Sarah Lianne Lewis
The CoDI Move composer talks about some of the inspirational experiences that have helped shape her work
What has been a seminal experience for you as a composer?
I’d probably reference Sound and Music’s Composers’ Kitchen with Quatuor Bozzini in 2017 as the residency that shaped my musical practice the most. It was an eight-month residency, that gave me the freedom and space in which I was able to explore exactly what I wanted to say with my music. I had a tendency to second-guess what I created (call it a composer’s insecurity?), and I certainly dealt with and overcame this issue over the course of the residency, and I created a work that I felt was uncompromisingly ‘of me’, without the worry of how it might be perceived by audiences. The piece went on to win the George Butterworth Award in 2018, which was an added bonus!
What work do you most enjoying doing?
My favourite part of composing is being able to workshop ideas with musicians. That point where an idea is still malleable, and can be explored, talked about, played in different ways, that’s a wonderful moment. It’s often those moments that have been integral in a finished piece, because the musicians themselves have collaborated on the idea and shaped the trajectory of where the music then goes. Outside of composing, I love leading composition workshops in schools; don’t get me wrong, they are absolutely exhausting, but it is a privilege and joy to encourage children to be creative in music, and a lot of fun when we create a classroom composition to perform together by the end of the day!
What was your scariest experience as a composer?
I’m not sure if I’d say that I’ve had a particularly scary experience as a composer. I’ve had the worry that comes from coming to the end of a project and not having anything lined up for months ahead (many times!), and currently I’m obviously concerned about the state of the Arts once Covid-19 has passed, and where I and my work may fit within that… I wouldn’t be so bold to say that I’ve experienced major creative block either; the closest that I came to that - and it was disconcerting in itself - was a period after my father died a couple years ago, where I suddenly realised I wasn’t seeing or hearing any music in my head any more. It hadn’t really occurred to me that it was almost continuously there before that point, where all I was hearing was silence, and more silence. I could still play music, could hear it physically, but that sense in my mind of hearing sounds and seeing musical shaping completely disappeared.
It was the oddest sensation, like losing your sense of smell suddenly. It lasted around 2 months, and the creative process surrounding the pieces that I wrote during that time was the most difficult I’ve experienced.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
I’ve shared this story many times over the years; One of my first times working with a professional orchestra, in a composition workshop, I’d been working with doubling instruments, and when exporting parts from the score, those parts hadn’t correctly transposed when they changed instruments. It was something that we only realised as we began the rehearsal, and we had to pause whilst myself and the orchestral librarian ran off to quickly sort those parts out. Thankfully the orchestra were wonderful and continued the rehearsal and performed the work after that mistake, and they’ve worked with me several times since then. It certainly taught me to check parts again and again before sending off! I’ve never made that mistake since…
Describe a real-life situation that inspired you.
Most of my music is inspired by life and the world around me. I seem to accidentally be preempting events the last few pieces I’ve been writing however; we watch it burn (written for UPROAR) started in Spring/Summer 2019, inspired by climate change, and was finished in the shadow of the Australian wildfires of Winter 2020. YNYS, a welsh-language chamber opera I’m currently writing with librettist Chris Harris (began again in Summer 2019) focuses on how two people find connection and forge an unusual relationship in the face of isolation. And a new piece, Creatures of Dust and Dreams (for premiere in October 2020, hopefully!) explores what it is to be human, a life with innate fragility.
I think it’s our responsibility as composers to be aware of wider events around us; our music is can connect with those around us, irrespective of barriers created by different languages and distance.