Rest, Relaxation and Restructuring
The best holidays allow an opportunity for getting one’s thoughts together, setting things straight and applying some sense of framework to the coming months, I think. I took the decision to step back from blogging and tweeting during my break, and instead spent my time doing the things most important to me. This included a decent amount of writing, some walking, a hefty slice of relaxation and some healthy(ish) eating and drinking. By the end of my time away I was ready to come back, and it was indeed good to be home, the decision to deal with a skip’s worth of rubbish prior to departing clearly the right one.
Sitting here and writing this at the beginning of a new academic year, it is also apparent that I was not always firing on all cylinders in the lead up to my break, something of which I was unaware at the time, but which, in the calm of a late autumn afternoon, is obvious. I found a timetable which suited me during my time off, and would like to adhere as much as is possible to something similar over the coming year. As it will take time for things to pick up momentum, I have a golden opportunity to turn these new ideas into habits.
I completed the choral work for Exeter College during my time away, and I am pleased with the way it has turned out. Having the time to spend a proper amount of thought on a work makes a huge difference, and I was able to experiment with different ideas, a couple of them making a substantial change to the work as a whole, for the better, I hope. One of these was the idea not only to drop the speed for the central section (in Old English) but also to increase it slowly but surely until the return of the opening material. As the writing progressed it became clear that this gradual accumulation of momentum was a really effective way of illustrating the core text of that central portion, that of a phoenix taking flight.
One evening, as I was rustling up some food and humming a section of the work to myself (hummable tunes in modern music?!) my other half, completely unaware of what I was humming, said that it sounded like the moment in Sibelius 5 when the geese take flight. Oddly and entirely coincidentally the bass part of the organ at precisely that point is the same as the opening of that great symphony. Is that a coincidence or was Sibelius’s masterwork sitting there in my subconscious? I am not sure it was, as the effect was more the happy accident of various lines coming together, but still…
against the pull of silence
I also finished the string piece, against the pull of silence, and I am pleased with this as well. I feel that there are moments in the final movement where the balance between the various parts of the orchestra might not be quite as fine as I hope, but I will not know for sure until I hear it in motion, and there will be plenty of time for tweaking before any performance happens. As a three movement work I think it works well, and I am interested to hear how my inverted layout (slow-fast-slow) will do in expressing the ideas behind the piece.
There was a third composition over the break, a song for a 60th birthday, the lyrics aimed at the person concerned and the piano part oompahing away with its Chas and Dave stylings. I did wonder whether I would make it through the first chorus unscathed, especially with its reference to the person concerned being “a devoted Arse…nal fan”, but the table between us was broad enough to offer sufficient protection, and apparently the intended target beamed his was through and now wants a recording.
This coming Sunday the choir of St Mary Abbots will also give the first performance of the new version of Tota Pulchra Es, the first of what I hope will be many outings for my music in the coming months. In addition, I have been approached for more playing and lecturing work, all of which is good news which promises nothing but good for my writing.
As I sat at dinner last night with a very dear friend we discussed what our plans were, and I have also done a hefty amount of thinking about this during August. Walking over Waterloo Bridge last night, the hazy sunshine bathing the Palace of Westminster, the London Eye and the rest of the city in its light, I tried as best as possible to capture the feeling and keep it with me. This will be the third year of being a ‘proper’ composer, and I want it to be the best thus far. I have a very clear idea of what I would like to be doing in two, five, ten years time, so it is time to strike out and take the next steps on the road which might just lead me there.