I’m writing this following a tweet-corespondence about composers who don’t seek to engage their audience. There has been a point of view among modernist artists, articulated by Theodor Adorno, that to be true to their calling to respond to the world in which they live, they face unavoidable alienation form their audience. An honest artist creates art rather than a commercial product, creating as they feel they must rather than in a way designed to attract audiences. In Adorno’s view, this unavoidably alienates them from their audience.

I don’t see the situation in this way. While I write as I wish, I seek to construct the music in order to engage audiences. My experience is that I often win over sceptics, even though I present obviously modern(ist) music – but music constructed to give the audience a way into the sound world, and a way of following the musical drama. Maybe we can escape the genuine dilemma Adorno described.

I want to describe an experience of music which evidently did not do this – Brian Ferneyhough’s opera, Shadowtime, performed at the ENO in London on July 8th 2005. I have never enjoyed Ferneyhough’s music, but we booked in order to give it a try, especially since the subject seemed to have potential – the suicide of Walter Benjamin just as he managed to escape the clutches of the Nazi’s by slipping over the Spanish frontier from occupied France.

The date of the performance is significant, the day after the London bombs. That evening, a Friday, the West End of London would normally have been crowded with theatre-goers. It was almost empty. The audience who attended Shadowtime were people who were not only probably aware of the nature the music they were going to hear, but also who had chosen to venture out that evening when few other people had done so.

It was a concert performance, with the cast standing as a group on the stage, little evidence of acting, and no scenery. It was in a language I do not know, and which not many of the audience would have understood. As a result the focus was on the orchestral sounds.

They were fragmentary, consisting of often interesting or beautiful sounds, but I felt no ability to follow the music. Rather the reverse, the music seemed to be carefully constructed in order to prevent any attempt to follow it. Had there been a fully dramatised performance, it might have formed an effective background.

Within 5 minutes the first person walked out, and people continued to leave in a continuous stream. It was as if they could bear it no longer and, as each reached their pain threshold, they left. Many had left by the interval, when we gave in as well. I imagine there were few left by the end.

I have my own thoughts on why this happened, but I am interested to hear from anyone else who attended that performance, or any similar performance, where the lack of audible order to the music (which I’m sure was intentional and carefully organised) eventually proved too much for the listener.


In a sense, all artistic creation is collaborative. There is the idea left over from the Romantic era that artists create alone, wrestling with their imagination in private so to speak. A more modern view would be that all creative activity is dialogic – carried out in dialogue with, and in an awareness of, previous artistic creation. The term ‘dialogic’ comes from the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, writing in the 1920s.

As well as this dialogue with other art, I would argue that artists are always working in dialogue with their own background and previous artistic creation, and in dialogue with their generaL environment. The idea that the artist ‘creates alone’ is an illusion.

However, this view of interpretation of artistic creative activity, which defines all of it as collaborative in this broad sense, is of limited value in the study of collaboration. It will be more fruitful to define collaboration in terms of the nature of the interaction with others as part of the creative process, rather than in terms of this dialogic process which all artists are said to follow.

I suggest that, when questions are asked about the way composers work with others in writing their pieces, there may be limitations to the extent which composers can collaborate, though there may be ways in which these can be overcome.

First, a definition of collaboration – that the people involved in the process have to be open to what they doing changing as a result of the process of working together. The composer has to accept that the music they write is likely to be different from the music they would have written if they have not been collaborating in its creation.

Collaboration should be seen as distinct from the co-operation normal between composers and performers, for instance. A standard view of the process of writing a piece of music might be that the composer is asked to write by particular performers, that they either know about these performers or find out more about them, that they then go away and write the music, and that they they may possibly work with the performers in developing a performance of the music.

I would define all this joint working as co-operative rather than collaborative. The composer will certainly take account of the players in the process of writing, and will write for the forces available, but there will be no process of interaction leading to different music being written. The composer composes. The players play. They co-operate to achieve a performance, but they do not collaborate in the process of artistic creation.

There are many ways in which a composer can collaborate with others in the process of writing a piece which go beyond just co-operating in carrying our separate tasks towards the shared objective of a performance. I’ve explored a number of them so far as part of my research. They include:

– detailed workshopping of initial ideas and drafts for the piece with the performers prior to its completion, resulting in many changes to the detail of the music.
-lengthy discussions prior to starting to write, including discussion of how the music might sound, in order to develop a joint view of the character of the new piece, which will be different from that which the composer would have developed alone.
– inviting the performers to put forward ideas for the piece, and then seeking as the composer to find a way of using them. In this case the composer acts as an editor, selecting from amongst ideas put forward by their collaborators rather than developing the initial ideas themselves.
– working with other artists where the outcome aimed for involves more than one field of art, e.g. working with choreographers or in music theatre. In these cases, the development of an explicit or intuitive mutual understanding would be crucial prior to starting to create.

