Adopt a Music Creator blog: Timbres, textures, and togetherness

Dominic Matthews, experimental composer from Manchester, discusses the power of community, accessibility and exploring new music with leisure-time music group Singing for Pleasure.

Getting started

‘...a great opportunity to properly address one of my key interests as a composer, which is to make new music more accessible and understandable to everyone’ 

I had been aware of and interested in taking part in the Adopt a Music Creator project for some time and was keen to get involved, so I was over the moon to get the opportunity to take part in the 2022 project. I’m pretty sure my initial reaction to being chosen was  jumping for joy!  

I was thrilled to be able to work with leisure-time music groups, as it was a great opportunity to properly address one of my main interests as a composer, which is to make new music more accessible and understandable for everyone. In previous projects I had worked on I had tried to address these issues by putting on concerts easily accessible to the public, and although that works to an extent, there was still no real sense of engagement in my opinion. With the Adopt a Music Creator project, I had the chance to work with like-minded people; who were there on their own time, who want something that they feel they can identify with and importantly, where they won’t perform something they have no interest in! So, an exciting challenge was set; to create something I valued as a creative, but that also had a wider appeal.  

I honestly came to the first meeting without any preconceptions as I felt it would be a moot point to show up already with the piece in place and just tidy up little issues before cracking on. I was determined to work closely and effectively with whoever I was paired up with; this meant understanding them and their background first before putting pen to paper (or let’s face it, nowadays, mouse to keyboard) 

It was almost a heart-in-mouth moment when I had my pairing announced, because Singing for Pleasure was exactly the kind of group I said I would be interested in working with during my interview (funny, that). John and I had a good lengthy discussion about the University of Manchester - which we both attended - new music and Berio! I was thrilled to be paired with Jenni as my mentor as well, even from our initial conversation I got a great sense of positivity. I knew she was someone I could bounce ideas off without any feeling of pressure or judgement. There was a real sense of excitement in the air, that anything and everything was possible! I took a moment after the meeting to walk around central London and embrace all the excitement and positive energy, prepare myself for the journey ahead and reflect on just how lucky I am to be part of this amazing project. Roll on the next chapter! 

people sitting in a church

Dominic Matthews leading a workshop

Skills day 

‘The best advice I received from this little workshop came in one word: narrative.’ 

 What I truly enjoyed about the skills day was the chance to properly meet the composers, mentors, and everyone involved in the project. . It always excites me that when a bunch of creatives get together, then go away and come back, everyone has completely different ideas! It sounds obvious, but I think it's wonderful.  

For the skills day, we each ran a workshop based on what we were working on for our project: for me, I was interested in exploring a few timbres and textures. A long time ago, someone told me that if you get a relatively big group of people to whistle their lowest note, it creates an amazing texture – and I agree! I experimented with combining that with everyone humming their lowest note as well as throat singing. If people couldn’t whistle, they could do air/wind sounds. The best advice I received from this little workshop came in one word: narrative. It’s hard to do a workshop in a session full of professional musicians, and professional composers at that! But for  leisure-time groups, if you can provide them with an element of narrative – not that it has to be a story, it could be something as simple as an explanation – there is then a tangible connection between ideas which could be incredibly abstract.  

“... I was no longer worried about the end product as such, more so the thrill of the journey.” 

Incorporating narrative was probably the most important thing I took away from the skills day. Another came from an interesting talk given by one of the composers from the previous year. I found her recollection of the collaboration process throughout the entire project very interesting and insightful. It gave us all a good feeling that this project is made to try things out, and made for certain things to not work out so that you can explore how you’re going to cope with those challenges and adapt to them. So, in addition, I came away with a good sense of confidence to take the time to explore and allow myself to have fun experimenting! So, in that aspect, the skills day did change my approach - I was no longer worried about the end result as such, more so the thrill of the journey. 

Introductory workshop 

‘... it was more than just singing for pleasure; it was a sense of community and a place to heal together...’ 

I have such a strong memory from my first session, and I think it's something I’ll carry with me throughout this project and beyond. When I first arrived, it was the first session for a couple of members; they introduced themselves by telling us a bit about themselves and why they were interested in the choir. I immediately realised that to many of the people attending, it was more than just singing for pleasure, it was a sense of community and a place to heal together. I found that incredibly beautiful and very moving, and if I needed any more of an incentive to create something that genuinely brought about the feeling of singing for pleasure, that certainly did it!  

The first workshop was  split into two separate sessions. I was aware that the sounds and ideas I wanted to explore would be things very few in the choir would have had any experience with. It was important, then, to take it little by little. I initially introduced myself, what excites me musically and shared some examples of my music as well. We then did a few exercises where I gave instructions to the choir with the kind of sound I was looking for. I don’t usually write at the piano, so it's important for me to record and document different timbres and textures which then later inform my piece, so my composition process is quite organic in that sense! 

‘We had all experienced a really exciting energy emanating from the choir...’ 

I was immediately amazed at how willing the choir were – they were producing some amazing sounds! I had imagined there would be some hesitance, as we were doing throat singing, exploring whistling glissandi, you name it, but the choir  gave it their all and that was a huge relief. John, Jenni and I all spoke about it together afterwards and again, I was glad we were all on the same wavelength. We had all experienced a really exciting energy emanating from the choir, and it was something I had little to do with – it was all them and their efforts! So, for the next workshop, I wanted to shape more sounds but also come to them with some ideas of creating melodies with the choir. 

Find out more about Dominic Matthews via this website and follow him on Facebook/Twitter.

Find out more about Singing for Pleasure on their website and follow them on Facebook.

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 possible broadcast. If you’re a music group or music creator and you’d like to take part, find out more.