Telford Southwater Grand Opening

Just a quick note to sat that my friend Richard Shrewsbury and I have written a piece for the opening of the new Telford Southwater development. On Saturday 18 October, the grand opening of the site will have a big event running from 2pm – 8.30pm. Around 8pm-ish there will be a procession (I don’t know if the details are secret so I’m not going to go into detail!) with music written/arranged by Richard, culminating in an awesome fireworks display choreographed to music – a sort of electronic dance track – written by Richard and me.

It should be a fun event so head on down!

Free Radio are hosting the day – click here for more details.

Southwater Development in Telford
Southwater Development in Telford, BBC photo

Lionel Street Players Photoshoot

Here’s the first of our photos from our recent photoshoot. We spent some time lurking in the canal underworld of Birmingham, even doing an impromptu gig for some interested passersby…

10461896_10152185426476216_3756392860260151352_o

Photos courtesy of Noelle T. Angus.

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 – 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

Prizewinning new piece – For Amber for voice and piano

Here’s a recording of the most recent performance of my work. This is For Amber which won a prize in the Association of English Singers and Speakers Composition Competition 2012.

It was performed in May at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama by the fantastic soprano Sarah Leonard.

The lovely chap who beat me to first place (grrrr) is the talented Mr Michael Betteridge who wrote a great piece called Charity which you can hear on his soundcloud.

Science & Music

Notes spilling onto page
Notes spilling onto page – if only it were this easy!

Over the past few weeks I have been working with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group on a project called Resolution. The project brings together science and musical composition and as part of it I am writing a piece for a group of young secondary school students to play, which is based on research into Sjogren’s Syndrome. It’s all very intriguing.

The scientist I have been working with is looking into specific theories of how Sjogren’s Syndrome might develop, as it isn’t really known. It’s amazing both how much and how little scientists know! So the piece I’m writing uses extra-musical information such as the ideas of bacteria, antigens, antibodies etc and I am trying to convey this information without it being too much of a story-telling exercise. Which is fascinating. And difficult. But fun. And challenging.

The trouble is that the information given to me by the scientist is very complex and abstract and although myriad different ideas are sparked off by the research, actually honing those ideas down to be more communicative of the science is quite tricky. It should be interesting to see how this pans out! It begs the question – can concrete scientific ideas ever be communicated successfully by a non-verbal medium?

Samples and Samples
Samples and Samples
A fake science experiment
A fake science experiment or an intriguing appetiser?

Disabled by Wilfred Owen & The Torn Fields by Mark-Anthony Turnage

Last night I went to a performance by Thumb Contemporary Music Ensemble of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s The Torn Fields.

The piece is based on a number of war poems, one of which is Disabled by Wilfred Owen. This heart-wrenching poem is beautifully set  in the fourth movement of Turnage’s piece. Turnage has been careful not to detract from the poem but to enhance it. The poem was written during the first world war, but has disturbing resonances with today as conflict continues across the globe.

Have a listen here:

And here is the text:

Disabled – Wilfred Owen

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
— In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now he is old; his back will never brace;
He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race,
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a bloodsmear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg,
He thought he’d better join. He wonders why . . .
Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts.

That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join. He didn’t have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; and no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in Institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?

Y Gollyngdod: Mezzo-soprano aria with piano reduction

Finally got around to uploading this recording from October 2011. I posted about the project at the time which you can read here.

Anyway, hope you enjoy this!

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