A Gradual Unravelling, A Sad Carol, award, Caprice on a Capriccio, Classic FM, competition, double bassist, first performance, freelance, London Church Choir, Malcolm Sargent Festival Choir, Nunc Dimittis, Occam Singers, Of All Persons and Estates, Parliament Choir, riverunstill, string quartet, Sweet Was the Song, Through the Fair
As the year rolls on towards its close it seems appropriate to steal a march on what I assume will be on the television this evening and take a look back at the past twelve months. By my compositional standards I would have to admit that it has been a good one, a decent stack of first performances together with a steady trickle of other pieces being drawn out of the woodwork, some, such as riverunstill, having lain there for quite some time. Then, of course, there were the broadcasts, radio and television, and, to add the cherry to the icing, the competition win in the summer, the best result thus far of 2010’s decision to get back into entering these.
My catalogue has grown, and I wrote many more pieces than I have listed online, as I publish only those that have been either performed or awarded, so I have been productive too, rather than waiting for works already written to go out and do my door-knocking for me. To pick out a couple of choice morsels, there was Caprice on a Capriccio, for solo double bass, which I thought was quite a tidy piece of work, as did the double bassist who had a look at the technical areas for me. There was also A Gradual Unravelling for string quartet, which, like other non-listed works, might eventually make its way into something else.
Following the example of my professional life, however, the bulk of my performed work was choral. First performances included Music for the Occam Singers, I Hear, And Am Elated, for the Malcolm Sargent Festival Choir, Nunc Dimittis for the Academy of Saint Cecilia, Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis on G for the University of London Church Choir and Through The Fair for the Parliament Choir, while other works to receive an airing included riverunstill, as mentioned above, Missa Seria, Si Diligits Me, Pleasure It Is, A New Unison Mass, A Sad Carol For These Distracted Tymes, Missa Sancti Nicolai and, lest we forget, Sweet Was The Song. There were also a few descants and arrangements along the way, and a rock ballad for a Viennese cabaret singer…
It is professionally that my life has undergone the most change in 2011, and is the reason this blog exists. Having hatched a plan last year to phase out my teaching one day per year, leaving me free to write from 2014 or so, a visit to my then-ailing grandmother in March made me ask myself why I was waiting so long. It was not a Damascene conversion, but it was a small bedside Epiphany, at the very least. When the obvious was pointed out to me, that I could always ask for more teaching if things did not work out, I decided, as I tend to do in these things, to take the plunge.
I have done this twice before, as I recall, once when I left Cheltenham to move to London, earning £40 in my first three months in the city and nearly bankrupting myself in the process, and once when I left my shop job in the twentieth century and moved into freelance teaching and playing in London. The gradual drift into more teaching was something I did not really notice at the time, but part of my philosophy of working hard until the age of 40 and then beginning to do what I wanted to do.
If you have followed this blog from the start you will know that I have made a pretty good fist of this composition thing thus far, and that the only real worries have been of a financial nature, although these were compounded by the fact that my builder was in the house for seven months and siphoning off my savings with alarming regularity. December has been much more stable, and deliciously fruitful in terms of performances and enhancing my name.
I must also mention a group who put their money where their collective mouths were, namely the Parliament Choir. I have been involved with them from the very start, and it was a bold leap on their part to make me Composer in Residence, the first to be associated with the Palace of Westminster for nearly 500 years. Although a choir of amateur singers, they wield considerable clout, and I am still rather humbled that they offered me the post when they could have attracted a bigger name. It is an investment for both of us. I get to write a stream of pieces for the choir and expand my role with them, and, via their links with Classic FM, I am virtually assured broadcasts of any work of mine they perform. They, on the other hand, get a tame in-house composer who can, for example, trot out an arrangement of Silent Night as and when needed, hopefully without fuss or bother.
It is specifically that fuss and bother which I am trying to avoid as a writer. Those constant revisions and rewrites, while they may satisfy one’s need to ‘be artistic’, get in the way of people who are trying to perform your music. A certain amount of revision is often necessary, I admit, but it should never undermine a choir’s efforts to work on a piece. I have only twice, I think, given a work to a choir in chunks (From Damascus and Song Of Wisdom), both times because the writing time overlapped substantially with the rehearsal period, but those chunks remained intact in the finished work.
There are already performances and premières lined up for 2012, from Sweet Was The Song and Festive Voluntary (definite) to With Thy Might and Of All Persons and Estates (likely). I have some works on the drawing board and some lined up just awaiting the green light. I need to be realistic and remind myself that things might never go further than where they are at present, that this is the best of it, but the ambition inside me is raring to get its teeth into next year. It will be interesting, on the cusp of 2013, to see just how 2012 looks from then, as opposed to how it looks now.
I intend to do some writing today, and maybe a little work on the website, and I have a wedding to play for as well, but I will not be writing anything tomorrow, blog or otherwise. For a start it will be Sunday, but we all need a break on New Year’s Day, and I hope to take myself into town to see The Artist, as I refuse to wait until it goes on general release on the 6th. Like next year, I hope that it gives at least as much as it promises.
Thank you for reading these meandering ramblings for however long you have been following, or even if you are a drop in visitor. You have my thanks if you were involved in any way in getting my music performed in 2011. It sounds hollow on the screen, but I am genuinely grateful and hope that my music has been worth the effort. I wish you all a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2012.