However, in all of these there is a potential barrier. In literary arts the communication between collaborators can take place in the same medium as the art is created, words. In the case of many other arts, potential collaborators will have a good sense of what it might mean to be in the position of their collaborators. For instance, choreographers commonly create their dance through a process of collaborating with their dancers, inventing the dance ‘on’ the dancers. They also work closely with designers, bringing the costume and stage design process into that of the overall process of artistic invention. Both costume/stage design and dance are essentially visual dramatic arts, so discussion between the collaborators in feasible.

Composers face a barrier, in the form of the technical nature of notation and the slow speed at which it can be created. It is not practical to sit with a collaborator and to compose with their input. A composer could sit and watch a piece of dance being developed and, as long as the choreographer was open to this, comment on its development and potentially affect its final form. The choreographer is not able to sit with the composer and watch the slow process of notating the music and to have an input. While they could comment on an initial verbal description of how the music might sound, they could not have an input into the process of turning this into notated music.

A physical action, in dance, is a language open to discussion because everyone can envisage making the movements themselves, even if they are not trained in making them. Notated music represents a barrier to collaboration due to the lack of shared understanding of how it works as well as the slowness of the process of writing it. Even musical performers find this a barrier. While they will understand the notation and be able to comment, they are not in a position to participate at the moment of its creation, and also commonly find it difficult to envisage the way in which a composer imagines a piece and works it out.

It may therefore be that composers are limited to forms of hierarchical collaboration. They may be the lead artist, accepting input from others but remaining in charge of the process. Or they may be working with someone else who leads such as a choreographer, and may have the role of creating music to go with the choreography developed. It may be that the nature of the compositional art bars them from more immersive forms of collaboration, where there is a truer sense of sharing of the process of artistic creation.

The aim of my research in this area – for a composition PhD based at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London – is to investigate this limitation to collaboration as a composer, and to seek ways of going beyond it.

Narrative in Music?

A. The existence of narrative in music.

‘Name a piece of music which is not narrative’. I was confronted by this deamnd in an interview. The interviewer clearly thought it self-evident that all music is narrative, though this is not a view shared by all writers in the subject. Ball (2010, p392) for instance, regards narrative as ‘simply not an essential, or even important, part of music’.

There is a sense in which the interviewer was obviously right if the question is taken literally. Music is a temporal art. One thing is heard, then another, then another, until the piece ends. Therefore there could be said to be a narrative.

This literal definition suffers from limitations. The term ‘narrative’ implies some sense of intentional connection between the events. To someone standing outside a sequence of events, for instance in a street watching passers-by, there may be no sense of narrative, only a series of unconnected events. The same is capable of being true of music. A piece may present a series of ideas following one another and juxtaposed against one another, but there need not necessarily be a process connecting them.

An example are J S Bach’s French Dance Suites (BWV 812-817). One dance follows another. Each dance, as is general in baroque music, has a distinct and consistent character. Each has its internal harmonic process and progression, but it lacks an internal process of dramatic inter-action between musical ideas. Each dance is followed by another dance of a different character. There are contrasts, but it is questionable whether they can be said to add up to a musical narrative.

One can think of modern music which is hard for a listener to ‘follow’ in terms of narrative structure. The listener is seeking to answer the question ‘How does what I am hearing now relate to what I heard just before and earlier in the piece?’ In other words, they are trying to construct a narrative in order to make sense of the musical experience.

The composer may not have intended the music to be listened to in this way, but rather heard as an experience requiring the suspension of the narrative-building behaviour which people commonly engage in when they try to make sense of experience. The music of Ferneyhough or Feldman are seen by some as examples of this type of music.

It is therefore arguable that narrative in music, far from being inevitable, may depend on the intentions of the composer, and on the aesthetic context within which the composer was writing. It is argued by Hatten (1991, p96) that ‘..certain musical styles would seem more capable of exploiting the basic technique of narrative: the meaningful ordering of expressive events, and their meaningful description..’ and he considers nineteenth century music to be the prime example. Seaton (2005), for instance, identifies the sense of a narrator in Beethoven’s music as evidence of the narrative quality of the music.

