Saturday, December 18, 2010

music and words

words and music

I am embarking on a new composition – for chamber choir – which I am really excited about.  I love writing for voice. We all (or most of us) have a voice - it is our first and most compelling means of expression.  In many ways I think the human voice is the most powerful and evocative musical instrument.
Part of the appeal of writing for voice is that you have the opportunity to combine music with words, to express abstract musical ideas and non-abstract language based ideas or even narratives.  It seems like the perfect art form and of course over hundreds, if not thousands of years people have combined music and words, for one reason or another.

As I start exploring ideas for this new work one of the first things I need to do is find a text.  I find it almost impossible to start writing a piece for voice if I don’t have at least some idea of what words the voice might be singing.  It is of course quite possible to write a composition for voice that treats the voice exactly like any other instrument, that is to focus purely on the SOUND of the voice and the different ways of making the sound and how this is shaped and articulated through pitch and rhythm and texture.  As I struggled to find a text I was tempted to go down this path and write a piece of vocal music that was liberated from any specific extra-musical content, ie WORDS.  I spent some time thinking about the inherent problems of combining music and text, the various traps one can fall into when one starts with a strong text and then has to somehow ‘set’ this to music.  How does the music maintain its own integrity and shape when the compositional process is being dictated to a greater or lesser extent by a pre-existing text? 

I think one of the easiest traps to fall into when ‘setting’ a text to music is that the text comes first – the starting point is a poem or piece of writing that has its own structure and technique.  The greatest poems do not necessarily make the best pieces of text around which to compose a piece of music.  The beautifully crafted structure of a favourite poem may not lend itself readily to a reworking or interpretation through music. 
One of the things I look for in a poem or text is the SOUND of the words.  The ideas and language may be exquisite but if they don’t sound right then I have real trouble bringing them to musical life.  There is a huge difference between reading a poem in one’s head and reading it out loud.  The sound of the words, the shape of vowels and consonants, the distribution of sibilants and fricatives and plosives – this is the SOUND of the text.  And when articulated in a musical texture it is these sonic qualities that will be more clearly discerned than the ‘meaning’ of the text.  Even with the clearest enunciation, it is almost impossible for an audience, on a single listening, to fully comprehend a text that is being sung, even by just one singer, let along a whole choir of voices.  As a composer I cannot assume that the text will be clearly heard and understood.  I cannot just hang my music on a text and expect the music to absorb its meaning.
There is quite a lot of technical skill in writing well for voice.  The human voice, like most other instruments, has quite different characteristics and capabilities at different points in its range or register.  What is easy to sing in the mid register can be extremely difficult to sing up high or down low.  This is where the SOUND of the text is important and how these sounds are arranged across the range of the human voice makes a huge difference.  For instance, in the high register it is much more difficult to sing a closed vowel such as an “ee” sound with good control and projection.  Try singing a high “ee” then try the same note with an open “ah” sound – it is quite a different experience.  Without going into the physics and physiology of how vocal sound is produced, the reality is that certain vowels or word shapes sound better at different parts of the vocal range and this has an impact on whether or not the words can be easily heard when sung.

So what was I looking for in a text? Before I started thinking about words, I already had a fairly clear idea about what the piece was ‘about’; something of the emotional trajectory, of the sound world, of the morphology of the work.  The search for text was from this starting point, which in some ways made it more difficult.  I knew the kind of thing I was looking for but I just didn’t know where I was going to find it.  In the process of tidying my workspace (the usual first step when I start a new piece) I found some printed information on a Bill Viola work that I had taken a group of students to see at the NGV.  The work, ‘Ocean without was partly inspired by a poem by the Senegalese writer Birago Diop – a section of which was printed on one of the pages and caught my eye.  I had also been writing words of my own for the new piece as a way of sketching out sound and text ideas.  A couple of days later I sat down with the Diop text and my own texts and started trying to shape a kind of skeleton for the work.  The original text by Diop is in French so I looked up a couple of different translations of the poem ‘Les Souffles’ (including a computer generated translation!) and looked at the different nuances in meaning and word shape.  I went back to the original type written MS in French and noticed some slight differences in the ordering of the lines of the poem.  With a very rusty grasp of French, I got our French dictionary down from the bookshelf and worked out which of the various possible translations worked best for my purposes.  I then went back to my own text and reworked it, pulling it into a shape that would work with the Diop text.  The text I now have is full of possibilities – the Diop poem is very much a poem to be heard and the rhythm and structure of the poem is subtle and evocative.  My own text is quite paired back and explores different ways of expressing a single idea.  Together these words give me a ‘way in’ to the new piece without being too prescriptive or limiting of the musical world that will be built around them.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

