I have been a little lax regarding my writing over the past couple of days and intend to remedy the situation by spending a decent amount of time this afternoon hammering a couple of passages in my orchestral work into shape. The writing process goes on ‘behind the scenes’, naturally, so I have been listening to the work in my head and know for sure which bits need the most attention. For once I also have a decent idea why they need attention and, glancing at some of my older works over the weekend, it is clear that I am a much better writer now. At least, I hope so.
I did do some work on my composition over the weekend, though, mainly on the promotional side, and it has already begun to bear fruit, so it seems. I am sending out my two most accessible Christmas carols to various people with a view to seeing whether they might like to include them in their carol services. Thus far I have already had one nibble, and it seems that it is Sweet Was The Song which is getting the nod. It is good to know that this carol will be performed in at least four venues and probably broadcast before the year is out, and I am optimistic that there will be more performances to come. At the moment there are three outings scheduled for London (experience has taught me not to use the word ‘confirmed’) and one up in Yorkshire, and it is still only just October. I think that my tactic of aiming for the Christmas market is a sensible one. Come 2012 I can move on to other areas.
Sweet Was The Song was written for the Parliament Choir in 2005, and has been performed by various other groups, both in its original version for choir and piano, and in a version for unison voices. The accompaniment can be played equally well on the organ, of course, although I have not made an official arrangement of this. The style is modal and accessible, I think, possibly derivative in many ways, but there we go. When one is writing for a choir which does not audition its singers, one needs to write appropriately without compromising either language or technique. I like to imagine that, like a craftsman who can work in wood, metal or other media, I can put something together which can be tonal, modal or atonal, as the situation demands. It is one of my core compositional beliefs that one’s voice as a composer emerges via the musical choices one makes, so the idea that “I don’t write in that style” is complete anathema to me. I wrote a rock ballad for a Viennese singer earlier this year – it took me a while to convince myself that it was right to accept the commission, but what does a composer do? Write music, of course.
I plan to continue to send out my two little carols and see how they fare outside the nest. A Sad Carol For These Distracted Tymes is currently the runt of the very small litter, but it is a situation worth enjoying when it is faring ill against four confirmed performances of its nestmate. Away from admin, this week I shall be trying to finish my orchestral piece, including the orchestration. I have already started this, in part, and am refining my sketches as I go through. I think I am on the border of suffering ‘piece fatigue’ with this work, so I need to push myself to get it done. I have given myself a deadline of the 10th and my experience with my last piece before this makes me optimistic that I can hit that mark. I have a little time towards the end of the week to get things done.
Once that piece is finished it can sit for a while before it needs to be sent off for its competition, so that will give me a chance to come back to it with fresh eyes. While that is happening I will pick up the sketches I have made for a new piece for the Malcolm Sargent Festival Choir for performance next March. They have performed Sweet Was The Song many times, including on tour in Portugal, and took my last commission for them – I Hear, And Am Elated – to Holland earlier in the year. Hopefully their new work, which will be my first unaccompanied effort for them, will find a similarly snug place in their repertoire. It will be something which I hope will grow for them, as did Elated. I am always happy when people say something along the lines of “I wasn’t sure about your music at first but now I really like it”. I would far rather write something with depth than something which “lets the ears lie back in an easy chair”, as Ives put it. Even Sweet Was The Song, which is at the more accessible end of the spectrum, has hidden depths, I think. Maybe its listeners this Christmas will agree.