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

That Terrible Silence – my latest piece

Here’s a recording of my latest piece which was premiered at The Forge in Camden in October. It was performed by Thumb Contemporary Music Ensemble conducted by Dan Watson.

The piece is roughly based on the frustration of not being able to write anything. I’d already written half a piece for the ensemble but it was terrible so I got rid of it and was really frustrated with it all – then this popped into my head and I just went for it!

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!

A composing day – writing a cello duet

These are my favourite sort of days. Days when I just get to write music. Today’s task: a cello duet. Been sketching out ideas for a couple of weeks on and off, but today I have been piecing them together. Not quite there with it yet though!

It’s frustrating when you have so many ideas that you just want to splurge them all out onto the paper, but you are restrained by the physical impossibility of writing it all at once.

Time for a cup of tea, I think.

Video clips from The Selfish Giant

Here is the promo video of extracts of The Selfish Giant performed by Springs Dance Company, the family show for which I wrote the soundtrack. You can hear the audience laughing which is great! The video is taken from last autumn’s UK tour. Unfortunately my favourite section hasn’t made the cut for the extracts video… but maybe you can go and see it if it comes to a theatre near you!

Recent goings on – BCMG, Soundbeam, Katya Kabanova…

This week I started back at BCMG doing maternity cover for the Learning Co-ordinator post. It’s great to be back at BCMG and I am enjoying the challenge that my new role is bringing! My brain is filling up with scheduling, budgets, safeguarding etc etc…

I’ve also recently being shadowing Richard Shrewsbury doing primary school workshops in the Telford area. We’ve been experimenting with Soundbeam which has been great fun. The children in the workshops have really loved using it (as have I, although it does have its frustrations!) For those who don’t know, Soundbeam uses up to four ultrasonic sensors as well as footswitches to trigger sounds which get played through speakers. It means that users can create music with their movements by cutting through the beams. Great fun! Although the ultrasonic sensors make a really irritating buzz…

I’ll hopefully have a bit of news to share in a couple of weeks about work in Telford, so watch this space…!

Last night I went to see Welsh National Opera perform Janacek’s Katya Kabanova at Birmingham Hippodrome which is a beautifully written opera with a heart-wrenchingly sad ending. I thought the staging of it was really neat, opening out and closing in depending on the scene. This evening was also the first evening in a ‘cultural exchange’ I am doing with one of my friends – I take him to opera, and he is taking me to a Krav Maga self-defence class… for which he has bought a groin guard (need I say more?). Anyway, he really enjoyed it which is ace – I must say we were both glad of the surtitles as our knowledge of Czech is limited…

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.

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