the bodybox - part two

I find an old envelope containing several old photograph negatives.  On the outside of the envelope is written “Very Old Films (My Father’s time) and the only Photo’s that I am left with !!”  The handwriting, I am fairly certain, is my grandfather’s.  The negatives are unlike the modern ones I am used to dealing with.  These are larger, more square in shape and each of a single image.  I hold them up to the light and see very shadowy images of people but nothing clear enough to make out.  I’m in the middle of scanning a pile of letters and old photos so I scan in the negatives and then find the function that allows you to reverse an image – from negative to positive or vice versa.  In a moment I have transformed some fragile pieces of celluloid into images of people – the first time these images have actually been seen in a very long time.  It is a strange feeling.  I wonder how it was my grandfather had the negatives but not the photos themselves.  And of course I look at these people before me and wonder who they are.

There is an image of older man with a bushy grey beard sitting at a dining table; beside him is a young girl, probably in her teens.  The table is covered with plates and glasses and bottles – the photo was clearly taken midway through a meal.  I can almost read the label on one of the bottles but not quite.  I can almost see what they have had for dinner.  So on a particular day, over a hundred years ago, my great grandfather sat down with his family for a meal and someone decided to take a photo.  And over a hundred years later I am looking at that image on a computer screen, in a large house in Edinburgh, probably not that different from the house in which my distant family sits, having their dinner.  I feel completely drawn into this world of image and memory.

There is a series of photos of family members, all taken in front of a rather imposing sideboard, on which sits a vase containing some tall spiky leaves.  I’m not sure if these photos have all been posed for comic effect or if it was just by chance but in each photo the spiky leaves almost seem to be sprouting out of the subject’s head.  There is a young boy, whose shoulders only reach the top of the side board as he stands in front of it.  There is a young girl with a rather dreamy expression on her face, with lovely brown hair.  Another shows a middle aged woman, also seated, this time photographed from a slightly different angle but still with the sprouting head.  Another photo shows a baby sitting propped up in a leather arm chair.  I cannot make out the features of the child’s face but would guess that they might be about one year old, maybe a little older.  

Perhaps my favourite photo from this collection of “very old films” is the image of a young girl standing against a shingled roof-line, as though she has just climbed out of an attic window and someone has decided to take her photo.  Maybe this was her favourite place to go to escape from her brothers and sisters.  Maybe she liked to go out onto the roof to look across the chimneys and rooves of the New Town and up to the sky and think her thoughts.  She looks like a thoughtful girl.  And although the image is partly obscured by marks and stains on the fragile negative, she seems very present in the photograph.  She reminds me of other photos of the girls in my family, often with this same intense look.  My mother, her sisters, my cousins, me, and my own daughters.  I feel a great fondness for this girl who was more than likely one of my great aunts.

By looking at a list of birth dates that my grandfather wrote on a piece of paper I can begin to work out who is probably who.  I am fairly certain that the baby in the leather armchair is my grandfather Richard who was born in 1903.  The bigger boy in front of the sideboard is probably his brother James (‘Uncle Jim’) born in 1896.  The girl on the roof could be Jane (born 1891) or Margaret (born 1890) – the age seems about right if I work backwards from the baby Richard in the chair.  The older girl at the dinner table, and maybe also in front of the sideboard, is probably Clara (born 1888), later known as ‘Aunty Cissie’ – another story to tell.  But I am just making partly informed guesses based on a scrap of paper with some names and dates and a series of not very clear images.  I think I have given them their names but I may have it completely wrong.  It could be a whole different story, but I feel like I am close.  As I gaze at these images that only exist as light on a computer screen, I feel very strongly connected to them and wonder if there is such a thing as blood memory. I feel as though I am looking at captured moments of time in the lives of people whose blood I share, if only in part.  People whose lives have long since run their course.  How strange that I should be sitting here, over a hundred years after the photos were taken, several years after I first ‘discovered’ these images in an envelope in the body box, now on the other side of the world, and still feeling such intense fascination and wonder at this art of light and memory.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

