May 7

Libretto Workshop - The Coblyn

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CoDI Buddies Workshop 1: Libretto

Derri Joseph Lewis + Flatpack Opera (Ruth Rose, librettist and director)

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

 

RWCMD Students Tayla-Leigh Payne, Karin Wallnöfer and James Brock

 

Ruth and I were lucky enough to be joined today by three RWCMD students from the vocal and composition departments to read through the libretto that Ruth has been working on for our CoDI Buddies collaboration. ‘The Coblyn’ is an informative exploration of the use of children in the coal mines of Wales as covered in the KS2 Welsh Curriculum in schools — our focus in this workshop was to find fun ways to include key facts about the history of the industrial revolution and the conditions of the coal mines without darkening the tone too much. The opera is about the discovery of a mischievous Coblyn that helps children stay awake when they’re working down in the mine all day.

 

 

We gave the text a read through and had a great discussion afterwards about ways to keep the mood light and give the audience a story that they care about whilst still maintaining the important educational information that we are keen to deliver. “To make the text more suitable for children I will rework my current draft to exaggerate the language and characterisation for comic effect while keeping the educational and factual aspect,” said Ruth Rose, librettist and director from Flatpack Opera. It was great to have this workshop time to play around with the ordering of the text, to begin to think about which lines could be repeated, and whether the narrative is coming across at face value.

 

 

Ruth began blocking a basic run-through of the text like a play — this helped me to start thinking about where to place interludes within the piece to aid with scene changes, and also how the music could aid with the characterisation. By the end of the session Ruth and I had a greater understanding of the next steps we need to take to develop the text further. Over the next few weeks I will begin sketching some musical ideas that we will workshop with some more students from RWCMD. “It was useful to have the chance to workshop the text before any music has been written to acquire line-by-line and word-by-word feedback from the perspective of composers and singers,” Ruth said about the incredible opportunity to have a text-only workshop. “This has given insight into issues of plot and characterisation which can be adapted in following drafts.” We are both very grateful for the support from Tŷ Cerdd that allows us to explore our craft in a friendly workshop setting.

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  • Tŷ Cerdd has announced that Jack White and Iestyn Harding have each been awarded grants to enable them to bring new work to the concert platform, alongside community performing groups. Jack and Iestyn had been part of an original cohort of eight artists selected for the 18/19 CoDI Buddies programme pairing composers with local societies. To facilitate this, each composer and performing group received an initial grant from CoDI, with the pairings collaborating over a series of workshops in early 2019. Jack White worked with Côr Aduniad from Cwmbran to develop Beacons, an experimental vocal piece that features the use of moving audio speakers. It takes its name from the Brecon Beacons mountain range, on which fires would be lit to warn of approaching armies. Fire is used as a metaphor for potential change in the work, and the choir moves around the performing space before coming together in the last section. The additional grant of £750 will allow Jack to work with the choir (who receive £250) to complete the piece ready for its premiere in March 2020. Iestyn Harding workshopped sketches for a triple concerto with musicians from the Abergavenny Symphony Orchestra over three workshops during June. Building on these experiments, he will now work with the group to complete his work for solo violin, flute, horn and orchestra ready for its first performance during the summer of 2020. Buddies is one of multiple strands run as part of CoDI, Tŷ Cerdd’s development programme for Welsh composers. From January to June 2019 eight artist / community music group pairings workshopped new pieces that included music for wind quintet, experimental electronic music and a piece for massed brass bands. Jack White and Iestyn Harding’s proposals for developing their initial work were selected by Ty Cerdd’s panel to go forward to development. Matthew Thistlewood, of Ty Cerdd said: “It’s been a pleasure to see the range of excellent work that has been developed through CoDI over the last year – and heartening to see such vibrant links between professional composers and our thriving societies. Jack and Iestyn’s projects were both artistically imaginative and accessible for the groups they were working with – and we’re so pleased that the ensembles want to work with the composers to bring them to audiences.” A call to artists for the 19/20 CoDI Buddies opportunity will be made in mid-October.
  • Back in June I recorded a new experimental vocal piece called 'Beacons' with Côr Aduniad: https://youtu.be/TdYeqlDLCqc (link to video). I've been thinking about the use of the speakers in the piece, and how the experience of singing with the speakers could be improved from the perspective of the singers and overall artistically. From the first rehearsal it became apparent that I had made the track on the speakers too quiet for the singers. This question of balance became very important to the overall idea of the piece: I didn't want the material to dominate, but it needed to be loud enough for the singers to take their cues. By the second rehearsal, I had made the material louder, and that seemed to give the singers more security. Singers are very used to the sound of the piano in a rehearsal setting. When you add other sounds into the mix it can be off-putting for less experienced singers. This was a good test for the choir, and it seemed to help that we started with some exercises that introduced some of the techniques in the piece. I used a technique I had first developed whilst working with the South Iceland Chamber Choir in the piece 'Islands/Ynysoedd'( https://soundcloud.com/jacknotchris/islands-ynysoedd ) where, in groups of three, the middle singer dictates the tempo by pulsing the hands of the singers either side (you can see this at the start of the video). This sets up the possibility of having simultaneous multiple tempi. What I think I would like to develop with the choir (and with my writing for this setup) is to make more use of a performance space. I think that I can write more effectively by limiting the sound types on the speakers, to reinforce the concept of spacing between singers. I also think that I will try to write wordless pieces so that the singers can concentrate on the notes and movement as this style develops. Lastly, I'd like to thank Côr Aduniad and Tŷ Cerdd for this opportunity and for the overall positive and challenging experience this has proven.
  • I can’t recall who said that ‘every composition falls short’. While I certainly don’t think every piece is a disappointment to the composer, more often than not they turn out to be different to what you expect or intend - sometimes significantly so! One of the parameters I put in place for my CoDI Buddies piece was to make it musically challenging but not technically so. This resulted in music that had a number of different rhythmic strands which ultimately proved difficult to coordinate in the time allotted. It is the job of the composer to examine and listen intently to the musical material so that it reveals it own destiny and ideal form. The composer must then use skill, experience and imagination to find a way for this to manifest itself in a practicable way. As the notes fade into the Sunday night air it is becoming clear that what was intended to be the opening of Abergavenny Music will now be somewhere near the climax of the movement and the various strands that come together here will need to follow their own individual journeys before being brought to interact. So, will Abergavenny Musi c turn out differently to what I had envisaged when writing the original application? Absolutely. Without the opportunity to try out these ideas; to understand how they work aurally and musically but also practically for the musicians, this piece would certainly be following a more pre-ordained course. Hopefully, rather than falling short, it will bloom into something more interesting than I could have originally imagined. And, in challenging myself as a composer, I am now more open to other ways of working and to a more collaborative way of engaging with performers. In this sense, it might be argued that this process is already showing itself to be a success! Iestyn Harding ©Silurian Music 2019

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