Given the choice I think that I would always rather go quietly into that good night, that when I leave a place of employ I am always happier packing my bags and slinking out through the side door to avoid a fuss. Maybe it is because my career is so public that I like to retreat a little when I am not doing it, or maybe it is just the quietness of the years that has made me much, much less wayward than I was in my youth.
Anyway, the two jobs to which I intend to return after my time off have both insisted on being rather lovely to me, an impromptu rendition of For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow from the Parliament Choir, as well as many wonderful comments and other niceties too numerous to mention, and a presentation and speech yesterday evening at Mary Abbots. This came after a wonderful performance of Sweet Was The Song, my third carol of the season at a place that has always been hugely supportive of my music.
I would imagine that what I have experienced over the past fortnight is a little like what retirement must be like, and it has not escaped my thoughts that I am probably closer now to the end of my career than I am to the beginning, but in many ways I feel as though I am just about to be properly unleashed as a composer. Since work has begun to fall away I find myself already at the stage where I turn off the radio in the car just so I can think about the interval structure of a chord and the implied roots of its inversions. Seriously.
A couple of people have asked my quite why I feel the need to study my technique, and have pointed out that I seem to know what I am doing and have picked up the occasional award along the way, and I have answered that I am happy enough with what I am writing at the moment, but that I feel the need – a burning need, if I am honest – to acquire new skills and commit them fully to instinct in order to free my voice and and allow me to write fluently and convincingly enough to overcome the disapproval of my fiercest critic – me. The strange thing is that as composer and analyst I think I have the ability to hear music in a very unusual way, feeling the tensions and releases between individual notes in chords, understanding the implications of a certain formation as opposed to another, and I know that if I can apply that kind of knowledge and thinking to my own writing more fully than I do at present then I could be onto something very exciting indeed.
Composing is, as Elgar said, damned hard work, but acquire enough skills in enough depth and maybe it instead becomes like Saint-Saens’s apples plucked from a tree. If that kind of fluent, assured and coherent writing is something I can attain in my time off then whatever else happens it will have been well worth the risk.