After a short fallow period I am feeling the itch to write again and hope to get some ideas on paper over the course of the next few hours. Prior to my building works I had developed a decent way to go about writing, but that had fallen by the wayside as it became increasingly difficult to find where I had put things the previous evening. There is a decent-sized work fermenting in the back of my mind, however, which is usually a good sign.
Yesterday was a blur of emails and admin, a little bit of house tidying and then some playing for the London Philharmonic Choir. For once there was no free time in which to get any writing done, but at least I prepared my monthly news email to go out tomorrow. Uniquely there are enough performances to make me concerned that I am leaving some out. I also managed to find the new edition of Classic FM magazine and, voilà, there I am in all my viewed-from-behind glory. Nicely, my picture is on their webpage above a mention of Edward Gardner, currently Music Director of English National Opera. Ed and I were at school together, so that’s a nice touch, and, I like to think, testament to the quality of direction given to us by John Sanders, the much-missed Director of Music at Gloucester Cathedral when we were choristers.
John was a formative musical influence upon me, and I was fortunate enough to be able to tell him as much when I last saw him. He was firm, fair and never less than encouraging, and directed the first public performance of my music. If I remember rightly it was on an Easter Sunday in the Cathedral, an extraordinary thing for him to do for a twelve year old chorister, and it is only as I write this that I realise that he was probably laying himself open to criticism by doing this. It was not a fluke, however, as the work went on to be performed again and, of course, I continued to write and write and do so still today.
There now exists a Sanders Society whose aims are simultaneously to promote John’s compositions, but also to encourage young writers, and they now run an annual competition. Whenever I go back to the Cathedral I feel as if I am coming home musically, for it is the building where Howells heard that life-changing première of Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis, sitting alongside Ivor Gurney, poet and composer, whose memorial stone is at the foot of the organ, reading “Do not forget me quite, O Severn meadows”.
I have written before about Gurney, and the rest of that poem is worth reading, the previous line illuminating, I believe, his troubled personality. Howells once called Gloucestershire “the composer’s county”, and stated that the best education an aspiring writer could have was to grow up there. Being a chorister there makes me part of a uniquely British tradition, and the voices of Howells, Finzi, Leighton and so on continue to be heard in my music, sometimes near, sometimes far. Although Ed is a far more successful musician than I, having conducted the Last Night of the Proms last year, I like to feel that composing is a career which takes time to acquire its brightness. I imagine as well that John might have a chuckle at the sight of two of his musical sons on the same webpage, perhaps even a twinge of pride, just as I am proud to have had him as a musical guide.