Further questions arise in relation to music with words as opposed to purely instrumental music. The presence of the words may necessarily introduce a narrative into the musical work, since the words will generally be grammatical in character and follow a sequence with a sense of logic and progression. The role of the instrumental sounds may be supportive and illustrative of the direct presentation of a verbal narrative. They may be seeking to evoke or act out the verbal narrative, and therefore could be seen as a form of mimetic, or imitative, expression, rather than being narrative – i.e. telling a story rather than acting it out.

Discussing the idea of narrative in abstract, instrumental, music Maus (2005, p466) defines two possibilities, that such music is:
‘a form of narrative representation’
or that there exist (he prefers this definition)
‘analogies between instrumental music and discourses normally understood as narrative.’

It can be seen that the question of the existence of narrative in music is neither obvious nor straightforward, and further investigation is justified.

B. Locating the Narrator

This discussion has thrown up not just the question of the existence and nature of narrative in music, but the question of the perception of the listener. It has therefore pointed to the need to investigate the identity of the narrator, if any, in music.

The composer has a concept of the music, which may develop and grow as the piece is written. They may seek to communicate their sense of the piece, and their sense of its narrative, if any, though not only the notated music, but also titles and programme notes. However, composers do not write music. The score is silent. They write instructions for the production or performance of music. Others interpret these instructions.

Performers, faced with a set of musical instructions, need to make sense of them both technically and as a performance. They perform an interpretation of the musical instructions in front of them. Perhaps there exists some ideal version of the piece, with all performances as imperfect approximations. This ideal of the musical work has been analysed (Goehr, 2007), and shown to be an historically situated concept rather than a universal one. It only began to be used in relation to Beethoven. Earlier composers treated their music as material which they felt free to borrow from or repeat, rather than regarding each piece as a finished work. Equally, there is no necessary reason to think that the concept of an ideal version of a musical work retains its validity today.

As a modern composer I feel that my music only exists at the moment of performance. While I have a clear idea of the piece when writing it, the music never sounds quite the same in performance. The only versions and the only musical narratives heard are the ones communicated by performers. Eventually, my original idea is superseded by my recollections of the music as performed.

Equally, and one could argue this in the case of some modern pieces, it may be that the only people trying to develop a concept of narrative in relation to a piece of music are the listeners. They may be following the human inclination to try to summarise experiences, as a narrative in order to make sense of them. Their reaction may be inappropriate to the piece of music concerned if the intention is that they should let go of attempts to make narrative sense of the music and simply experience the flow of sounds. The piano music of Morton Feldman is an example.

C. Narratlogy

In music, the location of the narrator, and the nature of the narrative act, is therefore complex and potentially ambiguous. In novels, the narrative process may certainly be very complex, but it follows a more predictable and better understood pattern, and does not suffer from ambiguity in the same way.
This point brings the discussion to the question of the potential universality of the narrative concept in much academic writing.

Classical narratology of the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, focussed on the novel. A clear distinction was drawn between the dependence of the novel on the presence of a narrator, and other forms of story-telling where there is no narrator.

Writers have explored the highly complex structures involved in the process of narration. They distinguish narratives from stories and dramatic presentations. Drama presents an imitation of actions or events – mimesis. Narrative tells of them – diagesis. That much is simple.

But beyond that, such writers distinguish between the story or fabula, which consists of the series of events, and the narrative, which consists of the process of telling the story. At its simplest level, narratives may not tell stories in chronological order, and clearly take periods of time to tell stories which are different from the elapsed time within the story itself.

Writers of the classical or ‘structuralist’ school of narratology analysed how narratives work, and developed terminologies to describe their grammar and syntax, rather than their content. There is an implied universalism to the concepts, which are seen as relevant to any situation where there is a narrator.

One key question in this research will therefore be whether such concepts can be applied in a helpful way to the analysis of music.

Structuralist narratology went into a period of decline under the twin assaults of deconstructionist philosophy and post-modernist thinking. More recently there has been a ‘narrative turn’, with the extension of narratological analyses to other arts and to subjects beyond the arts. It is not necessary here to go into why these changes occurred, only to note them.

Recent writers on cognitive narratology and socio-narratology have examined the way in which narrative-making arises from the functioning of the human brain. It is seen as a universal human activity originating in our need to interpret the behaviour of other humans, extending from this to our need to make sense of any situation or set of experiences. Such writers, as well as examining the psychological and social nature of the narrative process, examine the content of the narratives they analyse.
Again, there is a claim to universalism. The same question arises of the applicability of such concepts to music, and whether they apply to all the participants equally – composer, performers, listeners.