taking stock

I have been a ‘blogger’ for a year now (actually a year and two weeks).  I wouldn’t say that I have taken the blogging world by storm and no one could accuse me of writing when I had nothing to say.  Six weeks between posts is not unusual.  In fact there are a couple of un-finished posts that never made it onto the page.  As I write this I have a 5 year old calling out to be helped with something, the garden is rapidly turning into a jungle after all the spring rain, there’s a load of washing in the machine, a pair of curtains to be shortened and the usual housework needing to be done.  That is the mundane stuff.  Then there is the piece to write for a concert in October 2011 – an actual performance, with my name already in the brochure, so I’d better get on with it.  There is a course to prepare for July next year: books to read, lectures to plan – and 15 students already enrolled so, again, I’d better get on with it.  A year has made a difference.  Writing music is back on the agenda and the cogs move a little more smoothly than they did this time last year.  I haven’t strayed too far from the path that I wanted to be on this year and things are starting to fall into place, slowly.  I am beginning to see where I would like to be in five years time.  And as far as the land of blog goes, in many ways it has been a revelation to me.  There are so many interesting and inspiring things out there and although I don’t have much time to meander in blogland, I often come upon lovely things that make me think about something in a new way.  I enjoy the community of people who think and write about the things that interest them.  So although I now have a toddler about to have a meltdown, a load of washing to hang out, and a book about phenomenology to read, I will continue to post things and put my thoughts out there and read what others have to say. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Bodybox - part one

I am sitting alone in an imposing Georgian terrace in Edinburgh, it is late at night on Christmas Eve 2002, in the middle of a Scottish winter.  Beside me is an old black wooden box, about the size of a small travel chest, with a large lock on it.  This box in known to my mother’s family as the ‘bodybox’ – a collection of family papers and photographs assembled by my grandfather.  Inside is a jumble of old newspapers, letters, photographs, bills, telegrams, miscellaneous scraps of paper with names and dates, a note from a young boy to santa claus with a picture of the particular Hornby train-set that he would like for Christmas.  Some of the bits of paper are annotated or dated.  The Christmas request is marked “Note from Ritchie, Xmas 1936.  R.Orr”.  ‘Ritchie’ is my uncle Richard, ‘R.Orr’ is my Grandfather, also Richard.  It is the photos that claim my attention.  Most are of people that I recognise – aunts, uncles, grand parents, great-grandparents.  There are some photos that are unmarked and I have no idea who these people were, and it is these photos that pique my interest. 

There is a photo of a woman in a grove of tall slender trees.  She wears a large black and white sun hat, a white blouse and dark full length skirt nipped in at the waist, a long strand of beads hangs down below her belt, she holds something dangling by her side – probably a purse.  By her dress I would say the photo dates from around the turn of the 19th century or early 20th.  The only clue is the word “Bill’s” on the back.  There are two ‘Bill’s that I know of – my Grandfather’s eldest brother or the German Bill that my great aunt married.

There is another photo printed as a kind of card with rounded edges; a woman is seated outside in front of the door of a house. She is holding a baby, maybe six months old, the woman’s gaze is downwards towards the child in her arms, her face in almost fully obscured.  I don’t know who this woman is, I don’t know who this baby grew up to be.

There is a photo of two young girls by the sea, the waves crashing against a rocky shoreline in the background.  The girls are small figures, indistinct against the sea, cliffs and hills behind them, there faces aren’t clear enough to pick out a resemblance.  Perhaps they are my great aunts as children – my Grandfather was the only child of his family to have been born in the 20th century. I could estimate the photo to be early 20th century so that might fit. 

Another very old photo shows a young woman leaning up against a haystack with her face turned to the side.  Her dress looks late 19th century, quite a narrow waist, a cameo choker around her neck.  There is something about her face that is very familiar – the same strong brow that seems to crop up in my mother’s family, she reminds me of one of my aunts.  She seems to be tolerating having her picture taken, a slight look of amusement around her mouth but also I suspect impatience. I look at this woman and she could be anyone but I wonder if she is my great grand mother as a young woman.  My mother doesn’t recognise her and there is no one else to ask. 

These images of women and girls intrigue me and draw me in to this guessing game.  I could be related to them or not.  I see glimpses of family characteristics but perhaps only because I am looking for them.  I try to fill in the gaps with the limited information that I have and make guesses and assumptions.  I want these people to be my family.  I want to know who they are and what they were doing when these pictures were taken.  And there is a sadness that I will probably never know who these people are and what kind of lives they led.  My grandfather could have told me who these people were, since he is the one that collected all these photos and put them in the bodybox.  But he is long dead.  The connection has been broken. My mother was born long after these photos were taken and the people in them bear little resemblance to people she remembers.  At least I have these photos (albeit as digital replicas) and I look at them and wonder, and know that I have at least some tenuous connection with the people in them, and perhaps much more than that.  Although these photos are locked up in a box in a solicitor’s office in Edinburgh, at least I know that I am still interested in them and that my generation of cousins will still look through the bodybox from time to time and wonder who these people were.  There is some consolation in knowing that they are not mouldering in a cardboard box in a second hand shop or under the floorboards somewhere, ready to be thrown out or crumble away to nothing.  This is I’m sure the fate of hundreds and thousands of old photos that have lost their connection with the families that once held them dear. 

