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Archive for March, 2011

I find myself setting up a music festival in my part of London – the Herne Hill Festival. The brief is any king of music which does not depend on amplification. So far that boils down to light music, classical, and jazz, though there are other possibilities.

I decided to set up this Festival because I have lived in Herne Hill for 27 years, and know the area and the local networks really well. I play in several of the many local musical ensembles. As well as these contacts, I have lots of links to rising young professional performers as a result of my recent time at Trinity College of Music.

So, feeling that I was well positioned to develop a community initiative, and to attract some interesting acts, I thought I would give it a go.

However, I was keen to avoid the bureacracy and endless meetings which surround these things, and to use a more web-savy way of promoting the Festival than is sometimes the case.

The first thing was to talk to everyone in the local community groups and local ensembles to test reactions and generate interest. Responses were remarkably positive.

Then I needed a venue – a local pub has an excellent gig room at the back  – now booked.

As for acts, I invited a carefully balanced range of community and professional performers, divided equally between light music, classical and jazz. The response has been really enthusiastic. My original plan was for eight short concerts – three on a Friday evening, and five on a late Saturday afternoon and then on into the evening. It proved really easy to fill up this programme, and I am receiving more requests to perform which mean that the Festival might extent to another weekend.

Key features are:

– all the concerts are short, and cheap – an hour long, and a price of about £5

– the venue is cheap, and the costs of hiring it, and of publicity, could easily be covered if I raise a little sponsorship money.

– therefore most of the takings can go straight to the performers.

– publicity will be heavily through the web, with a good web site, links everywhere, flyers and posters distributed through email to local networks. This will be backed up with news stories in the local media.

– admin and decision making is really simple – it is just me – though I would like some people to help.

There is a basic web site at:

Herne Hill Festival

and a better one to come soon.

The main Festival dates are September 23rd and 24th – 2011.

Spread the word.

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My main composition project over the last few months has been making two settings of songs from the poetry of W B Yeats. Yeats was the greatest Irish poet of the 20th century, and some would say the greatest modern poet in the English language. He died in 1939, so his work is now out of copyright. I have been waiting for this opportunity.

The first setting is for Mezzo Soprano, piano, and violin or viola. Two poems are set, one describing a girl dancing in the wind, oblivious to the perils of life ahead, and the other describing an old woman reflecting on life, and on ‘how love fled’.

The second setting is for baritone and piano, and includes three poems, all on the subject of being an old man – ‘Why should not old men be mad?’ – raging against the disappointments of life, yet celebrating the retention of creative vigour into old age.

Setting modern poetry seems to me to require a sympathy to the idiom, since the words do not generally have the regularity of rhythm of earlier verse. This chimes well with my own inclination in composition to the structuring of music according to a dramatic rather than a harmonic, or otherwise strictly sonic, process.

The poetry has a lot in common with expressionist music and painting, dealing as it does with extreme sentiments and circumstances. This leads naturally towards an irregularity of word setting yet the need for a tight control of the dramatic process and of timing.

It seem to me that there is a risk of the music becoming incoherent due to the irregularity of the setting, and I have found two approaches to avoiding this. One is the repetition and variation of musical motifs in each song, so that the phrasing is not constantly changing.

The other is the use of pitch sets, or invented scales or modes, and their use throughout each song. For the first set of songs I used two pitch sets, one in each song, since the songs are based on contrasting poems and deal with very different moods.

For the second set, for baritone, there is one pitch set used throughout, since the songs are based on poems on the same theme. The pitch set is one which allows the writing of both dramatic and aggressive music (1st and 3rd songs) and atmospheric reflective music (2nd song).

The first set of songs are available on my web site, and the second set will be soon.

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