After a couple of days dealing with more earthly matters it has been a real pleasure this morning to get back to my writing, and I have spent a good few hours on The Serried Multitude, chipping away at little corners and adding harmonies and textures to the bulk of the work. Although some of the moments are fairly basic, it is still early days, and the piece appears to have reached the tipping point in its composition where the whole has come into focus, something which makes it easier to understand. It is hard to explain what this means, but imagine starting a painting without knowing how big the canvas is and maybe that will give you some idea.
For this piece, unusually, I have been working almost entirely on computer, although I do prefer to work on paper where possible and do most of my thinking the old fashioned way. There is something about the physical contact being made which cements the process much more clearly in the mind and makes it more real. Sibelius is quite the most fantastic tool for the modern composer, and it is still hard to believe that only fifteen years ago I was doing everything by hand and then trying to find a photocopier in order to send out scores, but, even so, there is value in the old craft, in the honing and working out.
If Sibelius does not make all of the composer’s tasks easier, it certainly helps with most of them, and above is a screenshot of what today’s version of the piece looks like. I have two windows open in order to enable me to see different parts of the piece at the same time, and the stave above the vocal line is for basic harmonic work – it is blank here because most of this has been done at the start of the piece – while the vocal line and the piano sit underneath, although it is important to realise that the “piano” part is, at this stage, merely a rough sketch of various lines and harmonies which will need much refining. At some point a new piano part will go in underneath what I currently have, which will be something close to the final pre-orchestration version.
I also have a clear idea of how the orchestration might go in this piece, and have jotted down the adjective “scattered” on my note pad. In other words, apart from fragmentary lines, the instruments will not be carrying textures through for long periods, but the colours will be constantly shifting and changing, a palette of bright reds, oranges, purples and yellows. The chords in the fifth bar of the top window will change in each bar as they aspire upwards towards their resolution on the word “stars”, at which point they might drop out (as they do now) or continue, something to decide later.
I have clear memories of starting out as a composer after my first competition win in 1992, and finding it difficult to write for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time. It is abundantly clear to me now that my technique and craft were not advanced enough for me to be able to work through problems, also that I was intent on having every single detail in place from the start rather than seeing the piece as a journey of refinement and trying to get something, anything down on paper. Spending two to three hours on a piece is therefore a real joy, and, with my new timetable in place and working nicely, I hope it will become a regular occurrence.