(And on the subject of old photos, I happened upon a  blog called Forgotten Old Photos which tries to find homes or at least connections for old forgotten photos. What a lovely idea.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Five things...

... that I have learnt from my children.

1. ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen…?’
Well, now that I know what the worst thing that can happen is, nothing else seems to matter. What other people think.  Public humiliation.  Career Interruptus.  Professional Rejection. Poverty. Middle Age. Once I had children, a whole new world of terrible possibility opened up – that one thing that no mother ever wants to even contemplate.  So really, nothing else comes close.  As long as my babies are safe and healthy, all the rest is incidental. 

2. Love

3. There is no place for cynicism.
How can one continue to be cynical in the presence of a child experiencing something for the first time? Life is beautiful and amazing and constantly surprising.

4. Shed some skin.
Having a child is like having a gaping wound or losing one’s epidermis. As well as a terrifying new vulnerability (see 1,) and an increased inclination to cry, there is the openness that shedding a layer of armour brings.  I can now talk quite happily to total strangers, people in supermarket queues, at railway stations, just crossing at the lights – something my previous self was not inclined to do.

5. Life is full of new beginnings.
Rather than see the ends of things, I am now more able to see the beginnings.  A different approach to the next piece of work, a new phase in my life, a fresh way of looking at something, a radical change in direction.  All possible. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Why I listen to music

fractal image by Peter Raedschelder

“Is music written by a computer still music? Can it make us feel?” That’s what caught my eye this morning as I had a quick flick through the Sunday papers.  For a start, it’s not often a whole page of the weekend news is given over to discussions of contemporary music aesthetics.  The article in question by Tim Adams, which originally appeared in The Observer , discusses the work of American composer David Cope who for the last 30 years has been exploring the possibilities of ‘computer aided composition’.  The original publication of this article opens with David Cope: 'You pushed the button and out came hundreds and thousands of sonatas'” - an opening almost guaranteed to raise the hackles of classical music lovers and musicians.  Tim Adams’ article is not about how David Cope programs his computer to write all his music so he can have more time to do whatever composers wish they were doing when not composing.  David Cope uses a computer as a tool to generate musical material that he, the composer, can then use, or not.  Plenty of composers use technology for various aspects of the compositional process. Some composers use computers to generate material that they then translate into sounds and textures.  Some composers toss coins to decide which notes to use.  Some composers leave many of the ‘compositional’ decisions to the performers that play their music.  I myself have been known to use games with numbers to work out the order of notes.  Each to their own.  It is all part of the bag of tricks at our disposal and as with any ‘tool’, it is what you do with them that counts.  David Cope’s work seems to sit at the blurry edge between computer programming and composition but I don’t have a problem with that either.  He is very open about what he does and how his music is created – it is not as though his computer is whipping up “hundreds and thousands of sonatas” that he is then passing off as his own.  It is an interesting field of study and no one is seriously suggesting that composers are going to be out of a job because of it (assuming there are jobs for composers in the first place…).
This article and the ideas it raises are interesting to me on a number of levels.  I can remember discussing the role of Artificial Intelligence in Music with some AI post graduates, trying to understand why getting a computer to write music is anything more than a high tech party trick – this coming from the post graduate composer with her own ideas about aesthetic value.  The answer that I got back was quite enlightening:  (and I paraphrase) … in finding out how to make a computer compose music, what you are in fact finding out about is how people compose music.  The project of AI in music is not about creating computers to write music as a substitute for people-written music, it is about understanding human compositional techniques: how humans think and create.  So, that was me told, and I will never make disparaging comments about AI music nerds again.
So I asked myself, in response to the questions posed and implicit in the article about Cope’s work – what is it that interests me about someone else’s music? Is it an analytical appreciation of the way they have generated and constructed a piece of music, the systems they have used and the rigor with which these systems are applied? No. Is it an appreciation of the agility with which they have mastered various musical styles or compositional techniques? No.
What interests me in listening to someone else’s music is what the composer had to say.  I listen to the way they chose to arrange sounds through time to evoke a particular idea or concept.  I listen to music because I am interested in how some other person, who has lived and experienced and felt happiness and sorrow and many things in between, has attempted to express something of themselves in sound.  I don’t listen critically, trying to find holes in their technique or inconsistencies in their music language.  What I actively listen for are these things - the bits of grit or glitches or quirks that throw things off centre, the imperfections, the unpredictable moments of something strange and unimagined.  I am listening for the traces of the person who wrote the music because the fact that a person composed a piece of music is what interests me. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Out of Exile

