Adopt a Music Creator blog: Tunefulness in collaboration

Joshua Brown, a composer from Rossendale in Lancashire, shares his reflections on developing new work for the Glasgow Orchestral Society (GOS) as part of their Adopt a Music Creator 2022 collaboration.

16 January 2022 – The launch event
My initial reaction for my pairing is excitement at the opportunity to write for a large orchestra again, coupled with delight in getting to know Ann Gibson (GOS president) and Chris Swaffer (conductor), who have been so open and friendly with me. 

23 January 2022 – One week after launch
I am planning my initial trip to meet the orchestra next week, and will bring my trumpet to play alongside them in rehearsal, as it will be a great way to get to know them. My initial focus is on finding interesting ways to highlight sections of the orchestra and give everyone moments in the spotlight, informed by study of repertoire that the orchestra enjoy. 

1 February 2022 – The day after the first trip to Glasgow
Last night was fantastic! The members of the orchestra are so passionate and make such beautiful sounds together. In getting to know them from the inside, I noticed more things as a player than as a listener: how well different sections combine, and what works particularly well for which players. 

They must have thought I was a bit strange for taking notes all the way through, but I was very inspired by the sounds they were all making and couldn’t help but get ideas! I am excited to explore compositional inspiration from things that felt really good as a player in this first trip. 

'In getting to know them from the inside, I noticed more things as a player than as a listener: how well different sections combine, and what works particularly well for which players.'

Chatting with Chris afterwards in the pub was useful, and he liked my interest in composers like Peter Maxwell Davies and James Macmillan, whose work is contemporary and challenging but also embraces tunefulness in innovative ways (the orchestra have specifically requested tunefulness in this collaboration). A model of music alluding to a tune in lots of ways before a big reveal (delayed gratification) is something that appeals to us both for this project.

I have decided to use a tune I composed years ago - but never used in a piece - as the basis of this piece. I find it to have lots of elements that can be deconstructed and reworked in various ways, and it also gives me something to work with instantly without agonising over creating 'material'. The tune is there, and I can spend more of my time on creating interesting textures, rhythms, orchestrations etc. 

28 March 2022 – First workshop
We workshopped around 5 minutes of initial ideas. Chris and I worked out a backwards path through the piece: to present the revealed idea near the end first as a way in for the orchestra, then moving on to the more tricky fragmentations earlier on. This worked very well, and I am really happy with the sounds we made, and we improvised a few things that were really effective and will certainly make their way into the next sketch. There were a few things to tweak, but it was really useful to see that some things that I thought they would struggle with, they did really well pretty much instantly. 

Joshua Brown in his element during a workshop

30 May 2022 – Second workshop
This workshop was organised solely as an extra rehearsal, for which I am very grateful. I brought along an addition to the piece that may have surprised some – I added a beginning. It has been an interesting challenge throughout this project to write the music topsy-turvy, with the reveal as the starting point compositionally for the first workshop, and working backwards through the piece towards this new section, adding 3-4 minutes prior to what was there before.

It was reassuring that the experiments I had been working on sounded even better than I hoped, all while the musicians were sightreading! Their reaction to my work, and their collective skill as an ensemble, is constantly inspiring and I cannot wait for rehearsals to begin in earnest once I have finished the piece.

10 August 2022 – The finished piece
I have now finished the piece, and composed an ending that I hope is exhilarating and surprising for the musicians. I have also edited the parts, proofread everything, written a programme note, added cues and minute details, printed and bound the score and parts, and done all the things that can feel like they take as long as the composing itself. 

Throughout the workshops, the orchestra, the conductor and I have all discussed how this piece was coming along, and the wonderful thing about music is the variety of equally valid interpretations that it can provoke. I thought at first that it sounded very English (it might, the original melody was inspired by English folk song), some members of the orchestra have said they thought it sounded very Scottish (it might, as I am enchanted by Pibroch and Gaelic psalmody), and the conductor remarked that it had a medieval chant-like quality (it might, as the musical material was inspired by Pre-Raphaelite poetry). I look forward to hearing the piece in its finished form, and hearing what new interpretations there might be now.

The piece is called Hardened by Sun and Air, and will be premiered on Saturday 29 October 2022 in the New Auditorium in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. 

Find out more about Glasgow Orchestral Society on their website and follow them on Facebook / Twitter.

Find out more about Joshua Brown on his website and follow him on Instagram / YouTube.

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.