What a fantastic opportunity this is! I have been following Adopt a Composer over the years and seen it celebrate, season after season, the breadth of talent and music making among our leisure-time musicians, who I have often described to colleagues as ‘National Treasures’.
The support and wealth of learning opportunities they can provide for emerging composers, through true collaboration, is extraordinary. Equally exciting is the potential for composers to build long-lasting creative partnerships, as well as contributing to a developing appetite for fresh, brand new music among dedicated audiences up and down the land.
I waited with anticipation to find out which ensemble I had been paired with. In my application and interview I did suggest a preference to be paired with a choir, as I’ve been very fortunate to receive opportunities to compose a lot of instrumental music. I was thrilled to be paired with the choir Côr Crymych a’r Cylch, based just down the M4 motorway from where I live in Cardiff. Our mentor for the scheme is Colin Riley, and from the very outset his wisdom and experience have guided our initial discussions, thoughts, and plans for the collaboration. After the announcement of the pairings, I met Angharad, the music director, and Suzanne from the choir.
We immediately began sharing ideas which were coming thick and fast! Each of us built on the other’s previous suggestion as the initial conception of the piece grew and grew! We discussed the possibility of a multi-movement work that celebrated community, unity, identity, togetherness and similar themes.
Each of the pieces would be part of the whole, but could be performed independently, and a movement could be written specifically for the choir to take to competitions. I learned that there are poets in the choir who might contribute original texts, as well as teachers who are willing for us to work with school children for part of the text for the piece. All very, very exciting!
The choir very generously invited me to join them to sing on the pitch of the Principality Stadium during the pre-match celebrations for Wales vs. Georgia on Saturday 18 November. I went to meet them for the first time during their weekly rehearsal the Tuesday before the game. I was overwhelmed by the sense of community, the warm reception I received, and the collective sense of humour and fun among the choir, and between the choir and Angharad. It was a real joy to experience!
I was invited to join either the tenor or bass section, as I’m a bit of a shaky baritone, so was seated in between the two sections. It was also a joy to be immersed in the Welsh language – something I had not experienced since Welsh lessons in secondary school – and a very kind gentleman named Eirion from the tenor section translated the bits that I couldn’t quite work out! After a series of fun and engaging warm ups, we were off singing the repertoire that had been supplied by the Welsh Rugby Union.
The choir has such a warm, rich, beautiful and heartfelt sound. I was overwhelmed and lots of ideas began to fizz away inside my ears. Although my sight singing is usually fine, I had a bit of trouble reading the Welsh words, and the choir was generously forgiving. All of the choir had the repertoire off copy, as was the requirement, and at one point Angharad had everyone walking around the room in different directions while singing one of the pieces. Brilliant! I resolved to work on the repertoire at home and make sure it was up to scratch by the performance on Saturday.
After rehearsing all of the pieces for the rugby, I then had the opportunity to step out of the choir, and listen as an audience member as they sang through two works they were preparing for their Christmas concert. One was for the whole choir, and one for the men alone, and both reinforced my initial impressions of the choir’s warm, beautifully blended sound packed with heart and soul.
Singing in the Principality Stadium with Côr Crymych – one of three choirs who joined together to form the massed choir for this match – was a very emotional experience. The choir’s rich sound combined with the sense of occasion for some truly resonant and uplifting singing.
A combination of factors meant that we couldn’t meet next for our first workshop until Tuesday 16 January. We started a shared Google Doc to share thoughts and ideas, and I created a few exercises for the choir to try that explore different textures we would like to try in the work, all based on pitches derived from the choir’s name, and setting the words ‘Mabwysiadu Cyffansoddwr’ (pronounced Mab-oi-see-ad-ee Cov-an-soth-oo-r), which means ‘Adopt a Composer’ in Welsh.
It seems like the right place to start!