Category Archives: composition

New term

September is the real turning point of the year – the beginning of the new school term. It would be interesting to know why it was settled on that children would begin/resume their studies in the first month of autumn. My immediate thought was that it probably has to do with the agricultural calendar, like a lot of our conventions (for example, the clocks falling back and springing forward). It surely would have been more useful to have all available helpers on the farm at harvest, though, rather than reading, writing and arithmeticking…?

For me, the new term brings with it some new opportunities: I’m working with Helene Hugel, a puppeteer and clown doctor, and mentor Tim Webb, director of children’s theatre company Oily Cart, on a project for children between 6 months and 2 years old; I’ve also devised a ‘Magic Moment’ that our choir, ‘New Dublin Voices‘, will perform as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival next week.

There are a dozen ideas/resolutions that I want to pursue and develop, too:

• A generative composition (i.e. one based on an algorithm or set of rules);
• A piece of podcast theatre;
• Talks for fledgling concert-goers;
• Going to ten symphony orchestra concerts during the year and blogging about them;
• Devoting a lot more time to practicing the clarinet with a view to joining an orchestra or band;
• Recording the wedding music I’ve written to date and promoting that side of my work.

Also, having attended the Association of Irish Choir’s choral conducting course in August, I want to see if there are any opportunities to do some work with a choir…

That’s probably enough to be getting on with!

warming up the pipes

The triennial Pipeworks festival is in full flow at the moment – the Great is coupled to the pedals and all the stops are out (or something). I don’t really know a huge amount about the pipe organ but what little knowledge I do possess leaves me in awe of really good organists. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing a number of really excellent players – usually it’s difficult to actually see what’s going on because they’re up in the organ loft, obscured from the vision of those below. (I just had a random image of Superman III – you know the big computer they build to take over the world? Now I’m not saying that such megalomaniacal tendencies are lying dormant just below the surface of organ designers/players but just compare…)

The picture on the left is the magnificent organ at St Giles cathedral in Edinburgh (city of my alma mater) and the image on the right is, of course, the aforementioned supercomputer from Superman III.

Anyway, there are lots of chances left to experience the rare pleasure that is the skilful and artful manipulation of the manuals, stops and pedals of a top-class pipe organ. This year is also the centenary of the birth of Olivier Messiaen, perhaps the most important composer of organ music of the twentieth century. A synchronicity of cosmic proportions such as this should not be overlooked. Here’s what’s available for your listening pleasure:

tonight (thurs 26jun) 9pm Saint Patrick’s cathedral: David Leigh plays Messiaen’s Livre de Saint-Sacrement

fri 27jun

  • 1.15pm St Mary’s pro-cathedral: David Leigh plays Messiaen’s Les corps glorieux
  • 8pm National Concert Hall: symphony orchestra plays Messiaen’s L’Ascension, Poulenc’s Organ Concerto (with soloist Thomas Trotter), and Faure’s Requiem (with the choirs of St Pat’s and St Mary’s). This is a hugely talented bunch of musicians gathering to play really fantastic music.

sat 28jun

  • 3pm City Hall: New Dublin Voices and three other choirs do a concert in the opulent surroundings (and lovely acoustic) of the city hall, at the top of Parliament Street. Each choir will do some music on their own and we’re also going to be joining together to sing some pieces. It’s free, so please come along and delight your eardrums for as long as you feel like 🙂

sun 29jun

  • 5pm Saint Patrick’s cathedral: the festival finale; “…the presentation of a Vespers in seventeenth century Lutheran manner. With massed choral forces, brass accompaniment and the glorious acoustic of Ireland’s largest cathedral, this event promises a rousing conclusion to the festival.” We’re singing at this, too. The Lutheran church in its hey-day was the absolute bees knees in terms of music and spectacle. Songs of Praise just doesn’t cut it compared to this! If the stones of the world’s cathedrals could talk, they’d ask for this kind of church service. Come along and rejoice with the stones of St Pat’s as they get a proper pampering session!

more info (prices, telephone booking numbers etc.) can be found at the Pipeworks website

choir of the year

New Dublin Voices travelled to Navan on Sunday for the Bord Na Móna Choral Festival. We were entered for three competitions: the popular music competition, the living composer competition and the Choir of the Year competition.

