Composition and the inner world

Some of the world’s greatest music is incredibly provocative and soul-wrenching, and I can’t help but wonder what was going through the composer’s life when he or she wrote certain pieces.

For example, singing or listening to Mozart’s Lacrimosa from the Requiem always brings me to tears. Does it have this effect on you?

I’ve been dealing with depression this week. I’ve actually had a fair amount of rough stuff in my life to deal with, and this week was, I guess, a final straw. So music, yet again, was here to heal and support me. As it always has been.

Not only is music supportive to listen to when we’re dealing with the trauma in our lives, it helps to compose and create music too. Our own music reflects what we’re going through, the ups and downs, and the times that challenge us.

So yes, I’m composing again. It feels weird to do so, after so long. I’m finding my voice has changed, I’m not writing in the same style, I’ve matured. Maybe I’ve grown up. Maybe that’s what years of dealing with the rough stuff does to you. I don’t know. I don’t have answers.

The pieces I’m writing are short, and to the point. They’re simple. And yes, of course they’ll be free. I’m hoping to have them done within the next week or two. One is a piece based on the themes of war and peace, and the other is a sea piece.

I’ll post them when they’re done.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day – performance by RMIT Occasional Choral Society

Here’s a lovely performance of my piece “I heard the bells on Christmas Day” by RMIT Occasional Choral Society, Melbourne.

I didn’t even know they’d performed it until recently!

Here’s the text, for those of you unfamiliar with Longfellow’s classic 1864 civil war poem, “Christmas Bells”. I’ve omitted a few verses, for length.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

The piece opens with just women singing (soprano and alto), then tenor join in, then bass for a verse, then a solo tenor verse before the full choir extend to six part harmony for the final verse.

I hope you enjoy the piece. I think they did a great job of it.

Where the wild things grow…and a new choral composition competition!

It looks like ROCS (RMIT Occasional Choral Society, based in Melbourne, Australia) is having another Choral Composition competition.

So…do I enter, or don’t I?

ROCS is a terrific choir, and one of my “home choirs” – I was a member for a number of years, and many of its members are longtime friends. They’re well-known for supporting upcoming composers, for having a membership of choral composers in their ranks, and for being intensely creative and original in the works they choose to perform.

Which is bloody brilliant, I think. We need more choirs like them. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the Mozart Requiem and Handel’s Messiah, but do they really need to be performed that much?

Anyway, ROCS has run a number of these Composition Competitions over there years. Here’s the poster from the last one:

wildthings

And yes, the concert was named after a piece of mine – I wrote the lyrics and Michael Winikoff the music. Here’s a link to the piece in question, and here are the lyrics:

I know a place where the wild things grow
I know a place where the wild things grow
There’s an apple tree
From a core
That someone threw away
The fruit is sweet
So sweet
And no-one knows but me

I know a place where the wild things live
I know a place where the wild things live
Down on Puddle alley, where the little river flows
And a mother duck lives With her baby ducklings,
Soft and grey
So quiet
No-one knows but me

I climb along the bank
And sit so quietly
That no-one knows I’m there
I’m hidden safe away
I see the world go by
And no-one knows I’m there
Hidden in my safe and secret magic world

I know a place where the magic lies
I know a place where the magic lies
A world so far away
And still so close to home
I never feel alone
I never am alone
In my secret place
Where the wild things grow

I wrote the lyrics while reminiscing about the times I used to slip away from all the chaos as a child. I’d go and hide in the quiet places in gullies and near creeks, not too far away from home – behind trees or in them, down banks, or just anywhere I couldn’t be seen, and I’d watch and listen and let myself calm down and relax. It’s still something I do – nature calms and soothes me, and helps me find peace.

I wanted the whole feel of the piece to be as if it were a child talking, sharing a secret with someone they trust. I wanted the innocence and transparency of that special time in our lives to come through in the text.

In the case of this work, I turned to the local scenery near my current home in Mosgiel, near Dunedin. Puddle Alley is a real place, and yes, there are families of wild ducks, and there are cows in the paddocks, and sheep, and alpacas, and great big shire horses…and if you stay still and quiet, they’ll all forget you’re there. It’s a real magic that never grows stale.

And there really is an apple tree from an apple core someone threw away. I can’t help wondering if they know.

The competition

Back to the composition competition. Should I enter? Every time one of these comes up, I never know whether to enter or not. I’ve pretty much moved beyond competitions, and am successful enough that I don’t need them, but I still enjoy supporting them and having my work performed. And I love ROCS, which is an awesome choir and is doing an awesome thing in hosting the competitions in the first place.

I think I’ll enter. I have a couple of new pieces up my sleeve, and I haven’t published for a while.

I think it’s time to get back in the saddle 🙂