Despite having to take twenty minutes to get the ice off my car yesterday evening I made it back home last night under a clear sky and brilliant moon, stepping out into the bracing Somerset air just before midnight. A four hour session with my saxophonist had turned into five, then six hours, but it was constructive work, even if the first batch of recording sessions for his album has had to be shifted back a little to April.
This morning I have been at my computer, catching up on emails and lecture notes and the like, and I am about to make my second coffee of the day and then set sail on my choral setting of High Flight. I have been adding notes to this over the past days, filling in the gaps and smoothing over the joins, and at some point before the end of the week – and this might sound odd – I am going to listen to it.
Strange, perhaps, that a composer should come close to finishing a work before double-checking what they have written, but that is how I prefer to work. It hones the ear and the critical and intellectual focus without inviting the compromise imposed by preconceived chord progressions or, worse still, muscle patterns associated with a particular instrument.
There can be and are times when I sit down and doodle at a piano, but that is usually to check an idea that is already in my head, for instance when I wrote the basic pattern to Carol For Jane and needed to hear it in motion. Not only was it better than I had hoped, but it also served to calibrate my aural imagination, that ability to find a particular mode of expression in a certain set of musical decisions.
My choral music operates differently from my instrumental music, I would say, more based on set scales and progressions, but I still need to choose those materials carefully. High Flight oscillates between different harmonies while an inner texture of semiquavers provides the momentum pretty much throughout, so I know the world I am trying to create, even if I will have to wait just a little longer to find out how vivid that world is.