The composer’s mind can be a fragile thing. The rejection of one of my pieces by a competition committee last week knocked me sideways more than I cared to admit, especially as said piece, already performed more than once, appears to have elicited admiring comments from all other quarters. Still, there’s no accounting for taste, and while I would love to shrug and chalk things like this up to experience, events such as this can still have a lasting effect – am I wrong in my appraisal of my own music? Composition can be such a strange occupation, difficult to judge objectively, and while one day the writer can be on top of the world, the next they can ask why they do things, whether they have anything to say. As Copland said, the trick is never to give up.
I am glad to report, however, that yesterday’s first performance of Why Should We Not Sing? was one of those occasions to bolster lost confidence and restore vim, vigour and verve. To be approached to write the piece performed at Lloyd George’s 150th anniversary dinner is an accolade in itself, but to me it is more important that the music hit its intended target, that it should communicate with its audience. In these matters one needs to use one’s judgement and trust to ability and taste, but when your confidence is low it can be difficult to believe that musical decisions are correct, however much they may feel so.
As it turned out, it seems that I am not too shabby a writer, and for that I am glad. People seemed genuinely to enjoy the piece, and the performers, including some phenomenally brave individuals who said yes without having seen the music, was spot on, despite a moment where I rather lost myself at a crucial juncture. Best of all, apart from the speeches from hugely erudite and entertaining speakers, were the whispers a composer loves to hear, those hinting at further performances, further commissions.
I firmly believe that a composer should write according to his or her intended audience, and I think that yesterday more or less hit the target. It was not as modern a piece as modernists would like, but neither was it traditional enough to let the traditionalists sleep easy. Wherever it sits in that continuum, I hope that it sounds like my music, and I think it did. One of the players likened it to Britten, and that is high praise indeed.
Lloyd George was a complicated and contradictory character, but to be invited to his 150th anniversary dinner was a huge honour, to have my music performed a money-can’t-buy experience. Now is the right time to dig deep and take that momentum into my next commission, now equipped with title The Serried Firmament. This will be for singer and chamber ensemble, practically the same forces as yesterday, so it is time to take all that new knowledge and run with it.