Playing the new stuff!

This article is the first of two from Dylan Christopher, Colchester based pianist and composer who is running the Piano Project 2018 project in association with Colchester New Music.

My love of music was fostered from a young age.  I do not come from a musical family; I was, and remain today the only musician in my immediate, and extended family circle.  However, this did not stop me being inspired by the giants that helped shape music.

When people talk about the past, there is a detachment.  We forget that we are talking about events that happened on this planet; albeit a long time ago, but on our planet nevertheless.  While studying, a mentor once said to me “There are some pieces of music that you feel as though you can reach your hand out and touch, and some you cannot”.  The music we cannot reach out and touch, so to speak, is where this detachment lies, past or present.

A few years ago, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Handel Museum in Mayfair; Jimmy Hendrix lived next door.  There is something amusing about picturing Jimmy Hendrix living next door to George Frideric Handel, as though it was pulled from a BBC primetime sitcom.

Obviously, Handel was an early eighteenth-century composer, and Hendrix was a twentieth-century popular musician, so they did not live next door to one another at the same time, but this image conjures up all sorts of tomfoolery and shenanigans.

Just being in the rooms where they stood, looking out of the windows they looked out of, and seeing the view they might have seen, brought them to life; for me at least.  Speaking with my performer’s hat on, we spend a lot of time and effort trying to understand the mind of the composer whose music we are performing.  Why did they write it like this? What do they mean us to play?  Is this what they wanted it to sound like?

Both Handel and Hendrix are no longer alive, so these questions are labours one might have when playing their music.  Not forgetting that the world we live in has moved on certainly since the time of Handel, and somewhat since the time of Hendrix in the late seventies.

Today everything we do is, to a point, sanitised and detached; behind a speaker, or a screen.  We see musicians and the sounds they make, but for the most part, we forget that these are events, that are unfolding or have unfolded, before our eyes, on this planet. In some instances, they are so finely polished that the suspension of disbelief would not for a moment permit the thought that they are part of our world.

The first time I met a real composer was an enlightening experience.  They were not a superstar who lived in the parallel star-studded universe of show-business.  They were also not the larger-than-life- itself icon asking for worship and sycophantism.  They were a human being, living, feeling and thinking like you or I; most importantly, living in the same space and planet.

Of most importance to this person was the music they had written and the connections and insight it would inspire in others.  They said, their role was to write it, and mine was to sing it; which I tried my hardest to.  I was so worried about ‘getting it right’ I almost forgot why we were singing it; as the composer reminded me, it was for our audience to enjoy and be moved by.

The piece was written for a choral competition, in which I sang tenor, and incidentally, we would later win.  I am by no means a vocalist, but I could contribute, which the composer saw and was enough to convince him to let me join the cause.  At the time, I felt like I was part of something larger, which I was.  Forever my name will be on the programme, as performer – tenor –  for the first performance of something new; never heard before that moment.

It would be almost ten years later while talking with a colleague, Alex Blustin, on this very issue of performing contemporary music, on which he would say:

“If you give the first performance of a new piece, it’s ‘yours’ forever in a way that ‘Für Elise’ will never be.”

This so beautifully and eloquently puts into words the very meaning of reaching out and touching music.  By playing it, we make it our own, which is why after so many years of making music, we still play, practice, perform, record, then re-record music.  Being the first to make that connection makes it special, for you, the composer, and the audience.

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Honorary Doctorate for Julia Usher

Julia Usher

Julia Usher at University Centre Colchester graduation ceremony, Colchester Town Hall, 7 Oct 2017

We are delighted to announce that CNM’s Project Director Julia Usher has been awarded an Honorary PhD by the University of Essex, in recognition of her services to music in the county and beyond.

Below is the full text of the oration given at the ceremony by Phil Toms (Head of Schools: Digital Media, Music & Performing Arts, University Centre Colchester).

“It is a great honour for me to introduce Julia Usher, a Colchester-based composer

and musician, who is being awarded an honorary doctorate today. Julia has been nominated for her extensive contribution to music, both locally and nationally.

