Now that my builder is on the cusp of moving out, it is time to reflect on what the past seven or so months have meant, given that it has been more or less that long since I was last able to look through my organ music in alphabetical order or retrieve a CD without having to perch precariously on the remains of some table while leaning over a stack of flooring. In retrospect there might have been a better time to have left proper jobs behind, given that it has been massively difficult to write since April, ruinously expensive and, in case you had not noticed, we are in the middle of a recession, possibly even a double dip, whatever that might be. All is relative, however, and I have no doubts that the time was absolutely right in my mind, and that just I needed the courage to put intention into action.
It is still hard to believe that I am only two months into this new lifestyle, and even though I get up every morning wanting another competition win or some fat commission to have landed in my emails, I still take time every now and again to consider what has happened thus far, usually aided by a glass of the red stuff. I have vague memories of being a wildly ambitious 20-something composer with designs to rule the world, and it is good to realise that the only thing that has changed since then is that I am now 40-something. Now I have all that experience tucked away as well.
I was looking at two of my Mags & Nuncs yesterday and, while the former piece (from 1992) won a decent prize, it is much less controlled and mature than the latter (from last year). The more recent work is by far the better, even though the former has been picked up by a few people, and I think that relative success of the more recent setting is due to maturity, a far more secure sense of structure and – whisper it – a more accomplished compositional technique. I can still remember writing the former Magnificat back in ’92, for it was one of the very first pieces where I felt I knew what I was doing. If I were to write it again I think it would be very different, but, for me, a final barline is usually just that – final.
Given that there were no competition wins or commissions in my emails this morning, and that the harp piece, now tentatively titled Dansante draws towards completion, I need to decide what to write next, and said decision will involve more than choosing a piece, for I need to consider where my energies are best directed. Should I enter another competition, for who knows where that might lead? Should I offer to write something for nothing in order to fill a musical gap, for that might lead to greater things? Or should I work on one of my own projects? If I am treating my composition like a business (which I am) then it is not enough to ask myself what I want to write, because I need to focus on what is best for NO’N Inc. Let’s get the harp piece finished first, though.
Yesterday I edited some more pieces and uploaded them to my website, which I think is now quite swish, even if I do say so myself. I also sent out my monthly news email (drop me a line if you wish to subscribe) and, in a quiet moment, read it and thought “that’s not bad, really”. This month will bring performances of Sweet Was The Song, Missa Seria, Dum Committeret Bellum and Pleasure it Is, along with the recording of Sweet, of course, possibly the most exciting news of all. I would have given my right arm as the 20-something me to be in this position now, so it seems churlish to be wanting ever more, but, in a field such as this, where success is measured in abstract terms, one needs to accept the positive while still pushing ever onwards and upwards. Per ardua ad astra.
This morning I have caught up on emails and sent out yet more copies of my music for perusal. The fishing seems good at the moment, and I usually have enough editing or admin to keep me from staring at blank manuscript all day long. I must settle down later and sort out the ending of the harp piece, though.
Last night the Parliament Choir began rehearsing for its Christmas concert at Westminster Central Hall, its first at this venue. We will need to sell something approaching 2,000 tickets, but our partnership with ClassicFM should help, as should their stated intention to turn this into something of a Christmas tradition. It will be broadcast on Christmas Eve, which, alongside the BBC1 Midnight Mass, will make it a double helping of O’Neill on the airwaves. I do hope that they warn people in advance. Are far as my music is concerned, we ran through (what else?) Sweet Was The Song which was written for the choir back in 2005. I remember writing it in my attic as was, circled by Elly, my beautiful one-eyed hamster on her nightly run. I feel a little nostalgic when I look back at my life as was, but the reality is that I was absurdly busy and unhealthily tired all the time. One needs to learn to embrace the present.
I must keep pushing and keep writing and keep thinking clinically and critically about this as a business even though it is a pleasure while other things (house, neighbours) align themselves. The only disturbance last night was Joey the cat skidding around on the new flooring and attacking my arm, so, apart from kitty claws, there were no nocturnal stabbings here. Note to self: sleep with limbs under the duvet.