Composers Pippa Murphy and Gareth Williams tell us all about their experiences of running our Go Compose! course this year...
Pippa Murphy writes...
After a beautiful Sunday morning drive from the borders to Aberdeenshire I arrived at Woodend Barn in Banchory to 15 degrees of autumnal bright sunshine. Delicious soup and sourdough bread was served whilst we finalised the planning with Red Note Ensemble players, Robert, Ruth and Jo and my partner in composition, Gareth Williams. The participants began to arrive early and keen with parents coming to say hello form about 1.30 and by 2pm we were ready to begin. Compose compose compose.
As composers, often the hardest stage of the task in hand is to get started. It's quite an overwhelming feeling to be sitting in front of blank manuscript paper or Sibelius software on a laptop with an absolutely open brief, your only guide being the instruments you are writing for. So we did an ice-breaking, idea- generating challenge where the participants drew with charcoal on scraps of paper some 'seeds' generated from sounds I played and photos I displayed, with just 20 seconds to scribble. In groups, the participants created a graphic score with the scraps of scribbles, discussing which material looked textural, which material looked rhythmic, loud, intense, delicate, repetitive, gestural, intricate, aggressive. When arranged on the floor as a score the players played made the 'seeds' into music, and the smiles on the participants faces were widespread. My favourite part of any composition workshop: The smiles of creators as their creations are realised…
The rest of the day was spent writing musical seeds and trying out ideas, listening and sharing, discussing and adjusting. A great start to the course with lots of enthusiasm and encouragement from the Red Note Ensemble players.
After a full day of composing and a chance to try out more developed compositional ideas with Red Note Ensemble, the pieces are shaping up beautifully. We have been working hard on distilling ideas, fine-tuning notation anomalies, refining dynamic markings and re-adjusting structures. All the pieces are so different and full of individual character.
We're so pleased that all participants have felt empowered to make decisions and clearly communicate to Red Note Ensemble their compositional intent. It is such an important opportunity and resource for young composers to be able to work so closely with the players, try ideas and confidently proceed on the journey of composition. What an amazing achievement for the participants to create a piece in such a short period of time. I can't wait to hear them at 6pm this evening!
A big thanks to all participants, Gareth Williams, Robert Irvine, Ruth Morley, Jo Nicholson, John Harris, Suzanna Eastburn, Fiona Robertson, Chandra Chapman, Anne Watson, Red Note, sound Festival, Sound and Music, Woodend Barn.
Gareth Williams writes...
Whenever I take part in creative residencies, whether as a composer or as a mentor, I turn up very nervous.
What if there are no ideas?
What if there’s only one idea?
What if some ideas are better than others?
And, what if there isn’t enough time to make all those ideas work?
My fears were partially quelled when I see Pippa - who is smiling and excited and ready to hit the ground running. The nerves are further reduced when the players come into view. Ruth, Jo, and Robert are among the finest around, and have the added bonus of being very lovely people too.
The nerves finally completely vanish when the young composers turn up. They’re nervous too, but enthusiastic, and there’s palpable excitement and expectation in the air. And they are so engaged and articulate from the outset.
45 seconds into Pippa’s introduction into composition - we have our first ideas, and there’s no looking back.
The young composers create seeds, and although there’s only two more days for the seeds to sprout and thrive, I don’t need to worry, as they rocket up like bamboo.
All of a sudden, we have all the ingredients of a show appearing. We have alberti bass, pop rhythms, modal melodies, themes, variations, sweet harmonies, crunchy harmonies, counterpoint, simple time, compound time - all present and accounted for.
Each piece, in a way, completely demystifies the process of composing. Each one presents material and takes us on a journey with that material, and each one seems to stop at exactly the right moment - never too little, never too much. And yet, I'm also vaguely mystified - how did it all turn up so fast?
What becomes obvious is that there have been players around throughout the process- sounds and techniques appear that I didn’t know existed. And the performers are completely invested in the material with the composers - some much mutual respect in the rehearsal room.
And now I’m back in Glasgow, trying to compose - and every now and again one of those melodies, riffs or rhythms pops into my head from the ‘Go Compose’ pieces.
They made it look so easy - I’m inspired.