During her time as a student, Julia studied at the University of York and at Cambridge with Richard Orton and Robert Sherlaw Johnson, and later qualified as a practicing Music Therapist at the prestigious Nordoff–Robbins Centre in London. In 1980, Julia set up her own music publishing company ‘Primavera Music UK’ with her colleague Enid Luff, for which they have just celebrated 34 years of publishing.

As a founding member of the ‘Women in Music’ organisation, set up in 1987, Julia displayed her passion for furthering equality and opportunities for women at a time when equality issues were significantly more prominent and women were underrepresented as composers and in music generally.

Julia settled in Colchester in 1999 and it is fair to say that she has had a most significant influence on the musical life of the town.

She has been a Composer in Residence on three occasions, first in 2002 for the Colchester Youth Chamber Orchestra, in 2004 for the George Watts Museum in Compton for its centenary celebrations and in 2012 where she collaborated with a number of departments at the University of Central Lancashire.

Julia has collaborated with scientists and visual artists on many occasions and several of her compositions have included electronic elements, often incorporating natural and other environmental sounds.

In 2015, Julia was commissioned to compose a piece of music to mark the restoration of the Moot Hall Organ, behind me. “The Art and Industry of Pipework” combined the renewed organ with electronic sounds recorded in the Man Diesel UK Factory in Colchester. She has also written a number of Musical Theatre pieces and in 2003, Metier Records released a CD of five of her compositions.

Julia has been tireless in her support of many community and arts projects in Colchester and further afield in East Anglia. During the past 17 years, she has encouraged composers and performers to experiment with adventurous approaches to music, often working through improvisation.

She has worked closely with the College to run composition and improvisation projects with Colchester Institute students and has taken part in a number of local community arts projects including promoting concerts of new music in both Colchester and elsewhere. For many years, Julia has been actively involved in the ‘Colchester New Music’ organisation.

But it doesn’t stop there, as Musical Director of ‘CoMA EAST’ and ‘Firewire’, a local experimental and improvisation ensemble, Julia takes her time to meet fortnightly and lead the group with exciting modern music. Julia brings huge vision, energy and enthusiasm to all her endeavours. The selfless devotion of her time and her encouragement of others throughout the world of music, over a period of many years, make her a very worthy recipient of this award.

 

 

 

 

Jenni Pinnock appointed mentor for Making Music’s Adopt a Composer scheme

CNM member Jenni Pinnock has been appointed as a composer mentor for Making Music’s Adopt a Composer scheme, which pairs composers with amateur ensembles around the UK. Jenni has previously been a participant in Adopt a Composer, producing a commission for Dorset’s Quangle Wangle choir. Jenni says:

Jenni Pinnock

Jenni Pinnock

Being part of Adopt a Composer in 2013-14 was a wonderful experience, and a turning point for my career. A few years on, it’s a privilege to be able to give something back to a scheme I’m so passionate about.

See Making Music for the full announcement.

Two harpsichords concert and CNM workshop at Fitzwilliam Auditorium, 15 October 2017

On Sunday 15 Oct, Francis Knights and Dan Tidhar are presenting a workshop of new works and works in progress for two harpsichords, at 4pm in Fitzwilliam College Auditorium, Storey’s Way, Cambridge. The session will include music by Mark Bellis, Colin Blundell, Philip Joy, Jenni Pinnock, Stephen Watkins, Ian Wilson and others.

Prior to this, at 2pm in the same venue, there will be a recital of contemporary American music for two harpsichords by composers including Robert Baksa, Earle Brown, Mark Janello and Edwin McLean. Entry to both workshop and concert is free.

New Structures in Composition 16/09/17: photos and programme

Thanks to everyone who made our recent New Structures in Composition concert such a success; composers, performers and not least the audience of 60 who were crammed into Fitzwilliam College Chapel on a very wet Saturday in September. Some photos from the event are below, and a pdf of the programme can be downloaded here.

In rehearsal… the composers arrive…

The concert… we spy a Vulcan!