New year new me?

Now this is copied over from my Mahara blog, which I do as part of my studies, but I’m hoping these two platforms will merge in the near future…


The start of a new year generally signal a new direction/new lessons or subjects/new buildings or people. However for a change, the start of term felt more of a continuation of what I had momentarily paused back in June…

… Well somewhat, paused coming into the Conservatoire, but for the first time really, my composing continued at a similar rate through the summer as it did during term time. Which was good, don’t get me wrong, just…. different.

Over the summer I had the opportunity to write a song with a poet from Leeds which, after an intense Saturday in June together meant me bringing the musical ideas and poetry we had discussed together when I was away on holiday in July/August. The piece, for cello and soprano would then be sent off once completed, as well as rehearsed at the RCS (which I’ve done with the performers over the past couple of weeks) before being performed this Saturday, 12th October. So I feel it’s a fitting time to reflect on the process, particularly what I have gained and struggled with:

  • Be aware of playability! – When just writing on Sibelius, there are many things that don’t come to immediate attention that may then be difficult for an actual performer. After grasping the basics of writing for cello I didn’t fully understand until I had almost completed the piece how difficult it is to know whether a double stop, harmonic or fast section is plausible, what it may sound like, or the implications of it – this latter point meaning that my quiet lyrical section high in the cello’s treble range sounds much louder as the pressure on the fingerboard and the player is greater.
  • Talk to players! – This comes as a solution to my last point. The only way to know for certain about what you’ve written as a composer is to hear it and have a performer work through it. Before it came to a rehearsal of my piece I managed to contact a cellist in my year who kindly looked over it and sent it back with scribbles of thoughts on (see Frieze Notes).
  • Collaborate in collaborations! – One of the best parts of the Leeds Lieder process was working together with poet Ian Harker. Though we were far away from each other we managed to meet and spend a whole day on the piece, which was vital for a number of reasons – My understanding of the poetry and how it should be portrayed, creating a piece which satisfies the text and the music and we’re both happy with, bouncing ideas off each other. Furthermore, having a rapport with him meant that we could send discuss abut the work honestly, which was useful when I wanted to change some of the words or Ian had thought of a musical idea.
  • Allow the music time to breathe – initially the time limit for the piece was set at five minutes. Unfortunately about 3/4 of the way through I knew that I wouldn’t be able to manage that due to the amount of words. During the day together I initially voiced my concerns and we changed some wording as well as cutting out a whole section. However I still struggled and I’m glad I asked the coordinator of the project as we were then allowed an extra minute or so which proved invaluable to give the song the time it needed.

Overall a fantastic project with many elements including the rehearsal and collaboration process I have learned a great deal from which I can take into future works as well as hopefully some of the people whom I may work with again.


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