Music creator Georgina MacDonell Finlayson talks to us about her double collaboration with the Shenstone Singers and Shenstone Roses as part of Adopt a Music Creator 2023.
Going into a new composing project is exciting and sometimes daunting. You’re entering this empty space where, in a matter of mere months, a new piece of music will fill the air for the first time. The Adopt a Music Creator project began in January with the exciting moment of finding and meeting the group(s) I would be collaborating with on a new piece. In the nine months I have been working with Shenstone Singers and Shenstone Roses, two Black Country based community choirs, what started out as handfuls of phrases and nuggets of melody have shaped into a bold new Black Country song.
I first went down to their hometown Halesowen back in February. This was for an initial meet-up with the choirs’ Musical Director and one of the choirs’ members. We spent the day walking and talking, sharing and exploring. By the end of the day, I already had a strong sense that our piece would have a definite rootedness in the Black Country, its people and stories.
'The area has an incredible history of women chainmakers, who in 1910 held a 10-week long strike to demand equal pay.'
When I met with the choirs, we started by freely sharing stories, ideas and anecdotes about the Black Country - local words, phrases, stories of local figures, women’s voices. The choirs are predominantly female members, and throughout our discussions it quickly became apparent the piece we’d write together would celebrate what it means to be women from the Black Country. The area has an incredible history of women chainmakers, who in 1910 held a 10-week long strike to demand equal pay. It felt natural that our song would reflect on women of the Black Country both past and present, and the sense of sisterhood and community that still holds strong today.
In response to the idea of celebrating women, I have taken to several of our sessions bits of melody and scores from other female composers, such as Hildegard von Bingen and Pauline Oliveros. I hope our sessions have given the chorists a flavour of what the creative process can look like, or how we can begin to think about using our voices to communicate in different ways.
'The unknown of the empty space is not mine to fill alone, but a melding pot of shared creative ideas.'
The process of working with the two choirs has been such a creatively rewarding experience for me. The unknown of the empty space is not mine to fill alone, but a melding pot of shared creative ideas. I have found the collaborative experience to be really grounding. It takes one out of oneself and allows one to view composing from a different perspective - as a shared process. The text and musical ideas were almost entirely generated by the choirs, and my responsibility was to carefully shape and mould those into a piece that is as much them as it is me, with my musical experience joining the pieces together and finding the overall narrative.
The premiere of the piece was on 28 October in Halesowen. The afternoon was filled with a selection of songs from both choirs, singing separately and together - celebrating all that it means to make music together, and in particular the strength and resilience of women. Interspersed with songs and a presentation from local musician and radio presenter Billy Spakemon, the afternoon culminated with the premiere of 'Salt of the Earth' - an empowered celebration of all that it means to be a woman from the Black Country.
The Adopt a Music Creator project matches vocal and instrumental leisure-time music groups with some of the UK’s most promising music creators to collaborate on creating a new piece of music. The project leads to a premiere performance and a professional recording. If you’re a music group or music creator and you’d like to take part, find out more.