Archive for the ‘transformation’ Tag

Taking ownership

Ownership is a key theme in composition workshops for me. When participants feel a sense of ownership over the music they are playing, they commit to it in a whole-hearted and quite serious way, and that commitment shows in the sound, the focus, and the body language of the player.

I’ve recently returned from a 3-day composition project in Carnarvon, Western Australia. The project was the education component of the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Reef Project, which brings together musicians, surfers and film-makers for an extraordinary collaboration, in partnership with Tura New Music. The composition project involved a team of ACO musicians, guest artists, and 32 young musicians from Carnarvon and Geraldton – small towns halfway up the coastline of Western Australia. Working as a large ensemble and in small groups, we composed a series of original works inspired by the spectacular coastline in that part of the world, in particular Gnaraloo Reef.

It was the first time that any of these young players had been part of a process like this. They were open and curious, and as the project took its course, their confidence in what they were creating increased.

However, it was on the third day that we saw the most transformational change. I’d invited a further group of 30 younger beginner musicians to join the project on the last day. They were to spend the last hour of our rehearsal with us, learning parts to play in that afternoon’s public performance of the newly-created work. I sent the new players (who were generally a few years younger than the ‘main band’ we’d been working with the previous 2 days) to stand behind one of the more experienced players playing the same instrument, and asked the ‘main band’ players to teach the newcomers what to play in the sections of music they would be joining us on.

Instantly, the room was buzzing with activity. The older ‘main band’ players took their teaching responsibilities very seriously. They shared notes and rhythms, and some of the quarter-tone fingerings we’d been experimenting with on the wind instruments. Some couldn’t wait to turn around and start sharing these techniques and musical information which only 2 days before, they’d invented through experiments and improvisation. As one of the ACO musicians commented later, “You could just see their stature growing!”

Perhaps this was the most powerful moment in the workshop for some of them. Perhaps it was only at this point that they realised what they’d achieved. They already felt a strong sense of ownership of their music, but they had no real-world context for it at that point. Teaching it to someone else was a powerful and authentic validation. In that moment, they transformed from well-meaning kids who try, to composers and makers of their own music. The energy shifted and the performance moved to another level from that point on.

Thoughts on concert-going

It’s occurred to me recently that going to a concert is no longer the huge attraction it once was. In the past, concerts were opportunities for connection with other performers, with friends and colleagues (both on the stage and in the audience), and to be moved or transfixed by the music.

Nowadays, I feel more reticent to head out. Perhaps this is a result of too many Melbourne Festival tickets bought for performances that failed to please. Perhaps it is a delayed reaction to the many, many orchestral concerts I went to, in the days that I worked for an orchestra. Mostly though, I have to confess that it is a response to the growing sense that I often have after going to a concert (or any other performance) of a kind of blankness, when I wake up the next day and have absolutely no reaction to it. It is simply…. nothing, really. An experience that hasn’t really impacted on me (in the true sense of the word) in any way. It isn’t about ‘like’ or ‘dislike’.

It seems a ridiculously tall order, but I want my performance-going to be life-changing. I want to come home and have it rolling over in my head, again and again. Questions, or issues, or ideas, or challenges, or puzzles to ponder. Or delights, or a remembered experience of connection with the music and the expression of the artists.

It has become a kind of assessment tool, in a way, prior to buying tickets. “Will it be worth it?” by which I mean the investment of effort and the time on my part, rather than the actual cost.

Last week I went to the Melbourne Recital Centre to hear the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra perform three works under the baton of Sir Neville Marriner. Andrew Marriner (his son) played the Mozart Clarinet Concerto.

How was this concert for me, given the above criteria? Well, I know that I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the company I was with, and I very much enjoyed the orchestra’s playing, as I haven’t heard them for quite a few years.

I loved Andrew Marriner’s performance of the clarinet concerto. It’s a piece I know very, very well, and it was truly a delight to hear such familiar lines being performed so well. There is a delightful fluency, or lightness, in the writing. (I know, it is silly to comment on the delicious craft of Mozart’s writing as we all know he was a genius… but truly, this is such a wonderful piece, and as I listened to it I was reminded of this again, and again, and again…). I enjoyed noticing some of the interpretive decisions Marriner made – his choices in articulation, or in cadenza. I know that he studied with the same teacher I studied with for a year, so I listened for ‘Hans-isms’ in his playing too.

But here is the life-changing bit: it made me want to go straight home and dig out my well-loved score of the concerto, and my Music Minus One CDs, and play it again! I think this is a fine concert experience to have. It reminded me of how I loved playing this piece, way back in my classical performing days, how much I love its phrases, harmonies and structures still, and that these are still there for me to return to, whenever I want.

I haven’t yet had time to get my clarinet out, but I shall, very soon. And I am looking forward to revisiting the Mozart Concerto when I do.

On another note, I realised that night that the traditional concert length no longer suits me. I would have been happy to go home after the Mozart, as there was so much to digest and process from the experience of the first half of the concert. This is absolutely not meant as a disparaging comment on what took place in the second half. The second half of the program was a new work by the Melbourne-based composer (and virtuoso organist) Calvin Bowman. He wrote a song cycle, English in tone and turn, with echoes of Finzi, Delius and even Michael Head and Warlock (to my ears) which was absolutely gorgeous, filled with light and shade and colour. We had the treat of hearing the songs performed by a lovely soprano, Jacqueline Porter… so really, it was all quite delightful.

However, as we walked to the car, I commented to John my companion that the first half of the concert now felt like a distant memory, our heads were so full of the most recent piece we had heard.

Thus, I find myself fully in favour of shorter concerts that allow patrons adequate time for reflection and digestion. Or perhaps concerts with a dinner break between the first and second halves.