DWFO #7: Amy’s Suite

The Doctor Who Fan Orchestra has come out with a new collaboration, “Amy’s Suite”, following the companion Amy departure from our television screens. I once again had a marvellous experience with the orchestra. It is truly one of the most enjoyable things in my life right now and I am so grateful to be part of it. If you would like to find out more about my experience with the DWFO and to find out how you can get involved, check out this link to my blog post following the last video, “A Christmas Carol (Suite)”: https://themusicalnomad.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/the-doctor-who-fan-orchestra/

‘A Boy Was Born’ – Opening Night

19th February 2013 marked the opening of the ‘A Boy Was Born’ Festival held by The University of Sheffield to celebrate Benjamin Britten’s centenary. The concert included Britten’s String Quartet No. 3, Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 and Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No. 13, performed by the Chilingirian Quartet. It is ‘renowned for its thrilling interpretations of the great quartets’, even holding a Corbett Medal in recognition of services to Chamber Music.

The Britten was written in his penultimate year. It has been called unsettling and haunted, foreshadowing the composer’s death and indeed, was premièred following his death. Similarly, Franz Schubert’s quartet was written in 1824, four years prior to his death.

Shostakovich also wrote his quartet in the later part of his life, a mere fifteen years prior to his death. In 1960 when the piece was written, Shostakovich’s personal life has been wrought with tragedy – family deaths and his increasing ill-health culminating in caving to pressure to join the Communist Party in his home, Russia, despite refusing for years.

The Soviet authorities explained Shostakovich’s piece by saying he was struck by the tragedy witnessed on a trip to Dresden in East Germany following the Second World War. However, in the book claiming to be Shostakovich’s memoirs ‘Testimony’, he supposedly called the piece “autobiographical” and that it quotes a famous Russian song ‘Exhausted by the hardships of prison.’ This reflects Shostakovich’s situation, controlled by Soviet government and the fact that his piece draws more attention to himself than to the victims of war.

He does this by making frequent use of his musical signature (the DSCH motif), as well as using quotations of his preview works, throughout the quartet. For example, in the largo first and fifth movements, he creates sections of fugue-like quality using the motif. In the ferocious second movement it is used to increase intensity. He further builds tension in this movement by quoting the ‘Jewish theme’ from his second piano trio, in a combination of tragic Jewish folk music, fortississimo, urgent triplets, molto expressivo direction, piercingly high violin melody and second violin, sul G.

This despair was noted by the Chilingirian Quartet and evident in their performance. Attention to dynamics was important in such an expressive piece and this was pulled off phenomenally well by the quartet. Particularly impressive was their crescendo and attacca at the end of the movement, essential to bring the listener appropriately into the third movement. The deep tone of the cello was warm and rich and the quartet was well-balanced performing as a whole. However, the high notes were less impressive from the violin – often shrill rather than piercing and intense, and the viola was occasionally scratchy. Additionally, the piece seemed to be played too quickly, resulting in some muddled and unclear sections. Despite these problems, overall the performance was enjoyable and appreciated by the enthusiastic, packed audience.

 

Click these links to find out more about:

the ‘A Boy Was Born’ Festival – http://www.aboywasborn.co.uk/

festivals celebrating Britten’s centenary around the world – http://www.britten100.org/

the Chilingirian Quartet – http://www.chilingirianquartet.co.uk/

Onward and Upward

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2012 was full of changes and excitement, challenges and fun. I am looking forward to what 2013 will bring! And of course, a new year brings a lot of talk about new resolutions! I’ve already had friends coming to me with new diets and exercise routines, trying to convince me to join them. I’m almost convinced, slowly swapping my crisps for crackers and cakebars for satsumas. However, having just started university and making huge steps towards achieving my career goals, I thought I’d write those resolutions here.

After the first few months of university many people start to re-evaluate what they are trying to achieve. I also have new interests and am less enthusiastic about old ones. However, I’m still really interested in soundtracks and film music. I still love animations (Wreck It Ralph was such a good movie) and this year I have become even more engrossed in the world of online media, youtube and webseries than I was before. So I still want to enter this field.

I’ve always felt a little nervous about admitting this goal for many reasons. Firstly, I know many people who think that music is an unworthy field to enter into and that I should be aiming to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer or business person. Secondly, sometimes I feel that saying I want to work in film sounds ridiculous. Thirdly, this is a really hard field to enter and telling people my dream will make it even harder when I fail. But I shouldn’t be so ashamed of my dream, so hopefully this year I will become more comfortable with what I want to do.

At university I am learning about many varied subjects in a broad sort of way. Each subject will be useful in achieving my goal. However, it will not be useful if all I do is go to classes, complete assignments and do exams. Sure, I’ll earn my degree, but I don’t think I will have the skills to achieve my goal unless I practice using the skills in my own projects, and not just school projects.

Therefore, this year my new year’s resolution is to write 13 not-for-an-assignment compositions in 2013. It’s a small step, but I think it will be great practice and help me to learn more on my own. So look out for more from me on my youtube channel!

I think that the best way to plan my resolutions is to have a specific goal. So I’ve said I want to complete a specific number of non-assignment compositions by the end of the year, rather than “write more compositions”. I think this makes it easier to follow-through than a vague plan.

What do you think? Do you prefer specific resolutions to vague ones? Or do you find it more liberating to have a broader goal? What are your resolutions for 2013?

Teasing in the Classroom

A poem I wrote when I was 15.

