It has been a quiet few days compositionally, and I am continuing to play around with various harmonic ideas, also pulling together some melodic and rhythmic thoughts, hoping that they will eventually coalesce into a new piece and a stronger, more individual style.
Into the midst of this all, however, has dropped the news that my arrangement of This Joyful Eastertide will receive its first broadcast at around 09:45 on 9th April, as the anthem during The Daily Service on BBC Radio 4 Long Wave from Exeter College, Oxford. This is great news for a number of reasons. Firstly, although the piece is little more than a recasting of this Easter carol into five beats in a bar, I think it has the potential to travel, so airing it to a signifcant number of listeners cannot be a bad thing. Secondly, it means that the piece will receive, at current count, three performances and a broadcast in the first nine days of its life, and that bodes well for the future. Thirdly, it is my first broadcast of the year, with all the goodness that entails, especially for compositional morale.
It is amusing to think that, for all my fighting with quartal, interval, serial or whatever other harmony, it is my arrangements which have proved to be my biggest hits of late. I am thinking in particular of We Three Kings as well as This Joyful Eastertide, which picked up some quite ardent fans over the Christmas period. As a composer who takes himself quite seriously, possibly a little too much, I should probably get all high and mighty, and say that these pieces are chips from the craftsman’s table, not worthy of interest and so on and so on, but I am actually very fond of them.
I approach arranging in the same manner I approach composition from scratch, which is to say with deadly seriousness and from a blank sheet of paper. In the case of We Three Kings this involved research into the various versions of the text and a concerted attempt to view the carol in a fresh fashion, the musical equivalent of stripping layers of paint from a door to get down to the bare wood beneath.
Although there was a little less flexibility involved in This Joyful Eastertide, I still came to the work with any preconceptions stripped away, apart from the request from a singer to set it in five beats in a bar, and, from the reaction thus far, people seem to like it.
I understand and appreciate the point of view of composers who do not want to arrange, but there is something to be said for being able to work in a variety of styles – everything informs everything else, after all. In the end it may well be that the popularity of pieces such as these affords me the luxury to spend mornings developing my “serious” voice, just as the actor who appears in a single commercial is then able to work in theatre, with the low pay that entails.
Whatever my view, any broadcast of my music is a good thing, and yet another example of generous and altruistic support by those who have chosen to perform it, to whom I express my thanks. Hopefully it will send some interested listeners my way and maybe a few of them will download the piece and then perform it next year. I shall definitely be listening, and I wonder whether 09:45 is too early to open a bottle of fizz…