In the popular music competition we sang Sing a song of sixpence by John Rutter and Drive my car (an arrangement by the Swingle Singers of the Beatles’ opener from their ‘Rubber Soul’ album). We were delighted to win the first prize.

The living composer competition was held in the Church of Ireland building, which had a much nicer acoustic than either the community hall where the poplar music competition was held or, indeed, the Solstice arts centre that the festival has been held in for the last two years. We performed a piece we’d premièred at a concert in Trinity college chapel in January, Enda Bates‘s Sea Swell. The piece is written for four choirs of soprano, alto, tenor and bass, positioned at corners of the room. It starts with a notation of the sound of the tide on a beach, moving throughout the sixteen parts and growing in intensity until a series of notes is picked out in the female voices. A number of other melodies are passed and overlapped between the singers and the effect is very mesmeric. We enjoyed performing the piece and it was fun to see the audience twisting and turning while trying to figure out where all the sounds were originating from! Next we performed Ian Wilson‘s setting of the e.e. cummings poem nine(birds)here. This went better than it had in Cork – it’s one of the more difficult pieces we sing in terms of the richly dissonant writing – and we were again delighted to win the first prize in the first year of this competition class. It was interesting to hear some of the other pieces, too. I particularly liked a piece written by Martin O’Leary (who was present) called donna nobis which was impressively performed by three students of NUI Maynooth.

After some well-needed carvery food at the hotel next door and some more practice we went back over to the church to sing in the main ‘choir of the year’ competition. We were up against some excellent groups from various parts of Ireland and, when it came time for the adjudication to be announced we were all really impressed and wouldn’t have minded not winning (well, maybe…). We had performed our two most exciting pieces: Wade in de water, with its foot-stamping build-up in the middle, and Iuppiter, which left us all completely drained with its relentless drama and sheer density of texture. The last two pages of Iuppiter consist of hammering semiquavers in all (eight) parts, everyone intoning the names of Jupiter (“…TonansStatorVictorIuppiterPluviusSummanusCaelestis…”) in a barrage of sound that culminates in everyone chanting louder and louder in free rhythm until there comes a pause and we all forcibly whisper “Iuppiter!” in unison. When it works, the effect is electric…and it worked on Sunday! The prizes were announced in reverse order – distinctions went to Grovesnor choir from Belfast and Enchiriadis from Malahide; second prize to Vocare, a fledgling ensemble from Wexford who were great crack and are definitely ones to watch. By this stage the tension was almost unbearable in our stuffy gallery seats as we flashed excited looks to each other. When the affirmative pronouncement came we exploded into cheers, reserving a extra big one for when Bernie went up to collect the cup. Onwards now to the competition in Tours in a couple of weeks!

Scoil Angela

The 5th class girls from Scoil Angela, Thurles

Here are my fellow songwriters and rappers, who we worked with last week in Thurles. The final performance – for their parents and the rest of the school – went really well. Aingeala conducted the half-hour concert which began with all the girls simulating the rhythm of a heart beat and moved through different sections. They did some improvisation over some grooves that we’d been working on during the week. Each girl had a percussion instrument and another instrument – between them they had tin whistles, flutes, violins, a guitar, a harp and three keyboards. The rap and the song went really well and the audience gave them a huge, well-deserved ovation at the end.

In June, they’ll come to Dublin and perform some of their pieces with the other schools that have had projects this year. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a recording of them singing the song but here’s a version I recorded in my hotel room last week to give you an idea:

John Cage

I stumbled upon this video of John Cage talking about sound – interesting guy and there’s something inspiring about his views on music.

(After his segment the rest is in French but stay tuned for a cute clip of a baby listening to its mother singing :-))

The belief that everything has to have meaning is terribly constricting and requires a sizeable amount of mental gymnastics to sustain (which gives us a lot of nonsensical ‘arty’ talk and theology…).

Here’s one of John Cage’s sonatas for prepared piano.