Composer Aran Browning reflects on the process of rehearsing with Strathendrick Singers during their Adopt a Composer pairing

With the premiere of ‘a quiet life’ just a week ago, I’ve nearly come to the end of my journey as an adopted composer, though I have a few blog posts I want to share from my experiences over the last few months collaborating with the Strathendrick Singers in their 40th anniversary year.

The first of these is about the rehearsal process, which was one of the many draws of the project originally. This ability to spend a longer period of time with an ensemble and come to know the singers and community has been thoroughly rewarding and helped me create a piece more reflective of them. It has also challenged me to be flexible, considering what’s important in the work and what can be adapted to perhaps fit better, be more approachable or more practical. Some thoughts…

Giving the choir movements in different stages allowed me time to continue writing, the choir space to get to grips a bit with one movement before another so it didn’t feel like all at once and most importantly gave us all the opportunity to then learn and develop from one movement to another. For example, some of the shifting rhythms the choir encountered in the first movement helped them greatly in the final section of the piece where having tackled the prior material they were surprised how quickly and confidently they were able to pick up related ideas later on.

Likewise, I considered the trickiness of some of the inner harmonies in the first movement and aimed to support these a little more in the piano, through clearer spacing/balance between parts in the later movements.

There were various other amendments and alterations on route, such as deleting a long held chord in the piano to continue momentum and not stifle it which I noticed upon hearing it in practice. Another was changing 'Drumberg Loan' to 'Drumbeg Loan' – a subtle difference, which were it not for the choir spotting, I would have missed. When practicing the opening of the piece, one of the choir members was disappointed not to see Killearn mentioned due to its connection with the group’s origins. As such in the last movement/coda I incorporated this suggestion –

“Remember? That first concert back in Killearn, where we return, to go on singing…”

David Horne’s (our project’s mentor) suggestions and anecdotes regarding text have been invaluable in helping me formulate and create the lyrics for the piece including referring me to the American Heritage Dictionary for word splitting, which has been a fantastic resource when composing.

During the rehearsal process I approached the choir with the idea of incorporating video into the piece - I was thinking that the choir would walk on and off to video (with piano interlude) highlighting the concept that the choir doesn’t stop when they’re off-stage and through the imagery sharing the choir’s ‘life’. They were really on board with this, though as expected unsure about what it may entail!

As with other elements this got transformed during the rehearsal and creative process, where discussions with different people lead to modifying the end so that instead the choir would sit down one by one and turn to look at the video. This reflected the reminiscent and celebratory finish I was looking for, while practically working better in closing the piece with the choir still on stage. Get an idea of the entrance video here alongside an impression of the live background piano interlude.