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

From Christmas to Easter…

…was a pretty busy time for me! In a good way!

I was involved in a number of projects, two of which have now finished for this year.

Firstly Resolution with BCMG. This was an intriguing science and music project which I blogged about previously. The final performance of this project was immense – the three secondary schools all did a joint performance which was really well received. I was so pleased with the way the young people reacted to the slightly crazy mix of science and contemporary music. They really engaged with it and pushed it forward in ways I didn’t imagine which was fantastic! Even created a rap about antibodies and antigens, which was awesome. I wrote a piece for the young people to perform entitled ‘Molecular Mimicry’ which was based on a theory of what the body does when it develops Sjögren’s Syndrome. Here’s the cartoon strip I wrote for it (no audio):

 

I was also involved with BCMG’s Imagine Compose project where I was working with one of Birmingham Music Service’s beginner instrumental ensembles to get them to be creative with their instruments. The exciting thing for me about this project was that you could see the children’s minds opening up to the new ideas and possibilities of their instruments. The group were fantastic – they were all really engaged and creative which made it fun. I went to their final performance at the Adrian Boult Hall in March and they actually performed a piece they’d created together. Here it is:

 

I have also been doing workshops with CBSO’s Birmingham History Project and CBSO’s Stay Tuned project – in fact you can catch fleeting glimpses of me here on this video:

New piece: A Little Character – for Trumpet and Piano

Here’s a new track which I recorded with Ed Carpenter earlier this autumn.
It’s very delicate to begin with, and I have parts where I am playing inside the piano. I also use the trumpet to set off resonances inside the piano, which are very quiet on the recording, but just about make it out!

Towards the end there’s a great bit of squealing by Ed on the trumpet, along with some singing… look out for that!

Hope you enjoy it.

Make an Aria at the Barber Institute – Y Gollyngdod

Monday was fun! I got to rehearse my aria – Y Gollyngdod – with mezzo-soprano Amanda Baldwin, Michael Rafferty conducting and Michael McCarthy directing. I was really pleased with the way it turned out and it was really nice to see it being rehearsed with real attention to the subtleties of David Roberts‘ libretto. Amanda was great, and was really enthusiastic about getting to grips with the aria which was great to see. Also, repetiteur Nicola Rose did a really nice job.

In the masterclass Nigel Osborne really got to the heart of my music and showed a great deal of insight and understanding which was really helpful for me. Having such a big focus from Nigel and the others on my music was incredibly revealing and taught me a great deal. It also made me pretty pleased with myself, because I think its a pretty decent piece!

Overall I think the project was ace – a great opportunity to really work with a writer and confront the challenges that collaborative opera writing can throw up, as well as really making sure I got to the heart of the text and considered the dramatic aspects. A big thank you to all the people involved from Music Theatre Wales, Welsh National Opera and BCMG. At some point we may even get round to finishing the opera!

For now, David and I are going to work on a few songs – he tells me he has some poems he reckons would be good so it’ll be interesting to get my teeth into them. Speaking of teeth, I’m having really awful toothache  – I think from my wisdom teeth. Sad times.

Anyway, hopefully I should get a recording up here pretty soon, so please come back when its around!

Make an Aria – public masterclass at the Barber Institute

On this coming Monday (10th Oct) from 5pm til 7.30pm there will be a public masterclass of four new arias written for the Make an Aria project, and I have written one of them!

The project is through Welsh National Opera, Music Theatre Wales, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, The University of Birmingham and Birmingham City University (Birmingham Conservatoire). There were four composers and four writers from the two universities and we were paired up. My writer was David Roberts, and we focused on a storyline which involved the intriguing and conflicting life of a communist Welshman. The aria is sung by his wife as she mourns his death and comes to the realisation that she has not really been able to live her life because of him.

If you fancy coming along, the  public masterclass will be at 5pm at the Barber Institute in Birmingham, which is a beautiful venue with a lovely acoustic.

See you there!

Until the Middle – my latest piece – have a listen!

Here’s my latest work – a piano solo entitled Until the Middle  which I recorded at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham last week. There’s no huge story behind it – it’s fairly abstract. It uses a series of pitches for the first 3/4 then kind of inverts it, around the middle of the piano keyboard. I wanted to write a piano piece which didn’t use any extended piano techniques like playing inside, but that still has a dramatic visual effect… Unfortunately I don’t have a video of it though!

Hope you enjoy it!