In Harmony Telford & Stoke

Been pretty busy this term so not had much time to update this blog! Anyway, I’ve been working with In Harmony Telford and Stoke, directing the Telford orchestras which is a fantastic challenge but thoroughly enjoyable. I lead 4 ensembles: 90 Year 2 strings; 60 Year 30 Strings; two orchestras with around 100 mixed instruments from years 4 – 6 in each. My orchestra day is really tiring but really rewarding. The children are doing so well.

I’ve composed some of the music, and others bits I’ve written backing tracks for – snippets of which are on the video below.

Here’s a little video about the project (you can even see me in a cowboy hat…) Enjoy!

You can find out more info about the project at their website.

Molecular Mimicry – BCMG Resolution Project

As I posted about a few months ago, earlier this year I was involved in BCMG’s Resolution project, exploring scientific research through music and I composed a piece for secondary school students to perform. As part of my research, I drew a little storyboard which was made into a little film (thanks to Jonathan Lee). I’ve finally managed to put the audio recording of the performance by the students together with the animation. And here it is (make sure you turn your sound up – the beginning is very quiet):

Programme note:

Molecular mimicry’ is a term that describes the process of the body’s immune system mis-recognising its own antigens (particular proteins which live on the surface of cells) for those of a foreign pathogen and attacking itself. This piece explores the hypothesized process of the body developing Sjögrens syndrome.

Firstly the musical form of an oral bacterium called Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. Gingivalis) is heard:

Molecular Mimicry Melody

This bacteria, or pathogen, is very similar in appearance to some of the body’s own cells. In the music this is represented rhythmically similar harmonies. The melody and harmonies are locked into by another rhythm:

Molecular Mimicry Counter-melody

This depicts the way the body uses a ‘lock and key’ type mechanism when discovering and reacting to particular antigens. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIN5sSUlZWk

This in turn triggers an immune response – an alarm – and the body begins to attack itself. In Sjögrens Syndrome this takes a number of forms, one of which is that the tear ducts and mouth dry up, shown in the music by the change from loud resonant sounds into high pitched dry, scratchy sounds.

A River Through History – double recording bonus!

So I have now got hold of two recordings from the CBSO Our City Our Past project, which I posted about before.

The first is a performance of the piece A River Through History, composed and performed by young people from Shenley Academy at the CBSO Centre in May 2013.

The second recording is of an arrangement I made of the piece for full orchestra, performed wonderfully by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall in June 2013, conducted by Michael Seal.

A River Through History – CBSO Performance

A River Through History Title Page

Yesterday I attended both of the CBSO’s schools concerts involving the final performance for the Birmingham History Project I have been involved with. The full orchestra performed in Symphony Hall with audiences of 2000 children in each concert.

The reason for my excitement was that I had arranged a piece written by secondary school pupils from Shenley Academy for the full orchestra to perform. Earlier in May the young people performed the piece themselves at the CBSO Centre, then I went away and arranged it for the orchestra. My main concern whilst arranging the music was that I needed to balance needing to make the piece sound ‘orchestral’ and giving it a ‘professional’ edge, without losing the sense of the original material composed by the young people.

The ideas from the students were really good and fortunately I was able to work really well with the material they had composed without adding to it very much at all. I felt like I was able to be true to their original intentions. Fortunately I was able to go into the school and do a session with them to explain to them exactly what I had done with their piece, so that they could understand why they might not hear ‘their bit’ played by the same instrument or in the same way. I think this was a really valuable session.

From talking to them after the concert, they seemed really pleased that they could hear ‘their music’ in the piece even though I hadn’t just taken their piece note by note and orchestrated it.

It has taken a lot of work, but I’m really pleased with the way it turned out. I’m hoping to get a recording online soon.

A River Through History - Page 1

A River Through History double pageA River Through History section

Sorting The Nation – Futuresonic Performance at ArtsFest Birmingham

This weekend is Birmingham’s ArtsFest, a mega two-day arts festival in the centre of Birmingham which is completely free! Obviously a brilliant idea. I love that you can go into town and check out loads of different performances of various genres. An excellent idea! This year I’m having a piece played by Futuresonic musicians which is a really fun piece as you can see:

On Saturday 10th September at 2pm we’re performing in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Gallery 20 – Sorting the Nation by me, and into the darkness he spoke… by Joanna Karselis and a piece by Shelly Knotts. This programme will be repeated at 4pm on Sunday 11th September in Room 3 of the Council House (not, as it says on the original ArtsFest programme, in the HMS Daring Room because that room is 4m x 5m and we have 7 performers including a drum kit and I requested we have room for an audience!) We are also playing Shelly’s piece outside on Cherry Street at 12.30pm on Sunday.

