Saturday, 25 June 2016

Lehigh Choral Composers Forum: Day 6

Bryan went fetal... too many photocopies!!
Definitely in the home stretch now - feeling a little ropey this morning, I must say, although I really feel for Bryan Lin and Casey Rule the most, as not only are they participating composers, they're also running around organising the rehearsal schedules and chasing everybody up for their latest version of their scores - I actually don't know how they've fit in time to write their own pieces! Bravo guys, stellar job!

In today's morning seminar we paid attention to Dr Steven Sametz's compositional works. Steven present pretty much a cross-section of his works from his early career as a composer, through to his most recent works. Dr Sametz's work is extensive, to say the least, I mean you only have to go on his wikipedia page and start reading to gauge how much he's achieved: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Sametz  One piece that really struck me was his work "A Child's Requiem". Steven explained the back-story to this work, and how it was inspired by the mass shooting of Sandy Hook, and in general, how children deal with grief is very much different to how adults deal with grief. The piece is a large scale work comprised of pieces inspired by children's stories of loss. It was his second movement, that, I have to admit, kind of broke me, and I found myself moved to tears. Having dealt with some painful loss quite recently myself, and also seeing how children deal with the same loss, this piece just completely opened the emotional flood gates for me. That is the true power of really great music - you don't know how it's going to effect you, but hopefully you are the better for it when it does.

Look at the concentration faces!
My final session with Dr Sven-David Sandstrom was just wonderful really. He took one last look at my piece, and gave more performance suggestions than anything else, and basically told me not to change a thing in the score - so I guess I'm there with it then! He recommended that it would be a good piece for Highschool Choirs, and that I most definitely need to try and shop it around and get it performed a lot. Mark Boyle (the lovely man who is singing the tenor solo for my piece) has already asked for the piece so he can do it with his choir. Guess I can be pretty pleased with the outcome of this piece so far - can't wait for the actual concert on Saturday now!

The afternoon session with the Princeton singers went pretty well I'd say - everyone's works are shaping up nicely. My own work sounded exactly as I want in terms of notes, rhythms and vocal colours - still a few little performance elements I want to get finalised, but that's for the dress rehearsal I feel. The best feeling I have about the piece though is that the choir love singing it. I think, by now, every single member has come up to me to tell me how much they love it (some many more times than once!). I am very much enjoying the connection the composers and the choir have. The singers are not afraid to just come up to you and ask a question, or offer a suggestion that might make things work better from their point of view. It can be a little daunting, especially if you've not done it before, to suddenly be in-front of professional singers and be like, "I want it like this please!" - but this all leads back to the idea of forming relationships. If you take the time to introduce yourself in an informal setting, essentially putting a face to a name, it makes the whole process much smoother.

One thing that's come up time and time again is how this particular bunch of composers are not too great at giving a simple and direct answer to a question - for example:
[Singer] "Oh, in bar 27, what dynamic marking did you want us to crescendo to?" [Composer] "Well, when a tree falls in the woods, do you hear it? Or should you be wearing a cape? #Pie" 
Quite rightly, performers (and conductors) hate this - I'm much more direct about things, but then I've always been straightforward with what I want, generally speaking! Worth noting though, would-be composers/songwriters out there! Don't be pretentious, or try to be 'clever'.... just answer the damn question!

The second session with the singers had a much more jam-packed schedule, and it's pretty amazing to see how much these guys can get done in such a short space of time. Dr Sametz is very particular, but knows how to get everything that's needed quickly and efficiently: it's very impressive to watch!
- Another emotional roller coaster for me in this session, as it started with Michael Fairbairns piece "I will come to you." I have been in love with this piece since I heard the initial page back in tuesdays read-through. The lyrics, which are Michael's own adaptation of Jeremiah (a bible verse) read as a very intimate declaration of love and loyalty to someone very special, and hearing this piece in it's near completed state (and after Dr Sametz's piece pretty much opened up the flood gate this morning), I was pretty much emotionally spent by the end, and not ashamed to say I cried... a lot.... and probably will at the concert (note to self: waterproof mascara is a must!). This really is a choral gem!

The social side of things really hit a climax tonight, it has to be said. We were invited by the Princeton Singers to party with them in room 501 for a 'Scotch Party' - needless to say, all the scotch was had, as were many jolly japes including (and not limited to) chair balancing on ones face (Mark Boyle: the man who can sing and do circus tricks with his face), massage therapy (because what else shows your appreciation to someone's hard work and talent than sticking your thumbs into their neck?), and an early hours sandwich mission (the term 'Fat Chicken Sandwich' does not even cover it!) I have loved getting to know these guys: got some absolute friends for life amongst this lot, and I most definitely hope to see them all again in the very near future - which, gathering by a lot of conversation which was had at said party, may be a very real possibility! Here's hoping!

#composersscotchguard2016