Forum Posts

lennysayers
May 06, 2019
In BLOGS
My mentoring sessions with Graham Fitkin have now come to an end. The feedback I’ve had, I firmly believe, will result in me writing better music in the future. Graham did not criticise my overall style (phew!), and he was complimentary about my ability to notate and orchestrate (phew!). This I was pleased about, because poor, unclear and unhelpful notation for performing musicians is a real bugbear of mine. But neither did he say: ‘Wow that’s great, this is the most amazing new music I’ve ever heard!’ Or even: ‘I wish I’d thought of that’. Well, let’s be honest, I didn’t expect him to and wouldn’t have believed him if he did. If you go for a lesson and you’re told everything is brilliant you may feel you’ve wasted your time. I wanted to be criticised, I wanted to be pushed and I wanted to be challenged. And I was. So what have the results been for me? · I now think even more analytically about what I’m writing (i.e. what note should there be here? Do I need to thin out the texture here? Could I make this note longer or shorter?) · I now think even more carefully about the overall structure of the music. · My Tŷ Cerdd commission ‘(A Touch of) Djinn’ would have been very different without Graham’s input. After my initial sessions with him I re-worked the beginning, a bit of the middle and the very end. You can hear the finished product here: https://soundcloud.com/tycerdd/lenny-sayers-a-touch-of-djinn?fbclid=IwAR2cc6GmQZhNgDDUxor6QKsgkkzskVrBzVC8wtXnOFrpYvXY7ga0JwHg-Mo · I am even more firmly convinced that I still have a lot to learn. For the final session just before Easter I was set the task of writing a solo piece for bass clarinet. This I did, only just finishing it two days before my visit. I called the piece ‘solo’ because I couldn’t think of a better title! It was an interesting task – I was writing for an instrument I was very familiar with, and I wrote it at the bass clarinet rather than the piano. I wanted to write something that was non-virtuosic and quite slow with long phrases. Why? Because this is quite difficult on the bass clarinet for breathing and control (like those marvellous but exhausting solos in Wagner) and I knew I’d be able to use the piece as a study with my students. Similarly, I find writing slow music with long phrases more challenging, so it was good thing for me to do. I aimed to keep my ideas simple and concise, and I think I achieved this, but the piece still needs some tweaking. On my visit to Graham’s house (in deepest darkest Cornwall, a 4.5 hour journey by car from Cardiff) I took my bass clarinet along and performed the piece for him. This was interesting because it felt like a lesson, but if I played a wrong note it wasn’t my bass clarinet playing that was being focused on. When I played one section of the piece for a second time he told me he’d changed his mind about it – he wasn’t sure it worked on the first hearing. I then admitted that that was because I hadn’t played it right the first-time round… One of my aims of the piece was to utilise the high registers of the bass clarinet more than is usual for the instrument. I hope that Graham found this useful as he told me that he wouldn’t have been confident writing such high notes - the highest note I wrote is a concert Bb two octaves above middle C – well into the red zone on Sibelius, but perfectly playable. I wouldn’t necessarily write it in an ensemble if you want it to be bang on in tune, however! The bass clarinet has a 4-octave range, and few composers use it fully (except people like Mark Anthony Turnage. To be fair Graham also writes very well for the bass clarinet!) The next time I see Graham will be when the BBC National Orchestra of Wales perform his work ‘Metal’ in the Vale of Glamorgan Festival (Saturday May 18th). I really admire his music, and I now feel that I have a better understanding of how he composes. I hope one day to be able to write something myself that I feel is as good as one of his pieces. If you’re interested, you can hear Graham Fitkin’s excellent writing for the bass clarinet on Spotify. This is a recording of his work ‘Vent’ for 2 clarinets and 2 bass clarinets from the album ‘Knotwork’. On it I am playing the 1st bass clarinet part: https://open.spotify.com/track/62FMKpZdOAB2kgh3WEcqAF?si=DARlZx19QwaIb8kuiobOsw
Now the mentoring has finished... content media
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lennysayers
Jan 04, 2019
In BLOGS
The actual question Graham Fitkin asked me in our first CoDI mentor session was ‘what do you want to do with composition?’ - which is a slightly different question to ‘why do you compose?’ - but that very question (essentially ‘why am I doing this?’) is a familiar one for me. As a musician it often goes through my head, especially in slow afternoon rehearsals in the orchestra, and now I was pondering it again. And this was not just because I’d just driven nearly 250 miles, a day after flying back from Beijing, to spend an afternoon with Graham Fitkin in his house in Cornwall. I have often asked myself why I compose music when I have a successful career as an orchestral player - which is, without a doubt, my main identity as a musician - when composers are often considered with suspicion by my colleagues (although, admittedly, not as much as conductors). I certainly don’t do it to make money! And, here’s another difficult question to answer: am I any good at it? Presenting compositions to colleagues is a bit like laying your soul on the line. You are inviting judgement on something which is deeply personal and has involved a great deal of emotional effort to create. I admit that the wish not to upset my colleagues means I often shy away from taking risks or being too adventurous. And composing is a self-indulgent, often lonely pursuit – (mostly) unlike being in an orchestra. But if I didn’t believe that the music I write is enjoyable to play and enjoyable to listen to I wouldn’t do it. Whether I succeed in this is, of course, very subjective. If I’ve learnt anything after working for seven years in a professional orchestra that plays a lot of contemporary music, it’s that it is impossible to please everyone! And so here I was at Graham Fitkin’s house about to invite judgement from a successful and established composer who I have admired for some time. I have performed Graham’s music, and even recorded his work ‘Vent’ with the clarinet quartet I used to play with. We had met before, but this was the first time that I was talking to him as a composer and not an instrumentalist. I’ve never actually had formal composition lessons, and I know there is great deal I can learn from others. This is why I applied for the CoDI mentor scheme in the first place. My wife is a music therapist, a profession where you are expected to have regular supervision. Performing musicians don’t often do this, certainly not after completing formal studies, but I’ve always found ‘supervision’ from fellow professional musicians useful – once I get over the usual paranoia of being ‘found out’ for the fraud I suspect I am... So, perhaps it’s about time I take myself a bit more seriously as a composer? And so I find myself at a respected composer’s house after travelling for a half a day to get there with a piece called ‘A Wibbly Wobbly Waltz’. Oh well. ‘A Wibbly Wobbly Waltz’ is a piece for orchestra with audience participation involving parts for swanee whistle, siren, duck-call, cuckoo, party hooter and kazoo. It is my latest work for the BBC NOW Family Concerts (https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/evfxp6), for a performance in 24th March in Cardiff and 31st March in Llandudno. It epitomises the reason I compose because it is a piece of pure entertainment (carefully constructed, if I don't say so myself), involving a great deal of silliness, and with any luck will give some children an unforgettable (hopefully positive) experience of making silly noises in front of a live orchestra. Not exactly Graham’s usual genre, but he was able to give me a few very useful pointers on my orchestration - which I have now re-worked as a result. I would like to reassure anyone who may still be reading this that I do write ‘serious’ music. I have a Tŷ Cerdd commission I’m currently working on, for Duo Bayanello (accordion and cello) for a performance in Cardiff on Feb 26th (https://www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk/whats-on/contemporary-nightmusic/duo-bayanello-trio-anima/). This is ‘serious’, and Graham and I will concentrate on this in our next session in early January.
Why do I compose? Thoughts from my first CoDI mentoring session. content media
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