We have some ace musicians playing for Futuresonic this time:

Baritone – Matt Stone; Flute – Ruth Harrison; Clarinet – Sam Hawksley; Trumpet – Ed Carpenter; Percussion – Bryn Bowen; Violin – Jo Walters and on Sunday we have Beth Clay joining us to sing Soprano in my piece.

This our rehearsal last weekend in Oasis Church‘s new community space (yes, a rehearsal space we can use for free!) at Edgbaston Cricket Ground.

can’t do it… Really?

A minor frustration I have with my private piano teaching is that there is a tendency for children to automatically say ‘I can’t’ before they have even tried! I know this is nothing new – my year 6 teacher banned my class from saying ‘I can’t’ and I remember him repeating the phrase ‘there’s no such word as can’t’ (which, I must admit, was quite misleading to a ten year old…) However, I find it frustrating when my students say it as it is such a destructive attitude to have! It really hinders many aspects of music, from exploration of the music right up to performance in front of people. And, generally speaking, they CAN! In the worst cases, the ‘I can’t’ syndrome even occurs when looking at music already learnt!

So I am looking to develop ways to tackle the issue – a lot of the way I teach is based around relationship with the child, mostly involving humour, so I am finding by using humour to diffuse a potential ‘can’t’ situation it can move the child into just having a go, without worrying too much whether it is right or wrong… Let’s see how it develops!

Summer School, Summer Cold, Summer Riots…

Sitting here coughing and sneezing over my computer… ridiculous summer cold, no idea where that came from, but it’s very annoying!

A couple of weeks ago I went as a ‘runner’ to the Sound and Music Summer School which was brilliant. I spent the week shadowing the excellent David Horne as he taught composition to 16 14-18 year olds. It was pretty awesome – some of the young people were amazingly talented and it was brilliant to be helping further their ideas. Some of these guys will go on to do great stuff! The summer school is a great opportunity to explore composing, and the young people were so so dedicated to the task, with many of them skipping their free time to continue composing! I had to force some of them to take tea-breaks…

In other, more sobering news, riots this past week have affected so many of us in this country, whether directly or indirectly. It saddens me  to hear the politicians harp on about tougher policing but not seeming to address the root causes of these problems – social injustice, poverty, hopelessness… Being tough on crime is not a long term solution and it would be nice to hear some politicians stand up and say as much!

Anyway, back to music… a few things to be working on at the moment – I’m writing an aria for Music Theatre Wales, Welsh National Opera and BCMG‘s Make an Aria project. Also writing some music to be performed with futuresonic at Birmingham’s Artsfest on 10th and 11th September. And trying to finish off my piece for children’s theatre and dance with Springs Dance Company premiering at Epsom Playhouse on 17th September. So busy busy busy!!!

Musical Games

Spent yesterday afternoon thinking up musical games for BCMG’s Music Maze on Sunday…

We were using those paper ‘chatterbox’ thingys that girls make when they are young:

Underneath the flaps there are musical instructions of what to play. On Sunday we’re gonna get the young people to make their own and then in live performance use them to make choices about what to play – I think its a great idea!

Maybe I need to incorporate more fun into my music…

Feel the Buzz with BCMG

This Sunday was the second part of a two-day composing workshop I was doing with BCMG called Feel the Buzz. Its a workshop for 14-18 year olds and the format is a kind of collaborative composing/improvising together approach. Jackie Walduck was leading with BCMG musicians and she used a kind of 1-page score technique which the young people fleshed out collaboratively. All based around the nOSTalgie Cabaret BCMG are doing in May.

We were drawing parallels between the past and present, so one piece we did was based on Mack the Knife (the words in that songs are really quite horrific – check them out!) and another was on 21st Century Pirates! Nice!

There was a final performance of all the music produced on Sunday evening and it was great! It was really nice to see young people all working creatively together and having input into the final pieces. And whatever Birmingham City Council think about BCMG, this project engaged an incredibly diverse group of young people from many different backgrounds.

Unfortunately due to cuts, Birmingham Music Service (who have generously funded this project for the last 10 years!) are unable to continue funding it next year, although they really want to! So it means BCMG are going to have to find to some money from somewhere to keep it going. Really hope it doesn’t stop because I think it is a brilliant project.

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