I thought I’d better check others’ posts to see what kind of thing had already been said – I don’t want to go over aspects of my project that are common to the other participants in the Adopt a Composer scheme – and I discover a post from La Nova Singers, the group I’ve been paired with, which I hadn’t seen it before – it’s fascinating!
When I’m there working with the group, there’s a particular dynamic and working relationship which from the start has been very positive and enabling – but of course there’s lots going on that I don’t see, so it’s intriguing to read about how they see that relationship themselves, and how they’re experiencing the project.
As for me, here are some notes I’ve made at different points through the project so far:
Before I meet the whole choir in Christchurch, Michelle the director shows me around The Priory, a cathedral-sized church with huge curves and pillars of stone, repeating angled patterns carved into stone surfaces nearest the altar, great spans of air, a sense of mediaeval muscle and craft.
It’s a beautiful, inspiring space, and the way things sound in that space will certainly inform the composition – snap your fingers and you’ll hear the sound still bouncing around for several seconds.
Hearing the choir for the first time is very exciting – they rehearse music for an upcoming concert, and work in a very focussed way on the music. They make a gorgeous sound and there’s a sense of confidence in their technique and the quality of what they produce, which gives me confidence that they’ll be willing to let me challenge them.
The workshop. This is one of the parts of the Adopt A Composer project that’s least ‘standard’ in the composition process – but it’s a shame that’s the case, it would great to have this as part of many other commissions! It’s a chance for me to lead some creative music activities which hopefully shows them a bit about my musical interests and personality, and certainly shows me about theirs. The training day we composers had in advance of the session really helped cement ideas and approach, and the day went really well, with lots of ideas coming out. I got a good sense of engagement and interest from the group, which informs what I should focus on in the writing.
We’ve just had a session with the group working through a bunch of my sketches – experiments with colour, texture, melodies, harmonies, with different versions and variations to help refine what works really well. It’s really useful to know what sounds good and what elements take more time to rehearse. It’s good to know what is difficult – it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll avoid writing music that is difficult, but knowing what’s difficult informs the writing.
I’ve sent La Nova Singers a draft of the whole piece. It uses texts about the end of winter, the bursting up of spring, and the haze of summer, so should fit thematically into the summer concert. Much more importantly – for me at least – I think it exploits what the group is really good at, including long lines, sounds, crunchy chords. My description there doesn’t really capture the quality of those strengths in the group, but hopefully the music I’ve written gets nearer!
The piece is very much informed by what I’ve heard of the choir, during their normal rehearsals and during my workshop with them, so I think it should work and hopefully have a certain level of familiarity from the group – there are some things they’ll recognise from the December sketches and possibly the November workshop, and some things that are more abstractly connected to what they’ve already done.
First rehearsal where I hear the choir working on my draft piece. I’m happy - the music works! It feels like the choir are happy, too, which is really important. There are plenty of tweaks and shaping, and I’m going to look at developing a couple of sections that really felt right with the choir – the piece is slightly shorter than anticipated so I have the elbow room to expand into, if necessary. This relates to the performance space, too – I need to leave space for the sounds to be bouncing around. I’m aiming to send them a finished version before Easter, and to visit again once they’ve had a chance to work on that, to develop anything in the writing that needs it.