I am sure that the last thing the members of the Parliament Choir wanted at last night’s rehearsal, our first on Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, was to have me take up about half the time talking, but the piece is so good and the circumstances behind its composition so fascinating that it is hard to keep my enthusiasm for it closed in. As King’s X sang on their last album, “if you like what you hear then go tell somebody”.
Luckily for me I have been able to spend a decent chunk of my life going and telling somebodies about music – classes, choirs, private students, pretty much anybody who happens to be within earshot. I love being able to pick apart how and why the music works, how it gains its impact, plays with our expectations, and how the composer in the best cases has lured us in with a delicate balance of push and pull, tension and release.
It is exactly those qualities that I attempt to manipulate in my own music, and in order to gain as much and as wide an experience as possible I have fought in writing and listening against that kind of specialisation that some of my tutors at Oxford would have had me pursue. Quite how specialisation in a narrow field helps a musician to be a musician has always escaped me.
In 1992 I narrowly escaped spending my life researching obscure monodic Italian madrigals of the early 1600s, even though it seemed like an unmitigated disaster at the time. As far as music goes, I am with Duke Ellington who opined that there is only good music and bad music, and all those categorisations are just so much noise, although he put it much more elegantly, of course, but that is why they called him Duke.
Besides, every musical effort informs every other musical effort, and I love the fact that I can spend a Monday writing my own music, teaching composition to a student, and then taking a rehearsal on one of the greatest pieces of choral music in the repertoire, written by a Mozart still in his mid-twenties. Then, back in Somerset, I receive a text from an old friend and check out his recommendation of some Dutch/Spanish very heavy metal indeed, complete with a singer who plays the trumpet, and I like what I hear.