Ceci n’est pas un mixtape

I have put together some tracks that made me laugh, dance, cry, or growl and subsequently inspired ‘A Dancing Place’. It may not always be obvious how each sound influenced this piece, but it’s there somewhere – come along on the 7th of January to solve the riddle…

When the Clown Speaks

After non-stop composing day and night with my laptop on a high workbench so I could dance while typing, and consuming so much chocolate I flirted with a diabetic coma, the scores have been finished and printed!

As I double-checked the proofs, I became more and more frightened of my creation. Lessons for me had included having to rewrite the entire score into a more legible time-signature, realising I hadn’t complemented the orchestra’s ensemble instinct as well as I’d hoped for in last blog, also that I should seek regular composition tuition, and that learning from the experience of instrumentalists is as valuable as water in the desert.

But speaking honestly, I think the image that struck – and stuck – hardest was one of battle. When I showed my score to other composers, the humorous performance directions that formed the fibres of  ‘A Dancing Place’ were met largely with concern. Details that I’d written for fun, they suggested, could be seen as frivolous, and treated as such, and I should prepare myself for a struggle.

Once I came to my senses, I started wondering why so many composers I’ve met seem wary of the orchestra. Like a proper duel, etiquette is carefully observed (including greeting and thanking the right people at the work’s performance) but the participants are mutually concerned about insult and public humiliation. Of course, this representation of the relationship between composer and orchestra is neither comprehensive nor fair — I guess I’m just trying to say that it doesn’t look easy. Composers can sometimes upset classical players, who have trained for years to create beautiful and effortless sound, by asking them to perform things they may see as regressive or damaging. Composers can sometimes be upset by classical players that seem reluctant to take their unconventional ideas seriously.

The great thing about the workshop set-up of the Panufnik Scheme is that both parties get a chance to explain themselves.  No ‘Great Dictatorship’ can really exist here — our differences can be discussed and developed, and everyone’s opinion is equally valued.

In these blogs, I’ve dwelt on the humour in my work because I’ve felt the need to justify it. After all this, my piece isn’t even anywhere near laugh-your-face-off-funny. The main humorous elements are just little directions in the score to dictate when the individuals play. Foolish, at best.

But perhaps that’s not a bad thing. The Fool, the little man, is called holy because of his sincerity and innocence: Chaplin and Harpo clown their way to a vision of a better world, one where music is indispensable. In the footsteps of clowning tradition, ‘A Dancing Place’ is meant to be both elegant and clumsy, whole-hearted and rough-edged, and, by the grace of humour, humble and utterly sincere.

Our compositions as they looked in May


In the photo above, the big scribble is my brain-spasm, the miniature fairy booklet is Eloise Nancy Glynn’s first notes. In the last two months, the two of us have kept each other composing to deadline through the night thanks to the Modern Technology that is instant messaging…

One Panufnik LSO discovery for me was that I enjoyed the company and support of other composers involved in the project. I hope new projects will grow from our meeting.