Composer Edmund Hunt on inspiration and process

Composer Edmund Hunt gives thought to his first few weeks as adopted composer to Newcastle choir, The Singers, and what it means to bring an audience into the process.

Just over three weeks ago, I joined The Singers (the choir who have adopted me) for their annual May concert in St Mary Magdalene Church, Longbenton. As this event marked the halfway point in my pairing with The Singers, it seemed an appropriate time to reflect on the project so far.

The concert at St Mary Magdalene Church contained a variety of repertoire, ranging from early seventeenth-century English church music to twenty-first century works. There was also a ‘preview’ performance of the third movement of the piece that I am writing for The Singers. I had been slightly nervous about presenting a small part of a work in progress. But on reflection I realised that the benefits far outweighed my qualms. The performance gave both me and the choir director, Donald, the opportunity to talk to the audience about Adopt a Composer, and to discuss the way in which my pairing with the choir has allowed a new piece to develop.

The choir has a very loyal core audience made up of friends, family members and people from the local area. By sharing our work in progress, it became possible to bring the audience into our Adopt a Composer process. 

Following the concert, a number of audience members came to talk to me about the project, my inspiration and my ideas for the rest of the piece. The subject matter was of particular interest for several of the people with whom I spoke. Since the beginning of the project, I had been keen to link the piece to the area in which the choir is based. My choice of Latin texts by Bede, with their evocative references to the sea, seemed to strike a chord. The fact that audience members are also enthused by the project adds to the excitement of the process; it feels like something in which many people have a stake. It is not solely ‘my’ piece anymore, although I have written all the musical material.

The development of the piece has undoubtedly been facilitated by the relationship that I have developed with The Singers. My monthly visits to Newcastle have enabled me to share drafts and ideas with the choir, who have sung through my work and have given invaluable feedback and suggestions. Discussion and reflection, combined with listening to rehearsal recordings, has helped me to edit and modify my ideas before subsequent rehearsals. I have benefited still further from singing with the choir, which has allowed me to gain a much deeper understanding of the voices for whom I am writing.

Throughout the process, I have been conscious of the rare luxury provided by the time-scale of Adopt a Composer. Prior to this, many of my professional composition activities had been based on one or two rehearsals followed by a single performance, allowing little possibility to refine and develop material. Adopt a Composer is the complete opposite of such a model.

At present, three out of four movements of my piece are more or less complete, while the remainder exists as pages of notes and rough sketches which would be incomprehensible to anyone but me. At the end of June, I will meet with the choir to run through my new material. My mentor for the scheme, Fraser, will also be present at this rehearsal. At this stage, I am impatient to complete the piece. I feel as though I have been living with it since the beginning of 2018, to the extent that I can now ‘hear’ most of the unwritten parts in my head. All that remains is to write it down.