Category Archives: Composition

2020 Vision – a wide perspective

Maybe I should call it 360-degree vision.  I seem to be looking in several directions all at once.

I contributed to a Music Graduate Careers website earlier last year.  It’s curated by a scholar from the University of Northumbria, and it went live this week.  Interesting to see the very many paths a music degree can take you!

What else? I’ve been invited to participate in an AHTV event coordinated for AHRC grant-holders, looking at ways researchers can get involved in television.  This is an exciting opportunity, and I’m looking forward to it immensely.

I’m awaiting the outcome of a grant application that I submitted at the very beginning of November – a few more weeks to wait yet, so I just have to be patient! – and I have another idea for a big grant application, but that still requires a bit more work before we can upload it as a formal submission.

All the above is exciting stuff, but some further developments have been rather more unexpected.  Last November, my solo flute composition was performed by a doctoral student at the London College of music, with another performance expected this year.  And yesterday, I was in touch with a folklore expert on the Isle of Wight (he curates, who has accepted for broadcast two SoundCloud recordings of a couple of my song compositions, performed by a librarian soprano of my acquaintance.  (Librarian soprano? Soprano librarian?  We know each other because we’re librarians, AND because of a shared musical interest.  You know what I mean, anyway!)  Suffice to say, these songs will  be broadcast on an Isle of Wight folklore programme that this expert is curating.  (They’ll be available online, which is just as well, because it could be difficult trying to tune in by radio from Glasgow!)

I have conflicted feelings about my compositional activities.  Surrounded by “real composers”, I suffer severely from imposter syndrome in this regard.  And yet, whilst I’m not a professional composer, I do appear to be a composer of some sort!  I can only say, watch this space …

Apparently a Composer…

In a month when I’ve been out of action, it’s gratifying to have a flute composition premiered at London College of Music by Asley Westmacott yesterday – and today one of my songs goes live via Soundcloud performed by Ruth Carlyle & David Barton – Blueberry Enchantment

Pan and Syrinx programme note

The legend of Pan and Syrinx is an object lesson for any modern philanderer, since Pan’s attempts to win the beautiful but chaste Syrinx got him absolutely nowhere!  In her attempts to evade him, Syrinx begged the river god to save her.  She was changed into a bunch of sighing reeds, with Pan ultimately creating his pan-pipes to remind him of the nymph he had failed to win.  How to turn this into a piece of music, though?  The music begins with the idea of a dialogue between Pan (the low phrases) and Syrinx (the higher-pitched answers). It becomes harder to distinguish between the two as the chase intensifies, with Syrinx’s desperation reflected in the highest, fastest passage in the middle of the piece.  Some calm is restored as she is turned into reeds, signalled by four slow ascending minims.  Pan attempts to embrace her – now a bunch of reeds – reprising the beginning of the piece.  The slower coda represents the pan-pipes that he makes as a substitute for Syrinx herself.

NHS November

I haven’t posted this month due to medical procedures affecting my family. (“How was your week?”, asked the anaesthetist. “Oh, I got the grant application in …. zzzzzz”, I said breezily.  Well, that had been the primary focus of my efforts up to that point!)

I hope to be back in circulation next week – appropriately for someone who’s a librarian more than half the time – providing the other recipient of NHS care is okay to be left in the house.  I haven’t had a whole month off since our youngest was born 21 years ago, and it has been a strange experience.  Even then, I wasn’t forbidden to drive for six weeks!

But more crucially, I may have kept an eye on my emails, but I’ve done absolutely no research for a month, and that feels quite odd.  I’ve read a couple of books – so far so good – and made a “note to self” about something to follow up.  But that’s it.  I didn’t follow it up.

The morning before my procedure, I wrote an Epiphany carol for a friend – she had translated the words from Latin in the hope that our choir might sing it early next year, so I really had to get something written if I wanted any hope of rehearsing it with them in December.  It proved not only to be a great distraction but – surprisingly, when I got round to revisiting it – I was rather pleased with it.  So, watch this space.  It was quite a high price to pay for inspiration, but on this occasion, at least something good came out of it!

More surprisingly, I spotted a request for a solo instrumental piece, on Facebook, and discovered I already had a composition which I was able to share with only two minutes’ tweaking effort, so that too will be getting a public airing in 2020.  Not bad for someone who is NOT “a composer” to trade.

Other than that – I have nothing to report right now.  But I look forward to getting back into things very soon.

Am I a Composer?

I have this problem – I have great difficulty claiming to do something, or be something in an amateur capacity.  For example, I know people who’re brilliant at patchwork and quilting.  I just do patchwork as a hobby, and I wouldn’t claim to be a quilter at all.

Similarly, I certainly am an organist and choir director – indeed, I’m paid to be.  But it’s not my day-job.  Can I call myself an organist and choir director? Well, just about.

And then there’s my attempts at composition.  I certainly do arrange music with a modest amount of success, but call myself a composer?  That bothers me!  I have colleagues who are professional composers, accept commissions, are performed at concerts and festivals – who am I to claim to be a composer, then?!

Anyway, I’ll be brave and share this one.   Worrying about Brexit a few months ago, I wrote a quintet for reed instruments (oboe, clarinet, cor anglais, saxophone and bassoon) and called it, simply, Apart.  The Brexit mess has got much messier since then, so I had another listen to it.  I think I dare share it publicly.  It’s only a Finale computerised rendition, because I haven’t tried to find five instrumentalists willing to humour me with a run-through.

‘Apart: A Lament For Reeds Quintet’ on…

If you go to SoundCloud, you’ll find more of my efforts.  See what you think.

Can I write a set of strathspeys?

Well, I made a valiant attempt, anyway! My set of strathspeys is called, whimsically, “My Foot Has Gone to Sleep” – partly because I really prefer watching dancing to actually doing it, so the title is just one of my excuses for not joining in!  Having said that, this weekend I found I would have to play Clavinova rather than organ at church (an electrical problem), so both my feet had a rest.  I played my strathspeys after a more sedate voluntary.  No-one passed any comment, so who knows if they didn’t notice or were too polite to say they didn’t like it!

The computer-generated audio file for violin, acoustic bass and guitar is horribly artificial-sounding, so I hope that one dayMusard Cherubs Quadrilles someone will play the piece and I’ll have something more human-sounding!

My Foot Has Gone to Sleep


magpie-2364332__340Not content with setting old folk-tunes, this weekend I decided to go one further and write a ballad.  Yes, the whole thing.  Seventeen verses and a couple of different tunes, so the setting uses tune A for a few verses, then B for a few more, and finally back to A again.  We have all the ingredients for a classic ballad – a lovelorn lass, a motherless child, a lone father … and a couple of Glaswegian magpies.  (They exist – I can show you the tree and chimney pot where I spotted them on my way to the bus-stop last Friday morning!)

magpie tree skyI was asked to write something for voice, flute, violin, piano and guitar / accordion.  I’ve done so.  Personally, I think it would be best to have either piano OR guitar / accordion, but not having heard it played by live musicians, I’m willing to be proved wrong.  Here’s the computer audio-file – unfortunately you can’t hear any words!  But if you listen right to the end, you’ll get an audible hint as to how the story ends!

Jackdaw-Jo : a Ballad