D. Conclusion

Enough has been said to demonstrate that the question of the existence and nature of narrative in music is a complex one and that there are aspects of the subject which deserve further study.
The planned study will consist of the following further sections, which will be published here as they emerge:

2. Origins of structuralist narratology and its heyday.
3. The grammar and syntax of narrative, and its application to music.
4. Deconstructionism, post-modernism, and the ‘narrative turn’.
5. Post-classical, post-modern, cognitive, and social narratology, and their relationship to music.
6. The academic study of narrative in music.
7. Developing a way of analysing the narratives in music.

Ball, Philip, 2010, The music instinct. How music works and why we can’t do without it. London, The Bodley Head
Goehr, Lydia, 2007, The imaginary museum of musical works: An essay in the philosophy of music. Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press.
Hatten, Robert, 1991. On Narrativity in Music: Expressive Genres and Levels of Discourse in Beethoven, Indiana Theory Review, Vol. 12, p-p75-96. University of Indiana Press, Indianapolis
Maus, Fred Everett, 2005, Classical Instrumental Music and Narrative, in Phelan, James, and Rabinowitz, Peter J., Eds, A Companion to Narrative Theory, Malden MA, Oxford, Carlton, Australia, Blackwell Publishing, pp466-483
Seaton, Douglas, 2005, Narrative in music: The case of Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata. In: Narratology beyond literary criticism: Mediality, Disciplinarity, Ed. Jan Christoph Meister. Berlin and New York, Walter de Gruyter

Narrative in music?

First task in my Composition PhD is to read everything I can about narrative in music, as a background to a study of the extent, and ways, in which I write musical narratives.

There is a publishing mountain of material on narrative in literature, as you might expect, Narratology, the study of narrative, is a well established academic discipline. It arose from structuralist philosophy, and developed a range of sophisticated concepts on the way narrative functions and the devices used in it. It has gone through various iterations subsequently as changes took place in philosophical thinking. There is generally considered to be a revival of interest in the subject, with writers taking forward thinking on the subject in the light of post-modernism and post-structuralism.

So much for that. But what does this have to do with music? There are certainly differences of opinion concerning whether one can apply narrative concepts to music, particularly to abstract music. Some writers argue that music is a system of forms consisting of abstract sounds, and therefore neither represents anything, nor can it be analysed in narrative terms.

Other writers have presented analyses of either narrative concepts and their application to music, or analyses of particular musical works in an attempt to demonstrate the potential application of narrative concepts to music. This blog tries to set out some of questions which arise when anyone tries to apply the concept of narrative to music.

To start with, is there a narrator? If so, who are they? If there is no narrator, can the music be said to be narrative? Theatre, for instance, is often considered to be dramatic rather than narrative. There is no intermediary, the narrator, telling the story. Instead there are a bunch of people in front of you pretending to act out the story.

Could music be the same? There are the performers in front of you acting out the ‘story’ if there is one?

However, this idea of music as a dramatic rather a narrative art runs up against the question of the relationship between the composer and the performer(s). Who is presenting the ‘story’ to the listener or audience? Are the performers the narrators presenting the story written by the ‘author’, as in a novel? Alternatively, as some would argue, is the composer evidently present as a narrator due to the structure and character of a piece of music, while the performers are, as is often the case in novels, narrators within the composer’s narration?

Even if there could be said to be a narrator, and the narrator identified, there remains a question of whether a musical narrative can be analysed in a similar way to literary narratives, and few extensive attempts have been made at this type of analysis. There is certainly a view that narrativity in music may be a question of historical period, with baroque music consisting of musical forms, the classical era moving towards a sense of musical drama, and the age from Beethoven onwards moving towards an increasing sense of narrative, and at times representational narrative.

While there is a long way to go in my research, this gives some idea of the subject. My initial plan was to examine the potential applicability to abstract music of concepts in narrative from written literature – and there are clearly some conceptual bridges to cross first before that attempt could be seen as legitimate.

Huddersfield, or ‘udd’ as it is know, in November means the internationally famous Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, a week and two weekends of immersion in the latest music. Events range from talks and free performances to the chance to attend 5 concerts a day, and then walk back to the hotel late through a city centre heaving with skimpily dressed revellers and bouncers.

