Frenetic does not go part of the way to describing how the past couple of days have been, the payoff for treating myself to a welcome day off on Wednesday. I have been up against it, trying to get my new organ piece finished in time for the Parliament Choir concert next Wednesday. This is a free fantasia on the Yorkshire Wassail, about four minutes long and called awhile awandering. On Friday I sat down in the morning with what sketches I had, paper, pencils and various other bits of paraphernalia (coffee, mainly) and got to writing. By mid afternoon the basic sketch of the entire piece was finished, enough for me to give it a spin on the Wyvern organ I have at home.
While this piece will spend most of its life as an organ piece, for its first performance it will be in a version with brass and percussion, so Saturday was spent writing and extracting brass parts both for this and for We Three Kings, an urgent task since the players are meeting for a run through today, probably even as I write. I could, in the time honoured tradition of composers, leave things until Wednesday, give myself a bit more breathing space, but the prepared mind and musician reap the benefits that the unprepared do not, so I considered it an investment worth making.
It was some investment, though, as I was in St. Albans yesterday for the Malcolm Sargent Festival Choir’s performance of Messiah, finely sung, mostly from memory, and genuinely thrilling in many places. For me, though, the train journey to the venue was filled, departure to arrival, with sorting out We Three Kings, the short gap between one rehearsal and the other with doing the same for awhile awandering. Even during the concert interval I was working on this music, and the journey home saw me extracting parts and doing some very basic formatting. I arrived home at midnight, emailing things off until about 12:30 or so, and then, in Pepys’ words, to bed, but not before I reading a highly positive email about He Makes His Messengers Winds, as yet unperformed (“Can’t stop singing Nick’s piece. it’s soooo wonderful!!“).
This morning I was up to the same old tricks, using my tube journey to Hampstead to make a duet version of Sweet Was The Song to be performed in Anghiari over Christmas. It is version number four for this piece, but it is good to give my friends in Anghiari a semi-première.
Today I will be running from service to service, it being the start of Advent, but, at least until I hear the reports from the brass rehearsal, I shall have a little break from being tied to my manuscript. It has been a joy to do some proper writing, but a little harder work than I might have liked. Hopefully all the effort will be worth it, yet more deadlines hit and yet more breathing space to deal with anything untoward. As it is there are three performances and two premières lined up for the coming week, and more to come later in the month. At times like this I think of Elgar – asked what it was like being a composer, he replied “It’s damned hard work, my boy!”.