Category Archives: this freelancing business

Alice in Wonderland

Before I left Ireland last week, I took part in a school project in Daingean, County Offaly. It was funded by the Arts Council’s ‘Percent for Art’ scheme, which allows schools that have completed a new building to apply for an artwork to commemorate it. Usually this is a piece of visual art or poetry, but on this occasion it was an hour-long musical work devised by Aingeala de Burca and performed by every single child in the school (191 in total, I believe).

The theme was Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll’s grandson, Charles Dodgson, is buried in the town) and my role was to set the children’s words to music and also to play in the final performance. Aingeala and I have worked together on a number of similar projects over the past few years, but always under the auspices of other organisations. This was particularly exciting, as it was the first time I’d worked with Aingeala on something of her own.

It was interesting, too, coming in towards the end of the process. On a bigger budget project it might have been possible to have me come in to the school with Aingeala to help write the lyrics, but my role was more defined and I got the lyrics fully formed and was charged with composing musical settings of them. The lyrics were very well put together and I only made a few, very small changes in a couple of places. I visited the school once I’d written the songs and had the wonderful experience of auditioning them for the lyricists. They loved them and I think it was a moment of great relief for the teachers, too, as they finally began to see how this was all going to come together. It’s quite a tall order to ask teachers to commit to rehearsing a show while it’s being written!

We had songs about Mike the hedgehog (the royal croquet ball), Heather the flamingo (the royal croquet mallet), decapitation, Alice’s lake of frustrated tears after the ‘eat me drink me’ debacle, and the Mad Hatter’s tea party. There was also a refrain that the whole school sang at intervals throughout the show and lots of other music from the younger classes that Aingeala had done. It was a really wonderful show and a great way to finish up my work schedule. The way we did it made me think that I could easily work on something like that from afar, too…

Writing

The Guardian today featured an impressive array of top novelists all offering advice on writing.

It makes for inspiring reading: http://bit.ly/dmYsJB

I want to compose music. Well, I do compose music, rather, I want to grasp the sense of vocation that speaks through the hard-won wisdom of these writers.

Last night a good friend of mine listened to a rough recording of my latest piece in a noisy pub, her hands cupped around her earbudded pinnae, her body hunched over my iPhone. She was able to give me some really good feedback and to help me towards fixing some of the problems with the piece; as was her friend, whose non-musical language was really insightful.

So much of what I was thinking about was echoed and expanded by the Guardian article and I think I’ll be reading it over and over during the next while.

Some recording, a new piece, and a bursary

I’m writing this while eating a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Raising a glass and a half to the taste of world-beating excellence. Please, American Kraft people (and I know you’re reading this blog…), don’t change it. Although I’m still a bigger fan of Quality Street than Roses. Just saying.

Last weekend I was recording with New Dublin Voices – Christmas music – in St Ann’s church on Dawson Street. It’s a lovely church to sing in but it was really cold. We did two sessions (usually three hours between meals in the biz) on both Saturday and Sunday and a rehearsal session on the Friday night, too. Needless to say, by the Sunday I was better prepared, piling on the layers and swapping the shoes-with-a-slight-heel that were recommended to me for singing in for my scruffy-but-comfortable trainers. I also used a music stand both days which saved me having to hold the music the whole time. The recording was produced by Bill Sommerville-Large and he was very good to work with. He guided us through the process and made clear suggestions as to where singers should be positioned. He has a wonderful ear and I’m looking forward to hearing the recordings, which we hope to put out on CD after the summer.

On Sunday, during one of the breaks between takes, I sidled over to the piano and my fingers fell onto a chord – hands centred just either side of middle C, right hand on a 2nd inversion Bb triad, left hand on a 1st inversion Eb triad. It sounded quite beautiful to my ears and over the next few hours I kept slipping back to the keyboard. “That’s the start of my new choral piece!”, I joked to those nearby. There was something cooking, though, and by the time we were packing up, I had a strong sense that this really was a new piece. At home I played it over a number of times, finding another section…

The next day I was in search of a text. I really like the poems of Dennis O’Driscoll but leafing through a volume of his work proved fruitless. Nothing suited the feel of this music. I took myself out to a local café for a cup of tea and grabbed a book on the way – a book of Celtic Verse given to me for my birthday a few years ago. I knew some things about the text I as looking for: it had to have quite short lines and it had to start on the upbeat. I forget the poetry term…<consults Stephen Fry’s excellent book ‘The Ode Less Travelled’>…ah, yes, it’s iambic. Mr Fry also includes a rather nice chocolate reference:

GOLDEN RULE ONE – reading verse can be like eating chocolate, so much more pleasurable when you allow it slowly to melt inside you, so much less rewarding when you snap off big chunks and bolt them whole, all but untasted.

Well, dear reader, I found it. The one. A poem that not only suited my chosen metre but, when I got it home and played it at the piano, seemed to compliment the music beautifully. The piece was finished! I can still hardly believe it. I spent the next day typing it into Sibelius and preparing scores for the choir to sing through it at our rehearsal. Everyone seemed to like it. Here is the poem, by Villiers de L’Isle-Adam (1838-1889):

Confession

Since I have lost the words, the flower
Of youth and the fresh April breeze . . .
Give me thy lips; their perfumed dower
Shall be the whisper of the trees!

Since I have lost the deep sea’s sadness,
Her sobs, her restless surge, her graves . . .
Breathe but a word; its grief or gladness
Shall be the murmur of the waves!

Since in my soul a sombre blossom
Broods, and the suns of yore take flight . . .
O hide me in thy pallid bosom,
And it shall be the calm of night!

My other big task for this week was completing my application for a bursary award from the Arts Council. It would be so great to get it but I’m not going to get my hopes up because only two applicants out of ten have been awarded in the last couple of years. Gathering together the support material made me realise how much stuff I have but also how unclear that is on the website. I plan to do a page with all the recordings I’ve done, with lyrics and a link to a score on Sibelius where possible.

virtual busking

I’ve started a new page on the site, ‘Any requests…?’, up there at the top right. The idea is that people (you?) might send in a request for a song you would like me to record and I’ll put it up on the page. I sent a note to my fans on Facebook (all two dozen of them – legends every one 🙂 – follow the Facebook link on the left and become one today!) and got a couple of interesting songs suggested within a day or two. Please keep the ideas coming and let me know what you think of the ones I’ve already posted. Don’t worry about being critical: I have to approve the comments before they appear on the site anyway!

If you do like the songs then please consider throwing some virtual coins into my virtual PayPal guitar case. If you don’t want to do that then please tell your friends about the site, link to it on your blog, your Facebook site etc.

Keep up to date with the updates to the blog by subscribing to the RSS feed (button at the top left). I keep a folder called ‘blogs’ on my Firefox toolbar, so I can quickly check the blogs I subscribe to.

When to say when

I subscribe to a blog called Freelance Switch which offers advice for people who work for themselves. If this is something that interests you, I recommend it. A recent article by Mark Dugas on the subject of saying ‘no’ struck a chord with me: I’m terrible at turning stuff down. This last year has been a learning curve for me and, while being discerning about jobs is something that will always be difficult, I found this article (and the comments people left about it) very applicable.