 

Teasing In The Classroom

 

I crumble in my seat

As their pencils turn to spears

Their open mouths

Bags to trap me

Their taunts become muddled as the whirlwind surrounds me

Their laughter

Is the fire to fry me.

 

I search the room for my angel

But he hasn’t come today.

There is no one to take me

To hold my hand

To dry my inside tears.

 

So I stay here

And take the blows.

As they crash around me, I feel

 

Alone

 

I’m small

Insignificant

There

For the vultures to pick at.

 

They pick at my soul.

 

When they leave, I am left

To gather the pieces.

They’ve been trampled, torn

Eaten…

 

Age: 15

Wednesday 08/10/08

The Doctor Who Fan Orchestra

The Doctor Who Fan Orchestra just released its 6th collaboration: “A Christmas Carol (Suite)”! You should definitely go check it out and tell all your family, friends, enemies, acquaintances etc about it.

In the meantime, I’ll give you a short description of the DWFO. The Doctor Who Fan Orchestra is an online community of hundreds of musicians from around the world who love Doctor Who and Murray Gold’s music. The organisation was started by Stephen Willis (who currently arranges the music and puts together the final recording and video) and Robin LaPasha (co-ordinator). Members receive their sheetmusic by email and a ‘click-track’ that counts the beats so that each member can keep in time with each other when recording, despite being in different parts of the world. You can learn more about the DWFO from this video: http://youtu.be/2wjjHjbVW-4

However, the final product is simply one part of being in the Doctor Who Fan Orchestra. Through the private Facebook group, the DWFO has really become a community – or as Gabriella Patanè has said “a big big ‘family’ all around the world.” Here, people can ask question about the project, discuss with other instrumentalists/vocalists about problems specific to their instrument, share inspiring moments and motivate and encourage each other.

It’s certainly helped me! I am a young musician who has recently entered university with very little formal training in music. So of course, my first semester has been very challenging. I started to feel discouraged, wondering if I would ever reach the level that I wanted. However, alongside my work I was practising for my DWFO almost every day. And each time I listened to the clicktrack on my mp3 player and played along, I would be overwhelmed with emotion because it felt amazing to be part of something bigger and it reminded me why I decided to study music in the first place. So the DWFO means a lot to me and I am so excited to continue working with them for years to come!

Of course, you don’t need to be studying music at university to join the DWFO! There are many performers of varying levels in the orchestra. All you need to join is:

  • a musical instrument and/or voice
  • a microphone (many people just borrow one from friends)
  • a way of recording your audio performances to digital format (e.g. a laptop)
  • headphones/earphones (to listen to the click-track while performing)

Watch “A Christmas Carol (Suite)” here:

Paying for Music

And so the ongoing debate continues. Does piracy matter? Should we pay for music when it is so easily available for free? I’m not sure.

I’ve heard many arguments, and am particularly interested in what Alex Day has to say. He is proud about not having a label, but yet being able to sell his music. As a freelance musician, you’d think he would prefer that people BUY his music. However, in this article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-varrati/independent-musician-join_b_1699475.html) he says something quite different. He says that there are three types of people:

  1. People who will pay for your music because they want to support you.
  2. People who like your music, but are unsure if they want it permanently. They won’t pay for your music; instead they’ll listen to it online for free. If there were no free options for your music, they STILL wouldn’t pay for it. However, allowing them to listen to the music for free lets them ‘test’ the song and if they still like it in a few months they may buy it.
  3. People who can’t afford to, or don’t care enough to buy your music. They will never buy your music. Without free access to your music, they still won’t buy it.

Additionally, by allowing people to listen to your music for free, you create a wider audience. This allows more people of type 1 and 2 to come in contact with your music, which ensures more sales.

HOWEVER – today it was cold outside and I decided to treat myself to a warm brownie from the coffee shop. This brownie was about 7cm x 5cm x 2cm and was cold and hard. It cost me £1.75. While eating, it struck me that this was a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a brownie (compared to its cost to make), particularly since it was cold and I really wanted to warm me up from the weather outside. Then I remembered something I read that said, ‘you’re willing to spend money on a cup of coffee, but not music?’ Why was I willing to spend so much money on a brownie, but not on music? The brownie only lasts 10 minutes, but music can be listened to many times. What was I saying? That the music I love is worth less than a cold, hard brownie? And I am a musician?

It’s really something to think about.

Hearing Your Music Live: Young Composer Problems

Recently, I was watching a video promoting the “Panufnik Young Composers Scheme” with the London Symphony Orchestra. It was interesting to hear Lady Camilla Panufnik talk about her husband and her desire to give young composers the opportunity to play with a real, professional symphony orchestra. The participants also spoke about how exciting it was to work with a symphony orchestra. The emphasis really seemed to be on working with the orchestra.

As an orchestral composer today, it can be easy to hear your work performed through software but almost impossible to hear your work from real instruments, live. The software gets better and better every year, so that full compositions can sound as though they are played by real instruments. However, there is no human expression, even with ‘human playback’ tools and it never sounds truly real.

At university, for the first time I have got to hear most of my compositions performed live. This has been a wonderful experience. And not just because it sounds better (because often it doesn’t, with human error!). Through hearing my pieces with live instruments, I learn a lot more. By working with the instrumentalists, I can discover what works in a practical setting and what doesn’t. I can see the limitations of the instruments. I can find out what would be difficult for a beginner vs a professional performer. I can hear combinations of sounds in real life, learning more about balance, timbre and colour than I ever would from a computer version. All of these things are incredibly important for an instrumental composer, to understand the true realisation of their piece and to create the music that they really want.