I have now finished my biggest lockdown piece, a suite for solo harp, Street Through A Window. Bryn Lewis recently gave a wonderful performance of its first movement for the London Symphony Orchestra’s #CoffeeSessions.
The London Symphony Orchestra has kindly published a post by me as part of a beautiful overview of the Panufnik Scheme. My description of my new piece, Muted The Night, sits alongside insights into the scheme from Jonathan Woolgar and Matthew Kaner.
The Panufnik scheme has been wonderful, providing me with opportunities to work with astonishing musicians. Sadly, the current epidemic has delayed the workshop. Perhaps it is cruelly appropriate that a piece whose creation was so defined by unwilling confinement should have its realisation postponed in the same way. It was a hard necessity, having expended much to write the piece in recuperation.
I will expand on my post for the LSO here, to mention another important point of reference.
I haven’t updated this website with new work for sometime. I’ve been in limbo.
I was in a bad accident in August. I was out of work for two months, but I could compose (I met my deadlines and kept my sanity) and I could practice chess (I bumped my chess.com ELO from c1100 to c1350).
I was also able to submit applications. Having dealt me a pretty horrible blow, luck decided it would take my side thereafter. I got Arts Council funding for Filthy Lucre’s Hurricane Bells project, a place on the National Youth Choir’s Young Composer Scheme, and a further exciting opportunity that is yet to be made public.
This has left me in an odd place over the winter. Returning to work is hard, catching up on old projects and rushing to meet stubbornly immobile deadlines. Due to my injuries, I haven’t been able to restart performance, meaning that my EP Flim Flam has been on hold since its debut at Artificial Hells in the summer. While writing new works for the London Symphony Orchestra and for Milos Milojevic has been stimulating, it’s been a long time since my last performance. That has left me feeling disconnected from my work.
That’s about to change!
In June 2018, I gave up watching television. I had just had my heart broken, and I knew that my first instinct would be to numb the pain with fruitless Netflix binges. I initially intended just to stop watching for a month or so, but the TV fast stuck for 18 month.
A Bingeing Problem
In part, I gave TV up because I knew it would be hard. Television had become an emotional crutch. If I was stressed, or sad, sitting in front of Netflix pushed away my emotions and left me happily numb. But as soon as I turned my laptop off, everything flooded back. This impending flood of negative emotion made it hard to stop watching.
A turn of phrase in the recent Auteurs-vs-Superheros brouhaha struck me: Scorsese’s claim that the Marvel films ‘aren’t cinema.’ It’s a type of argument that has often riled me. In this genre of dismissal, one criticises something by claiming that it is not an example of the genre to which it has been ascribed. You can recognise this canard through its typical hooting: “That’s not art”, “it’s not even music”, “that’s not really theatre” etc.
Last weekend I had an experience that reminded me why I don’t teach grade exams in music.
I had a new student. He is musical and curious, with interests in film music, hip hop and (to my delight) Bartok. He had just failed his Grade 6 piano. He had been playing for years, but when asked what pieces he had enjoyed, he could not name one. He had quite liked a Bartok piece he’d started for a grade exam, but it was too hard, so he’d learnt an easier piece. In his words: “I’ve had to pick from the grade book each time, so I’ve never really liked anything.”
So I got to perform the role every teacher who’s ever watched a Hollywood film wants to play: throwing the textbook in the bin, and starting as if from scratch with music he liked. It was great fun, hopefully for both of us.
It has been a disastrous half-year for applications. I have applied to fifteen composition opportunities so far this year and received thirteen rejections (my final two rejections are pending by the 20th July).
Numbers soothe my soul, so I have been carefully quantifying my rejection. I thought it might be encouraging. I know that I have low odds of scoring any given opportunity but maybe, in aggregate, my odds aren’t that bad.
Sound Unbound this weekend was excellent, I had a wonderful time as both an audience member and as a performer.
SANSARA’s performance of my piece was a wonderful experience. It’s a tricky work, but it had really clicked by the final rehearsal. I was overwhelmed with the response from the audience, who were incredibly generous in sharing many of their own stories of death with us after the show. I look forward to working through them and thinking about how they’ll affect the project.
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