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Christmas News 2017/2018

It’s funny being involved in choral music, as Christmas seems to start so early when you begin rehearsing festive music a month or so in advance! Now that it’s December, I think it’s finally a more acceptable time to be sharing news of the three Christmas performances I’ve got coming up.

What Cheer? Good Cheer!

I accompany the children’s choir SignuptoSing, the youth choir attached to Saffron Walden Choral Society, and was really excited to be asked to write a piece for us to perform at the Spirit of Christmas concert in St Mary’s, Saffron Walden, on 9th December. I spent a long time wondering which text to use, before eventually deciding on ‘What Cheer? Good Cheer!’ because it’s just so happy. I completely adore Walton’s SATB setting of these words but I think my setting for children and piano is sufficiently different from his; perhaps not quite so elegant and maybe a bit more boisterously enthusiastic! I’ve been so impressed with how quickly the singers have picked it up and can’t wait for the performance next weekend.

Ave Maria and Caritas Chamber Choir

In October I finished my setting of Ave Maria commissioned by Caritas Chamber Choir. It was really lovely to feel able to write a piece with plenty of divisi for such a large and capable choir! It’s being premiered on 7th December in Canterbury:

Caritas christmas poster

Dormi Jesu

Back in early November I wrote a setting of the Christmas lullaby text ‘Dormi Jesu’ for upper voices (SSAA); I didn’t write it for any particular purpose, just for fun, and it was only a few hours from having the idea to finishing it! Normally I spend far longer getting stuck and worrying about a piece. It was very lucky that after I finished it it turned out to fit into the Granta Chorale programme for our Christmas concerts, so we’re performing it in the chapel of St John’s College, Cambridge on 13th December and then in All Saints’ Church, Great Chesterford on 6th January. It’s a short piece, and very simple in construction, based around a couple of ostinato figures. The harmony is much simpler than I would normally try and write, too – although I think in the context of a lullaby that’s no bad thing!

Here’s part of our Christmas poster – a team effort with my Mum. She did the text and I made the star design:

behold that star

In other news: Frozen Fields

Something else I’ve been up to recently has been helping my Mum to organise incidental music for a Christmas play in Cambridge by Nick Warburton. We’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with percussion, and coming up with plans for little pieces to go between the different acts. The performers don’t read music so it’s been a fascinating insight into how to convey musical instructions without writing them in the usual notation. I’d definitely be interested in writing music to go alongside plays in the future.

So those are my bits of Christmassy compositional news for 2017/8 – thank you for reading, and MERRY CHRISTMAS when it eventually arrives!

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July News

Caritas Chamber Choir International Young Composer Competition

caritas

I was completely thrilled to be chosen the winner of Caritas Chamber Choir’s International Young Composer Competition on 8th July! It was a wonderful day; David Conte led a fascinating workshop in the morning, and then I sat in on the rehearsal of all six shortlisted pieces in the afternoon, before the concert in the evening with the judging at the end. I really loved being able to meet three of the other composers who had been able to come. What was most interesting was how all six of us had responded so differently to the brief to write a piece about a character or story from The Canterbury Tales. The six pieces were so different but all imaginative and exciting, so I was very honoured (and surprised!) to be given first prize.

It was brilliant to get to know Caritas Chamber Choir, who as well as being completely lovely people were absolutely fabulous singers. Having my piece performed so well was very exciting, and I am over the moon to have been commissioned to write another piece for them – an Ave Maria.

Here is the recording of the performance in the final of my piece, The Pardoner’s Song.

 

Fitzwilliam College Chapel Choir on tour to Truro Cathedral

Straight from the Caritas final on the 8th, on the 9th I headed off (just a little sleep-deprived) to Truro in Cornwall with Fitz choir for a brilliant week of singing and silliness. During the week we sang my Preces and Responses twice, and also premièred the SATB version of my Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis – thank you so much to Richard Bateman for conducting and Amalie Fisher for her beautiful organ playing. Fitz chapel does have a lovely acoustic, but hearing my music ringing round an enormous cathedral was something really special. It was also just a fabulous holiday with my very favourite group of people in the entire universe!

fitz

 

Maths and Music for Colchester New Music

I’m currently working on a piece for a Colchester New Music project about Maths and Music; my piece A Ternary of Littles sets a poem by Herrick instrumentally, by splitting it up into different vowel sounds, each of which is represented by one of three pitches. (It’s a very simple process but somehow hard to describe without diagrams!). It’s been really interesting to write with the help of an algorithm; the music that I’ve ended up with sounds very different from anything else I’ve written. I’m looking forward to the concert in September and getting to hear the other pieces in the project, as well as hearing how they’ve been informed by mathematical processes.

May News

Caritas Chamber Choir International Young Composer Competition

Probably the most exciting piece of news I’ve had recently is that I have been shortlisted for Caritas International Young Composer Competition 2017! The brief was to write a piece for SATB (up to SSAATTBB), with or without piano, which depicted a character or story from the Canterbury Tales. I chose the Pardoner as he’s a rather nasty piece of work, but one which Chaucer treats quite humorously. I was thrilled to find out I was one of the six finalists and cannot wait to go to Canterbury on the 8th July when all six pieces are performed and the overall winner is announced! The American composer David Conte from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music will be adjudicating and giving a master class, so I’m sure it’ll be an invaluable opportunity to learn a lot.

