Moving forwards

I’ve finished my final draft of ‘Make Room’! Over the past month I had a very useful lesson with Sam Richards, I had an initial discussion about it with Flute Cake, I did quite abit of playing with myself (using my phone video camera) which caused much redrafting. Now I have rehearsals and an initial performance with Flute Cake coming up and I have more ideas bubbling which I now feel free to think about. Yesterday and today  (abit quicker than 6 months/1 year!) I have completed a first draft of a short piece for flute and piano (from sketches I have had for a while) entitled ‘In Memory’. I feel more confidence now I have something ‘to show ‘ for my ideas. I’m reading Anais Nin’s first journal which I’m finding inspiring and encouraging. I’m also enjoying an album by Twelfth Day called ‘Cracks in the Room’. The title track describes the way that we commit self sabotage – I think all persons do this but with women it is so historically part of what is expected of our role that we do it without realising it. Well, no self-sabotage for me! Another track is called ‘Stop talking about it’ the lyrics encourage the listener to ‘just get in with it’, which reminds me of a favourite phrase of my mum’s ‘do it now!’ (a more direct, hand on version of Carpe Diem, I suppose!) Well, mum, I am.


I had a flurry of work on Make Room yesterday. I realised that I was starting to be preoccupied with my next composition idea (composing a piece for flute and piano to do with listening and POSTCARDS! ha. I love postcards) – and that made me resurge my energy into realising I need to complete (in some way) this first! I’ve done alot of reading since January and kept the most notebooks I have in a while… Here are afew ideas/quotes that have been in my mind alot….

Last summer, at A Quiet Night In, we performed a piece by Antoine Beuger. His pieces have instructions like ‘one tone. rather short. very quiet.’ He is one of the founders of the Wandelweiser group. He describes composing as:

” not about creating or inventing differences or concatenations of differences. Each sound is going to be different anyway. I like the idea of a piece of music being just a few sounds, of performing music as just playing a few sounds. Composing seems to me to be about making a few basic decisions, that open up a specific, still infinite world of differences: just a few sounds.”

This quote is from a book called ‘Word Events’. Here another quote from that book – Michael Pisaro commenting on Julia Eckhardt’s ‘Only’:

“Julia Eckhardt also comments on the importance of a personal experience of place when performing ‘Only’, saying: ‘What counts is that it is done, not what is sounding. Then I also performed for the birds, the joggers, the people with their dog who didn’t look at me. I was performing the beach, the light and the early morning hour, whoever was aware of these things at any place in the world at that moment, performed with me. It’s a matter of performing with instead of performing for.’ ”



Progress over school hol

I’m quite pleased as I have managed, so far, to make some progress with ‘make room’ over the Easter school holiday. Usually I struggle to fit my own plans in and it becomes a strain to keep my daughter (I’ll refer to her as D) happy and everyone else (and myself). I think it helps that she’s abit older now. I’ve got some work done in afew early mornings – including working on bits of the composition which aren’t ‘sound’ elements, like the introductory notes and the other words in it. I also made a point of fully utilizing my Thursday morning (last half term I sacrificed it for doing something with D). This time I expressed to my partner (actually husband but still feel weird using that archaic, possessive word) what my desires and intentions were, organised it and then went and did it. (Excellent, pats self on back for expressing and communicating clearly and honestly.)

On Thursday morning, I used my phone to record myself playing the scores I have so far and then I played along with the recording to get an idea of how the ensemble would sound. I ended up working on the room/space scores I already have (six). I like to compose, or get the initial ideas in the specified space – some of the descriptions I have left such as ‘big space’ or ‘grand staircase’ (might change to ‘staircase – open’ as I already have ‘staircase – enclosed’) will need  me to go somewhere other than my house or my friend’s house (which is my Thursday workspace).

We had a Flute Cake rehearsal on Friday and we got some rehearsal dates in the diary for MY PIECE!!!!! and we also penciled in a possible weekend for the initial small performance!!!!! Very good to have afew deadlines looming now! SO IMPORTANT to get this done. I’m very lucky to have my fellow Flute Cakettes to work and play with.

This Thursday I have a couple of bits of teaching work and also a rehearsal for something else. Oh, and also a cake sale outside our house for local homeless charity – D’s lovely idea! D is going to Granny tomorrow so I must make abit of Wednesday into Thursday tomorrow.


It’s good to talk

Over the past few months, I have recognized that it is important to talk to people about what you are doing. About a month after starting to really apply myself to my project, I started to feel as though maybe my idea wasn’t very good anymore and doubts were creeping in about the validity of what I was doing, and wondering whether I was being selfish and unrealistic to spend time doing unpaid, creative work when I am supporting two generations of my family. I went to visit a close friend, who is a writer, and I was eager to hear about her project, and she of course wanted to hear about mine and because I was feeling cross with my whole stupid idea I rattled out what I’d been doing/thinking/working on and she was enthusiastic and positive about it. And then I started to re-evaluate it, because I value her opinion, and started to consider it again.

