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

A lovely thank you card!

Yesterday was a busy day at In Harmony Telford & Stoke. We had our Christmas Concerts – 4 concerts in one day! It was fantastic! All the children performed really well – and both they and the parents seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.

They premiered my new piece Fantastic and Splendid as well as doing some arrangements I had done. Hopefully I will be able to share some recordings on here as well.

And I was also present with this lovely A3 size card from my year 2 string orchestra! Sweet!

Year 2 Thank you cardYear 2 thank you card - middleYear 2 thank you card - back

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.

Creative workshops at the Elgar Birthplace Museum

Just found this nice post on the Elgar Birthplace Museum website talking about the workshops I’m running for school groups there.

I particularly like the idea of ‘Elgar helps school children’ in a kind ghostly undead sort of way…

Image

Image

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?

Should I feel guilty about Shostakovich?

Tonight I intend going to watch the CBSO perform Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony. But for some reason I feel guilty about going…

During my time at university, I found that the name Shostakovich was generally spoken in hushed whispers around the corridors. Certainly within the composition department there seemed to be a general feeling that Shostakovich was frowned upon. (Perhaps this will change with the publication of Andrew Kirkman’s new book Contemplating Shostakovich.) But why? Among my composer friends it often appears to be the case that Shostakovich is not completely acceptable. But among my performer friends there does not seem to be the same antipathy. And audiences love him! (but what do they know…?!)

Is this the Boulezian hangover? Shostakovich was perhaps not modernist/atonal enough. Too conservative. Restricted. Various other criticisms are leveled at Shostakovich. Gerald McBurney mentioned many of them in his article for the Guardian back in 2006. His music has variously been labeled as vulgar and undercomposed and merely using cheap tricks to create form. Perhaps this criticism is valid? Perhaps this criticism stems from a staunch modernist condemnation of anything which is not avant-garde enough. Perhaps the aversion to certain biographical details in Shostakovich’s life still hangs over him.

I don’t have any Shostakovich on my itunes. I do have some second-hand vinyl of a few symphonies. Perhaps tonight will be a turning point for me. But I won’t tell anyone I’m going. Just in case.

Shostakovich entering the annual Soviet Harry Potter competition. (He lost as his costume was too conservative.)

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