As the daylight recedes it seems that my days are getting longer, certainly when I am up in London. It is the combination of the last of the term’s lecturing overlapping with the run towards Christmas, so things do clear up in the next couple of weeks, but it still means that life is tiring at the moment, and stepping out of the car to crisp, clear Somerset is even more of a pleasure. Extended rehearsals and the necessity of learning new music on an almost daily basis mean that the pressure is always there in the background, if only slightly, so I am keenly carving out quiet times in the next few months, marking them off in my diary for bringing down the shutters and hiding from the prying satellites.
On Monday evening of last week it felt as though the Parliament Choir were able to perceive This Light Of Reason coming into focus, and my main criticism of their efforts was that they were too loud, although this meant, by way of happy balance, that any tendency towards tentative singing had passed, so I took the overexuberance as a positive. It is, I think, a piece that burns slowly, like a candle flame, as it happens, and it appears to be striking the right note or chord or whatever musical idea you would like to use. It needs to.
On that Monday morning I had taken a class for a journey through Saint-Saens’s Symphony No.3 ‘Organ’. This is standard fodder – well, the last movement at least – but that seriously diminishes the composer’s achievement in this work of staggering originality and scope. It is brilliantly poised throughout, and the use of theme and key balance is in the realms of greatness. I sent my class away ready to listen to this warhorse in a whole new light, and that is what a lecturer sets out to do. Another piece to file under depressingly good.
Before pointing the car westwards on Tuesday evening last week I bumped into a friend of my mother as I flitted through her (my mother’s) house. We chatted for a while, and she mentioned Nick Gale, who had done some work for her a few months before his death. In fact, he was organising things for her again last year, and it was only when her calls to him went ignored that she tried to contact him through other means and found out what had happened. Anyway, it put me in reflective mood on the drive home, which always means that (hang on, fumble, fumble, there it is) Del Amitri go into the CD player. Yes, my car still has a CD player.
As spokesmen for a whole horde of slacker fortysomethings Del Amitri take some beating, and many of their songs remind me instantly of specific places and people, some of them from a very long time ago. The second half of the journey passed with ease as I had a little wallow, but it also reminded me how long the voyage has been since I first discovered their music, fresh out of university, and employed at Our Price on a part-time contract, mainly because I was the only member of staff who knew that Wagner began with a “W” and not a “V”. See, that music degree was useful after all! Stepping out of the car, though, and holding the door open for all those entrapped ghosts to slip away into the frosty night air, I reflected that here and now is the best place to be. Maybe in another universe people who have left for good are still around, or maybe I would have acted with more fortitude in certain situations, or maybe just been wiser and better in my youth, or maybe…but them’s the breaks. It has all turned out pretty well.
Since last week the focus has been on the Parliament Choir, specifically the concert on Wednesday evening and, within that, the premiere of This Light Of Reason. This has been an intense and emotional journey, not just for me but also for many members of the choir who knew Jo personally, and I was glad to meet some members of the family afterwards and have the opportunity to talk to them. Classic FM will be broadcasting the concert on the evening of the 15th, and you will maybe have seen the excellent article in the Guardian that I linked to in my last post. The commissioner and I were clear from the start that we should try to get this piece out as much as possible and that the message it contains at its core about holding up light against darkness, should be heard. I am glad to report that people have been in touch about further performances, and my hope is that this work might enter the repertoire. Musically it is on the less gritty side of the spectrum for me, though not without grit, but I hope above all that it has integrity.
The next performance of my music, though, will be on Monday in Berlin, when the Parliament Choir will perform Sweet Was The Song, a work I wrote for them all the way back in 2005, and one for which I have a soft spot. I cannot remember how the commission came about, but I am fairly sure that it was the first piece I wrote for the choir, certainly one of the first. Since then, of course, there have been many other works, but Sweet has travelled well, and when the choir come back to it it feels like an old friend coming to visit. It can take a couple of performances for a choir to “get” a piece, but Sweet is surely there, and, based on Wednesday’s performance, so is We Three Kings, which I must grudgingly admit is quite a good arrangement, even if I fear that two hundred years from now it might be the only regularly performed piece to bear my name.
So onwards we go, deeper into the Advent season and into darkness, at least for a couple more weeks. Despite all the work and all the reflection, or maybe even because of them, I do enjoy this time of year.