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Welcome one, welcome all to 2014. Chez O’Neill it has been a restful time, some of it spent away and without internet or mobile phone signal, and now, resolutions in place, it is time to sharpen those compositional pencils once more and tackle the twelve months to come.

Right at the end of 2013 the choir at Mary Abbots performed Sweet Was The Song, its last outing of the year. Apparently this was also aired in an instrumental version before Midnight Mass in Anghiari, where it was sung in 2012, so it is heartening to hear that it has some currency there as well.

Thanks to the generosity of various people I have treated myself to an A2 sized artist’s work station over the break, one of those things on which one can lean when working. I have long had in mind the picture of Lutoslawksi working at exactly such a contraption, his sketches clipped around the edges, and every time I walk past or into an art shop I look at them and decide to get one, after which I swiftly forget all about it. This year, however, with a little extra in my pocket the thought came into my head at exactly the right moment, and so it now sits atop my work table, manuscripts for various pieces bundled together on it. Those who write, music or words, often talk about having a specific type of paper or pencil they like to use (18 stave A3 halved vertically and B2, by the way) and having things set up is, I find, half of the battle won. Whether it is having Sibelius already running on the computer or having the sketches in place ready to go, it makes the starting of writing that much easier.

My most recent battles have been with a new choral piece (finished, just about), a work for piano (half way through, I think) and a cello piece for a competition, all three of which have been progressing fluently over the break. As so often happens with my competition entries, particularly those that do not involve voices, I am using the last piece as an opportunity to try out some new ideas as I struggle onwards towards some kind of holistic compositional philosophy, while the other two are in what I would call my more established style.

I was talking to another composer just before the end of the year about a similar subject, that holy grail of a defined style, and we both agreed that it was something of a moving target. He said that many composers appear to hit upon some kind of success and then simply rewrite that piece for the remainder of their careers, and I can certainly think of some obvious examples, while those of use who are sadly less successful are destined to wander musically as our styles change and develop. We did agree, however, that writing was a process of constant improvement and refinement, anything but the all-over-by-thirty pursuit you might believe it to be if you were to look at the age restrictions on many composition competitions.

So this morning I was up before the dawn, rain hammering down on the garret windows, tapping away on the piano piece, adding texture, links and the like. For my first day back at ‘work’ it was an encouraging start, but the challenge, as always, is to keep this going through the year.