, , ,

I was directing the music at St Mary Abbots yesterday, and sitting in a cold church morn, eve and most of the afternoon did me no favours whatsoever. There is another organ I play regularly which also sits directly in the firing line of blasts of glacial air at this time of year, and it is not great for the health. By the time I arrived home yesterday evening I was a sniffy wreck, although, charitably, the church donated to me a large box of tissues so that I did not embarrass myself too much on the tube home. Thankfully my house was stocked up with decent medicine, bangers and mash for the record, so after a hefty meal and a Lemsip I retreated to bed to survey the week ahead, and this morning I feel so-so but a little better. As a freelancer I genuinely cannot afford to be taking time off work.

There was the mention of a new compositional opportunity yesterday as well, something slightly off the beaten track but nevertheless worth investigation. If all goes well I should receive an email sometime this week from the person concerned, at which point I will be able to find out more about what might be required.

Until then, however, things are relatively quiet, my next performance probably in early March, and two competition entries quietly awaiting their fates somewhere around the world. For commissions, everything is calm, the first time things have been like this for a while, so I am intending to forge ahead with what I wrote about a couple of times last week, specifically working on my technical language. As with so many endeavours, reading is one thing, doing quite another, so for all the skimming I do of compositional articles and books, there is still nothing quite like sharpening one’s pencil and getting down to business, even if it’s something as old-fashioned as two-part counterpoint. I therefore intend to spend this week at least honing a couple of skills and investigating some of the many areas in which I feel behind the curve.

I played the Bach Fantasia and Fugue in g minor on Sunday evening, in preparation for two more outings coming up soon, and it’s a deep and thoroughly involving play, with some truly extraordinary harmonic shifts in the first section. We think that it may have been a written down version of something Bach improvised during a job interview, in which case we can simultaneously see how brilliant he was as an improviser and understand how baffling it must have sounded to the panel. Poulenc was sufficiently impressed to steal the opening and the structure of the Fantasia for his own Organ Concerto, and, for my money, the piece is up there with the Passacaglia and Fugue in c minor as one of Bach’s most seriously impressive organ pieces. In fact, my personal view is that the Passacaglia and Fugue is the greatest piece for organ ever written, so there you have it, my colours are nailed to the mast.

The week ahead looks as though it will have little pockets of time in which I can do my little pockets of technical writing, but also enough work to keep the mortgage paid. It is mainly rehearsal and teaching work, although there is a concert with the Occam Singers on Saturday as well. Catching up with all the various Composer Of The Week programmes on my iPod, I hear frequent mention of composers having to resort to teaching, but I think that apart from the lucky few, such as Sibelius, who had a large enough state pension that he could simply spend most of his time in the pub, teaching of some kind or other is an integral part of the life, and why should it always be considered a negative?

That rarest of things – Sibelius laughing

I have managed to move away from reluctant schoolchildren to enthusiastic adults, and that makes the world of difference, especially when it allows me to share my enthusiasms. I like to think that I wouldn’t spend all my time in the pub if I were the recipient of a state pension, but I have to admit rather reluctantly that neither would I be able to turn out anything approaching the calibre of Sibelius 5, more’s the pity. A little more technical assurance, however, would at least mean that I am not quite so far away from those lofty goals, so study it is. I am really looking forward to it.