminuendos (Bar 11-12) to express the swelling of noises coming from hiding predators or monsters, and also the characters becoming insane at night. I also used ornaments such as trills to introduce a more sinister and tense atmosphere, enhancing the mood especially during the louder and dramatic sections.

In conclusion, I have learnt how to write for the 3 woodwind instruments which I was previously unfamiliar with. I also learnt to portray the interaction between the instruments through the intertwining of melodic lines and imitative textures, as well as the interlocking rhythms between 3 instruments that are contrasting in timbre. Relating all these to my programme, I hope that the piece is able to illustrate the mysterious underworld and the ambiguity of it, evoking a sense of suspense and tension towards the main characters’ fate.

Rachel Aow (19-U2)

An Odyssey into Self

An Odyssey into Self is a composition for solo piano that aims to depict the journey of introspection of an individual seeking to reconcile competing cultural or philosophical identities (e.g. Asian roots in a Westernised Singapore). This duality is expressed in the two contrasting sections (bars 8 to 25 and bars 31 to 45) of this work. By juxtaposing various voices and melodies simultaneously, as well as using harmony and specific expression markings to create tension and release, I aimed to present the conflict that is intrinsic to our experiences in a changing society and world. The conclusion of the work (from bar 48 onwards) mirrors the beginning, creating a sense of balance and coherence in the ‘personality’ of the individual that is explored.

Kenneth Hoh Jia Khai (18-O5)


2359 is a piece composed for piano and erhu. The title of this piece represents the time 23:59 – a minute to midnight.

Over the past year in JC, a hectic schedule and heavy workload have resulted in countless late nights for me, and I frequently experience the struggle of rushing to meet tight deadlines. This is a similar experience for several of my peers and provided the inspiration for my piece.

The quiet opening portrays the ticking of the clock in the stillness of night. A student toils through the night, tired but desperate to complete his homework, expressed by the erhu’s sighing melody. However, urgency and frustration soon fill the student’s mind as the music experiences a gradual build-up. At the climax of the piece is a loud and dissonant outburst. The student is overwhelmed by emotions, but his motivation drives him to carry on. As he regains motivation to continue striving towards his goals, the music calms down and fades off into the peace and quiet of the night.

Ong Ping Din (18-O5)