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:


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 🙂

Busy working away…

I’ve been pretty busy the last few weeks, working on a few pieces of music that are struggling to reach completion.

Not many composers talk much about the compositional process, and the difficulties that are sometimes involved. So when we hear a piece of music at its completion, we’re never really aware of what went into it, or how much in the way of blood, sweat and tears were bred into its making.

For me, some music comes easy. “Mary Sings A Lullaby” was written in the space of a few hours. “Crescent Moon” appeared in the space of three or four days, when my husband was on business overseas, and I had no-one and nothing to keep me company in the evenings. And “Where Is The Moon?” was also a few hours, coming quickly and with little effort.

But other pieces have been really hard. And at the moment, I’m struggling with an “Ave Maria” whose principal themes arrived quickly, but now seems to sit in a secondary phase of development, not wanting to be finished. I know it will happen, but it seems to be challenging me at every turn.

Then, of course, there are just the everyday businesses of life that slow things down. I have two kids, and they’re demanding. Other interests fill my hours, and I have a farm to run that takes time. We’ve had four groups of overseas visitors come to stay in four months (*waves*), and – while it has been lovely – it does take a fair chunk of your time to show people around our beautiful Taieri and city.

Plus we’ve been renovating. The whole top storey of our home has been redecorated and painted. I’ve been up, fourteen feet in the air, perched on stepladders, covered in eau-de-nil paint, and dabbing at walls on my tiptoes. The house (or the upper part of it!) is looking awesome, but it all took time in which I wasn’t composing.

But now the winter is on its way. Everywhere I look, autumn has settled in with a vengeance, and the nights are definitely feeling colder. Daylight Savings time is over. And soon it will be too cold to do much on the farm besides a little bit of fence-fixing here and there, and just regular checks on our animals.

That’s when the composition will happen in big chunks. Because there is nothing better to do, when the wind is blowing hard outside, than to snuggle up under the heater with my laptop, and fiddle with the lines of a new piece. Or complete something that has been on the backburner for a while.

So yes, things are definitely moving. “Ave Maria” will get out of the door – eventually. I promise. What I have done is sounding incredible. It’s on its way.

I’m looking forward to sharing it with you when it is done.

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day” and other performances

I’ve just had a request for an SSAB version of “I heard the bells on Christmas Day”, for the sesquicentennial celebrations of the American Civil War in Gettysburg, USA in June 2013! So I’m busy working away, and that should be released on this website within the next day or two.

In the meanwhile, the current SATB version is (of course) available here. Go have a listen – it’s quite a lovely piece.

I’m thrilled at the chance to be part of such an important celebration – the American Civil War not only changed the face of US history, but also the path of human rights worldwide. I just wish I could thank the great poet Longfellow for writing such a beautiful text. I hope I’ve done it justice.

Other performances

When I began 2012, I was hoping that I might equal the sixty (or so) performances I managed worldwide last year. Things are looking good – so far I’ve had about a dozen performances, primarily in the UK, plus a couple of performances in the US and in New Zealand. I really need to update my performance page!

But the year has been so busy with other things – at home we’re ripping out a swimming pool, doing landscaping of the farm and painting, we’ve got in a new ram, and I’ve also been busy hatching out baby chicks. All have kept me busy, not to mention looking after a very active four year old, and a pretty precocious seven year old. I sleep well these days!

New works

However, I’ve finally got back to composing, now the kids are back in school and kindy (I’m sure Beethoven never had to deal with parent-teacher timetables!). I’m currently working on an Ave Maria – something I always intended to write but which, until now, I never felt competent enough to attempt. But now the time has come, and it is happening, and I’m about halfway there.

I’m thrilled with the piece, my husband hates it, so I guess the proof in the pudding will be how you all out there respond to it. It certainly isn’t “traditional” in any sense!

The “Ave Maria” should be completed and released in the next week or two, if all goes well. It will be released here at this website first, so stay tuned 🙂