Last year, and this, I attended the first weekend of the Festival. Last year there was an overwhelming preponderance of complex music consisting of sound effects, and relying on elaborate notation. While the music looks clever on the page, I found myself unmoved by this concentration on ‘effect’, and the relative neglect of the attempt to move or ‘affect’ the audience. Only one piece, by Howard Skempton, based on the text of a letter from one of the Attica Prison occupiers, moved me at all.

I’m glad to say that the balance was different this year, which may be just coincidence. I heard a number of effective and ‘affective’ pieces, and some which I would like to hear again – but in amongst a predominant aural diet of clever effects and extended techniques. Here is just a sample of the best and worst experiences.

Friday 18th. Trondheim Soloists – a string ensemble. Nachruf by Arne Nordheim was written in remembrance of a friend. It was a moving and understated piece, and wholly effective.

Later – Evan Parker’s ElectroAcoustic Ensemble, which seemed to me the worst of free improvisation, consisting of a series of self indulgent (sometimes consecutive) solos with little of the mutual listening and inter-action which free-improv can offer at its best.

Saturday 19th. A documentary concert on Bent Sørensen, one of Denmark’s top composers, consisting of a silent film of his day at home, during which several of his pieces were performed live. An anatomy of melancholy, with a similarity of mood between the pieces, but I was won over by their directness.

Later, the London Sinfonietta. The concert ranged from the depths plumbed by the first piece, Marula, by Jexper Holmen, which consisted unvarying extreme dissonance, to Shades of Ice by Agata Zubel which drew to great effect on the history of glaciers and floods of meltwater in Iceland. Why, by the way, were there so few women composers represented?

Sunday 20th. Cikada Ensemble. Both to me, and to the rest of the audience, the highlight of the weekend was the performance of three pieces by Laurence Crane. The programme notes were a spoof of the pretentiousness of the notes to some of the other pieces performed over the weekend. Each piece consisted of a series of quiet chords played with great subtlety, separated by silence. Once the audience got over wondering about the relationship to the titles (there was none) they were drawn into listening with rapt attention, and practically burst with enthusiasm at the end.

Later – Quatour Bozzini. (A string quartet) Once again, a concentration on effects. The exception was Zenit by Rozalie Hirs. The four movements relate to the points of the compass. While I liked them to varying extents, West was to me the most beautiful and effective.

Later still – ensemble recherche. How I dread names like that, as if music was a form of research into acoustics rather than a means of human communication. Never mind. Their first piece, Domeniche all periferia dell’imperio by Fausto Romitelli had a consistent and imaginative level of sonic interest, with a re-use and development of gestures which gave the whole piece a sense of coherence. At the other extreme was Steven Daverson’s Escher’s Pharmacy which seemed to me an endless series of unconnected gestures, displaying the virtuosity of the players but little else.

Even later still – From Scratch, by the Basel Sinfonietta. A concert allegedly drawing on the influence of the Scratch Orchestra, though only a couple of the pieces seemed to do so. The highlight to me, and I think others, was things whole and not whole by James Saunders. The orchestra sat in the choir stalls high-up behind their usual space, and performed using scraps of paper and other similar everyday objects to make quiet sounds, following a set of rules on how to respond to sounds made by fellow players. Listening with my eyes shut, the piece presented a fascinating soundscape of noises appearing to move across the performing area in response to one another.

Also effective was Louange (praise) de l’eau, louange de la lumiére by Jürg Frey. The basic material was simple, but imaginatively conceived, and drew the listener into a real drama which seemed to me (unlike sound-effects music) to connect with human experience.

At times I feel torn between my enjoyment of music as entertainment, and my tendency in composing to see music as having the purpose of communicating something which is, in essence, serious. As a player in a wind band which focuses on fun music, I can enjoy the experience of performing light music and experiencing the audience reaction. I do though get more satisfaction from playing pieces, or arrangements, by art-music composers simply because they seem to me to be better written and to have greater depth.

Similarly, in organising the Herne Hill Festival, I have tried to combine this sense of enjoyment in a wide variety of types of music, with the presentation of ‘more serious’ music in a context which will bring it to a wider audience.

Attitudes towards music as entertainment have altered as the prevailing aesthetic has changed. In the Medieval and Renaissance eras music was sharply divided into secular and sacred music. Music in one style was written for the church, and was always ‘serious’ – though of course enjoyment can be drawn from it. Secular music was largely popular music, little written down.

Towards the end of the Renaissance period another type of patron – the rich and the growing capitalist class – began to demand secular art-music written to entertain them. There was a convergence of styles between sacred and this ‘aristocratic’ secular music, with the style of the secular music coming to predominate.

