Sunday afternoon, Chesham Bois near Amersham (Bucks) I met CYCO for the first time…..

Alison Willis reflects on her process so far on her Adopt a Composer pairing with Chiltern Youth Chamber Orchestra (CYCO).

Sunday afternoon, Chesham Bois near Amersham (Bucks) I met CYCO for the first time...

As I approached the school where they rehearse I could hear a lovely big string orchestra sound…definitely a good start for a composer! This was the first rehearsal of the new season and their conductor, Peter Hanson, was leading this talented group of young string players through sight-reading a selection of new repertoire including Grieg, Elgar, Satie and Purcell ably assisted by Jayne Spencer, Katie Heller and Rachel Maguire, Alison Kiln and Nikky Meeson. A lovely big string sound when sight-reading…even better for a composer!

Peter and I then introduced the project and the theme we will be working to, the Refugee Crisis. I explained that at this point I had no ideas about how the piece was going to sound, and that that would need to come from them because the point of the project is that we create this new piece between us. Some interesting points were raised immediately. Could we focus on young people? Could we look at other refugee situations from earlier in time? Did anybody know anybody who had been forced to leave their country? Could we use the concerts to raise money for a charity that is working with refugees?

I do have a structure in mind because sometimes being offered the whole world of possibilities and then asked to contribute ideas can be rather intimidating, as Frank Zappa once said,

"The most important thing in art is The Frame. For painting: literally; for other arts: figuratively...because, without this humble appliance, you can't know where The Art stops and The Real World begins. You have to put a "box" around it because otherwise what is that on the wall?"

At the moment I envisage the piece being in three movements each inspired by a week long “window” where CYCO members can share news reports, pictures, videos, thoughts and musical ideas related to the Refugee Crisis. The situation is ongoing and fast changing so the hope is that these “windows” will act as a series of snapshots of the developing situation.

After a much appreciated cup of tea and biscuits I “borrowed” the orchestra for five minutes to experiment with some sounds, I particularly like the four string pizzicato sound…especially the one with the solo viola note on beat three (you know who you are….I did genuinely like it and if it makes its way into the final piece you shall take all the credit!). These experiments are available to listen to on my blog.

During the rehearsal I began to think that the three movements need not run concurrently and could be placed throughout the programme providing a journey through the concert. We also discussed the time scale which is relatively short as the concert dates are already set for the end of April. This may have an impact on the shaping of the movements, with the last to be composed needing to be achievable in performance with limited rehearsal time…maybe incorporating a solo from the conductor...

The other idea that I have is to create a series of “satellite” pieces for individual instruments with piano accompaniment. These pieces will tell individual stories as a reflection of the thousands of individual stories that make up the “Refugee Crisis”. These pieces will be available to download with all proceeds going to Save the Children. They will also be woven into the orchestral piece.

So, the first “window” is next week, I look forward to seeing what ideas emerge…