Preces and Responses

I was very lucky to have my responses selected as part of the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music, and they were premiered beautifully on May 7th in St Pancras Church. Fitzwilliam College Chapel Choir sang them again on the 14th, and we are due to sing them again on 11th June; after having written them last summer, which feels a very long time ago, it’s strange (but lovely) having so many performances of them in quick succession!

Factus Est Repente and Granta Chorale

This piece has also had multiple performances recently, as we sang it in Granta Chorale in two concerts – one in Ely Cathedral Lady Chapel on 22nd April, and then again in Saffron Hall on 14th May. The two acoustics were so very different that it almost didn’t feel like the same piece! Here’s a recording of the performance in Ely with the gorgeous long echo:

 

Circle Dances at Haywards Heath

This Saturday (27th May) I am really looking forward to going to Haywards Heath to hear my piece Circle Dances for viola, bass clarinet and piano; it hasn’t been performed since the Music for the Festive Season concert in 2014 in Newnham College, when I was playing the piano part, so I’m very excited to hear it as a member of the audience rather than as a performer. It’s also had a very nice mention in the newspaper where it’s described as ‘a powerful toccata-type piece for the unusual combination of viola, bass clarinet and piano’!

 

At the moment, amongst other things, I’m working on a piece for upper voices and piano about the trail-blazing mathematician Philippa Fawcett, so hopefully at some point soon I’ll have more to say on how that’s progressing. For now, though, I think that’s all my news!

February News

This has been an exciting month for me – here’s a brief update of what I’ve been getting up to!

Fitzwilliam College Chapel Choir, the choir in Cambridge that I joined in my final year of university and am still singing in this year, has one of our weekly Sunday services every term sung by just the upper voices of the choir (and another by only the lower voices). I was very lucky to be asked by Amalie and Richard, who run the choir, to write a set of canticles for the upper voices service this term; we sang them on the 19th, and I was so pleased with how they went! It was great to have the chance to write for the organ, which I’d never done before, and I loved the speed of the process – no sooner had I finished writing and editing them than we were rehearsing them on the Thursday and singing them in the service that Sunday. Previously when I’ve had pieces performed it’s been so long after I’ve written them that I can no longer remember the thought-processes behind much of them; this time it was all more instantaneous and I was still in the compositional mindset, so I felt more open to the prospect of changing what I’d written based on what happened in the rehearsal.

Another bit of excitement I’ve had this month has been from the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music who run a call for scores every year. I submitted my Preces and Responses, and they have been selected for circulation to the participating choirs! This doesn’t necessarily constitute a performance, as it depends on whether a choir chooses it or not, but I’m still excited, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that someone will want to give them a go. I should find out by March 1st whether anyone has chosen them.

Last but not least, I’ve also finished my piece ‘Come, Queen of Months’, a setting of John Clare for the chamber choir Granta Chorale. I’ve just now done most of the editing of the score (always such a long and boring part of the job!) and we’ll hopefully be trying it out at the first rehearsal tomorrow evening. I hope it goes well, and with any luck we’ll be singing it in Ely Cathedral Lady Chapel at the end of April (which is appropriate, as the words celebrate the arrival of the month of May!).

So that’s a snapshot of my latest news, in probably my busiest compositional month yet! Having a lot to do musically has definitely been a nice antidote to the greyness and wintryness outside – I’m really looking forward to Spring and better weather!

The Abcd Convention 2016

Yesterday I came home from Winchester where I spent the bank holiday weekend at the 31st annual convention of the abcd (Association of British Choral Directors); the convention consists of lots of sessions for the delegates to attend covering different aspects of choral direction (conducting, repertoire choice, etc.) which run alongside an exhibition for music publishing companies to promote their choral catalogues. Although I also went to several of the sessions, I was primarily there to help on the exhibition stand of MazeMusic by talking to the delegates who came to visit and selling them music. MazeMusic is set up to publish music by Janet Wheeler, my mum (here’s the obligatory cheeky link to her website), and so the vast majority of the pieces on the stand were hers, but we also published three pieces of mine to take to the convention – Adam lay ybounden, Videntes Stellam and Factus Est Repente. It was very exciting to have my first experience of selling my own music, and very useful to get an insight from different conductors about the range of repertoire they needed – the commercial considerations of being a composer hadn’t even really struck me before, but it’s clear that there’s a lot of demand for music that is manageable by community choirs and schools, for example. That’s something to consider for future compositions as there seems to be an interesting challenge in writing something accessible that’s nonetheless original and interesting.

In addition to working on the stand, I did get to attend some of the sessions for delegates, which were also brilliant – I demonstrated the obbligato waterphone part in the repertoire-reading session for part of mum’s new choral and orchestral piece The Ceaseless Round of Circling Planets, sat in on an inspiring discussion about women as choral leaders, and on the final day was part of the mass choir of delegates singing through the Fauré Requiem under Sian Edwards. We also went to a fantastic concert by the Riga Cathedral Girls Choir and the Louisiana State University A Capella Choir which included some intriguing music by living composers.

All in all, it was a really useful experience, as well as a fun weekend. I think that as a composer it’s vital to consider the people you’re writing for, and so the opportunity to meet so many choral directors and hear what sort of music they were looking for was invaluable. If I get the chance to go again next year, I definitely will!