(photo by Daisy Noyes)

I have just been to a live recording of a chamber opera / music theatre work by Australian composer Helen Gifford.  The work, Exile , (after Euripides' Iphegenia in Tauris) was composed in 1985 and has never been performed.  This beautiful work has sat on a shelf for 25 years, unheard except by the composer, until David Young of Chamber Made Opera (and until recently artistic director of Aphids) 're-discovered' the work and got the project rolling.  Exile has been recorded as part of an ambitious co-production between Chamber Made Opera, Aphids and Speak Percussion to create what may be the world's first iPad opera in conjunction with new media artists Champagne Valentine (Amsterdam).

There are several reasons why all of this is worth writing about.  
Exile is a beautiful and powerful piece of music. The performance featured soprano Deborah Kayser, a phenomenal performer whose voice defies description.  The work was performed un-staged, un-costumed, in a very un-atmospheric auditorium but Kayser's performance transcended all of this.  Watching her perform was like being given glimpses of another reality, almost a sensation of something else being lived and experienced behind a curtain - not visible but none the less palpable.  The music itself was restrained and subtle and intense. As a listener I was completely transfixed.
And this work that lay unheard for 25 years is about to be transformed into something entirely new, a second incarnation - an "interactive music-video iPad application" - not something Helen would have envisaged when she wrote the piece in 1985.  I find it incredibly heartening that a composer in her 75th year can hear a premier of a work composed decades earlier and then see / hear the work take on a previously unimagined second life.  As a composer it is easy to become disillusioned when works don't get performed and sit on a shelf un-realised - this is actually quite common. The process of presenting a work in a public performance can be very involved, complex and often costly, particularly when larger groups of musicians are required. After 25 years I think I might have given up on ever hearing this piece.  How wonderful then that others, several generations younger, have had the commitment and energy to bring this beautiful work to life and to an audience.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A love of dots

I receive a flat parcel in the post, from Germany.  It is a score of a Trio for clarinet, violin and piano by Galina Ustvolskaya.  I leave it on a chair and then get distracted by the day, taking children to crèche, doing housework, paying bills, cooking dinner.  The next day I find a window of time to myself, open the parcel, look at the lovely white newness of the score, find the recording on my ipod, put on my headphones and settle into a chair to read.  This is one of my great loves.  One of my other great loves, a two year old, is asleep on the couch next to me.  She stays asleep long enough for me to read the piece through but not long enough to write about it.  That will keep.

I wanted to write something about the joy of score reading.  It is a difficult thing to describe to the uninitiated.  I read the black spots on lines that another composer at another time has arranged in a particular way to represent the sounds that they hear and want others to hear.  Could I describe it as like reading an x-ray of a poem, if such a thing existed?  The black marks on the page are such an abstraction, a visual shorthand so far removed from the music that they represent but somehow reading a score takes me somewhere quite strange and profound.  I can read the dots and lines that someone else has made and I can almost imagine their thoughts as they write; how they imagine each of these sounds, the shape, the colour, the taste.  I can imagine my own hand holding that pencil as it hovers over the page, as I try to grasp that fleeting shadow of imagined sound and pin it to the page before it disappears.  I listen to the music as I follow the score and the experience of listening becomes something quite different – an experience of being inside the piece of music.  Not just of being inside a sound but of having an insight into the idea, the intangible inexpressible thing around which the piece of music has grown and given voice to.  Words are beautiful and I love the written word.  But these strange circles and lines and curves and dots, and the sounds that they attempt to capture, have a more powerful hold over my imagination.  And remind me of why I write music, and that I will keep writing music, even if no one else hears it.

(a little bit from my new piece)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Something about Beauty

I've been reading various things relating to Japanese aesthetics and came across a rather lovely essay by Donald Keene in Japanese Aesthetics and Culture: A Reader in which he discusses four key elements which he believes reflect something of the Japanese sense of beauty.  One of the main sources for Keene's approach is book called Essays in Idleness  by a 14th century Buddhist priest, Kenko.