The Romantic era saw another shift in aesthetic and attitudes towards entertainment in music. The predominantly middle class audience came to performances to be moved and in order to leave feeling ‘improved’ in some way by the experience. Clearly, the music had to entertain in the sense in order to retain the attention of the audience, but the main purpose was to move and to educate – in the broadest sense of that term.

The twentieth century saw a continuation of this approach towards music among audiences, but a tendency among art-music composers to seek to experiment and innovate, carrying their audiences with them to varying degrees. The idea of entertainment as the prime purpose of music was confined to the various popular music genres. Some modern composers appeared to abandon the idea of entertaining their listeners even as a means to the end of retaining their attention.

The predominantly post-modern aesthetic of the recent past emphasised stylistic sampling and innovation for its own sake, each piece of music and each composer competing for attention in the market place. An element of narrative or wider significance in music tended to be downplayed in favour of this emphasis on novelty.

Art music had been a product competing in the market place, not only with other pieces of art music, but with every other product. It was often interesting, with fascinating new sounds presented. It is rarely important, in the sense of helping make sense of experience. In some ways it had become simply a form of entertainment without further significance, seeking to entertain through the presentation of something novel or curious.

Personally, I feel little motivation to write simply to entertain, whether through conventional means or through the presentation of the novel or curious. My music almost always arises from experience, direct or indirect, and attempts to make sense of that experience. It therefore has a sense of narrative which an audience should be capable of following.

Seeking to engage (entertain?) an audience through offering a process/structure/narrative in which they can engage, combined with a sense that something of relevance is being communicated. That offers me a way out of the impasse of a choice between light music which only entertains, and post-modern art music which offers novelties but little that matters.

My most recent piece, Moments of Beauty for Chamber Orchestra, was written for an amateur orchestra with many good players, but some weaker ones. This gives me an opportunity to blog about writing new music for amateurs, and to explain why I disagree with the approach put forward by CoMA – Contemporary Music for Amateurs.

The chamber orchestra is the London Contemporary Chamber Orchestra. Unlike most amateur orchestras, which aspire to play the classics, the LCCO is a rehearsal orchestra for composers. Its role is to play new pieces and give feedback to the composers. It also performs and records the best pieces. I conduct the orchestra, so I know the individual players and their technical standards very well.

I was taking part in a project involving several composers, based on trying to use the 18th century orchestral form of the Concerto Grosso as a basis for a modern piece, using in some way the alternation of chamber and tutti passages typical of pieces such as the Brandenberg Concertos.

With an amateur group, this immediately raises the question of how to write successful chamber music passages. There is also the question of how to organise the tutti passages in a way which both gives the players sufficient ‘cover’, but which also provides each of them with a reasonable sense of challenge.

The CoMA view (and I played in their groups for many years, and think they have done great things) is that the way to produce effective contemporary music for amateurs is to use devices such as flexible instrumentation, unspecified pitches, and ways of producing complex effects without using complex notation.

My experience of amateur players is that most of them do not take to this approach. Partly they are keen to play music which is idiomatic to their instruments, rather than lines which could be played on a variety of instruments. Partly they wish to use the skills in reading and interpreting conventional notation which they have worked so hard to learn.

I recall one member of a CoMA ensemble who then played in the LCCO commenting that it was really nice to play some notes for a change.

In writing the piece, my aim was to give the players a fair amount of cover most of the time, moments of exposure for their instrument, and some technical challenges which they would have to work to achieve but which were within their ability.

This seems to me the real way to write for an amateur orchestra – imagine the material and structure while thinking of the players and their ability to play the material, and to forget the notion of hearing sounds and them expecting the players to play them some how. It is necessary to leave behind the ivory tower of the composer’s individual imagination, and instead to treat the people in the orchestra as collaborations in the piece.

The piece consists of 5 miniatures. Each features a different trio of solo instruments in the chamber music (concertino) sections, which are all slow and expressive – very exposed, but not technically challenging. Also, only the leaders of the string sections play in the concertino passages, and the less confident players do not have to play.

The orchestra is then divided into 4 lines, plus separate piano and percussion parts, for the tutti sections. These are more technically challenging since they are faster, and because the time signature changes every bar, and include complex time signatures such as 7/8. However, since every player will be doubling several others, there is plenty of cover.

I will find out what the orchestra thinks when they workshop it on June 25th, and give me their comments. The piece will be performed on October 8th – details on my Web Site.