Every time I have had a conversation with a friend or colleague about my composing work, I have always been bolstered by their reaction: they are interested/they want to offer valuable advice/they are encouraging/they share their own creative experiences/struggles/mundane problems/highs/lows. (They don’t laugh or look confused or not interested.)

In some ways, this sounds obvious – of course it’s good to talk and to gain support from friends – but it feels important to me to acknowledge this. I worry about talking about my composing because it’s something new that I’m doing, I don’t know what the exact final product will be, it might be successful, it might not be, I might not know how to finish it… so it is still quite an abstract thing, full of lots of WORRIES… it’s good for me to fight my impulse to keep this thing in my head until I have a fully formed thing to present to the world. Whenever I get it out of my head in any way, I feel more creatively empowered.

I am now in the Easter holidays and my daughter is here at home for two weeks and all routine goes out of the window. I also have concerts to prepare for. I’m going to try not to be too hard on myself but I also need to allow for the fact that if I don’t push myself to complete this project then it may never get done. Another female writer friend of mine has told me of twice when she was nearing the completion of a project she fell in love, but she was conscious to prioritize her work to completion as women have an (undocumented) history of uncompleted creative work interrupted by lovers, children, parents and the needs and desires of others. I think early rising may be beneficial for me over these two weeks, I can make some progress that way. And if I don’t, at least I’m trying and don’t have to ask, ‘what if?’

make room – inaugural blog post!

About nine months ago I knew I was going to be moving house and that I wanted to compose some music. I wasn’t aware that I wanted to write music specifically about the house – or about rooms – or buildings – but now I can see that the two things are interlinked. People often ascribe feelings/emotions or grand ideas to music but I want the performance of my compositions to heighten people’s awareness of the space they are in.

When I moved back into my old family home with my own young family, the living room was all higgeldy piggeldy, I felt that the way it was laid out and decorated just didn’t fit the shape of the room (it did once, but my mum has had been disorientated with Alzheimer’s disease for several years). It fascinated me to re-evaluate the physical characteristics of this room that I have known for 32 years.

I want my music to draw people’s senses towards the space that they are in. When listening to music we are typically preoccupied with ‘floating away’ /’escape’ / ‘drifting off’ / ‘being transported’. I want my compositions to encourage people (the performers and the audience) to pay attention in new ways and to re-notice the space that they are in.

Also important to my work ‘make room’ is that the music writing is possible to interpret by young players, amateurs and professionals. In small buildings I envisage a small ensemble – I am writing for my flute trio ‘Flute Cake’ – but in a large, public space the piece will need a larger ensemble – the piece/performance needs to be collectively owned by both the performers and the audience, as the space is.

As a teacher and a woman and a mother of a daughter and a daughter of a mother who collected dozens of unused pads of watercolour paper, it is important to me to be a role model and a creative force. All systems are valid and all creations – a 6 year old’s piece for piano with backwards crotchets and wonky bars, a Romantic symphony, a 12-tone sonata, a piece for three flutes with 4 notes about a wooden floor – all are a wonderful, positive presence in our world. I want my students to know that composing is integral and that exploring different sound worlds beyond the usual timbre and 12-tones is expressive and exciting, and that you don’t need a special certificate to be allowed to do these things.

My piece ‘make room’ must be accessible and it avoids the expectation of complexity, but it does contain some simple extended techniques. It encourages silence, listening, ensemble playing, independent decision making and curiosity – in both the performers and the audience.

I intentionally haven’t said much about the content of my actual composition here, as I don’t want to explain it away! But I have started a blog as I finally feel like my ideas are coming together and that my piece is actually gaining momentum and I am creating it and I want to begin to make it seem real by actually talking/writing about it. Soon I will workshop it with my colleagues in Flute Cake, revise it, and then my intention is to have a small trial performance with a small audience. Revise it some more. Apply for funding and approach venues.

I am being inspired by so many people and events at the moment. For years I have been inspired by the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and have stood in the shower having vague musical ideas about it but not knowing what to do with them. The RAMM has been a key building in helping me to create this piece. I feel that my preoccupation with buildings at the moment stems from so many things – the housing crisis, my own move, all home-less people, identity and the loss of identity, new buildings (our need for them but also the losses they bring about), the burning down of the Royal Clarence Hotel and the Riverside Leisure Centre and the Waste Depot in Exeter very recently… But why and how do I want to make MUSIC about buidings? Well, this is what I have sat with for a long time in a vague way, and for 3 months in a very intentional way… and I’m getting somewhere…