"In all things, it is the beginnings and ends that are interesting."

"In everything, no matter what it may be, uniformity is undesirable.  Leaving something incomplete makes it interesting, and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth."


The cherry blossom falls from the tree after only three days but this impermanence is part of its aesthetic significance in Japanese culture.

These four elements are not necessarily equally prized in a Western sense of aesthetic taste.  Keene discusses how Irregularity and Perishability in particular are qualities that fly in the face of much of Western art tradition.  Versaille or Ryoan-ji.  Marble or Cherry Blossom.

But how beautiful they are.  For me they sum up that intangible, indescribable thing that I aspire to in my own work and that I am drawn to in the work of others.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Things that make me a better composer

'Teaching'* other people how to compose
I’ve been back teaching composition since the start of semester and am really enjoying the process.  My classes range from one-on-one composition lessons to group classes focusing on writing cross-media work. 
I love teaching one-on-one; trying to find out what someone is trying to create and helping them clarify their creative intentions and develop the skills to realize their work.  Sometimes there are issues of confidence (lack of) or focus (lack of) that need to be dealt with.  Sometimes my job is to suggest possibilities,  a different way of approaching a compositional problem or just to play some music they might not have heard before.  I love the occasional ‘light bulb’ moments and the enthusiasm that the students have (most of the time) for the process of writing music.  And there are the really interesting conversations about music, different composers, different ideas that make me re-think my own views or re-visit music that I haven’t listened to for a while or discover music that I have never heard before. 
I love working with groups of students because the sum is always greater than the parts.  Sometimes things go off on tangents but the range of ideas that a group can bring to the table is usually surprising.  One of my favourite classes is a group of composers working with a group of choreographers to develop new work.  My job (and that of my choreographer co-teacher) is to bring these two groups of students together, to dissolve some of the cross-media barriers and hopefully encourage a shared creative language.  There have been some very beautiful moments of work to emerge so far, one in particular  that was extremely moving – watching as a group of people from different arts backgrounds, who had only recently met, let go of their reservations and preconceptions and apprehensions and made some work that was neither music nor dance but something else rather lovely.
 My Inner Critic has been quite vocal of late and one of her pet subjects is 'why can’t I find more time to write my own music?'.  Why am I spending valuable child-free time teaching when I should be writing? (never mind the obvious financial reasons).  Then there is the old saying, one of IC’s favourites, which goes something like… “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach".  I think I can now categorically blow this one out of the water.  There are some VERY good reasons for teaching, not just the desperation of failed artists.  There are the obvious altruistic aspects of teaching – fostering and encouraging young creative minds, contributing to the future cultural life of our society etc etc.  And then there are the very clear benefits to ME as a composer (and a human being).  I learn things – about music and about myself.  I find new ways of looking at problems.  I am enriched by the beautiful things that are created.  I feel like I may have done something useful. And I am reminded again and again why what I do (writing music) is important and not to be abandoned the next time the Inner Critic lets fly.
* I’ve never actually thought that anyone can teach anyone else how to ‘write music’ – only to give them some tools to realise and organise their compositional ideas.

A fresh pair of ears
I was inspired by a recent post by Cath in Musings in Mayhem where she mentioned handing her work over to her writers’ group for critical feedback and how useful this was.  I have long thought that composing music can be one of the most isolated and introverted of creative pastimes.  Lots of time alone at a desk, creating a piece of work with very little consultation or ‘testing out’.   Generally speaking, there are no music editors to give constructive criticism and feedback.  Once the work is finished it usually goes to the performers and then there is often little opportunity to tweak or refine or edit anything other than the surface details of the work.  In its written form, it is difficult to really get a sense of what the sounded work will be like unless you have a highly developed inner ear.  I realized that what I need is a writers’ group, of composers.  So I have made a small start and asked two composer friends if we could set up our own ‘composer self help group’ where we can show each other our work for critical feedback as well as support and encouragement. I have happily sent my recent piece to them for a fresh perspective and their comments and encouragement have been invaluable (many thanks to K and L).  I’m looking forward to casting an eye and ear over some of their work and responding in the same generous and constructive way.  On a purely personal level, this process also has a quite significant side effect as it cancels out a very negative tendency I have noticed in myself to be highly competitive with those I consider to be my peers.  So rather than comparing myself  (usually unfavourably) with my peers, it feels much better to open myself up, offer my work for scrutiny and benefit from their feedback and generosity.