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Musica Viva Australia

Michael has just been announced as Musica Viva Australia’s Artistic Director, Education.  Notes from Musica Viva’s press release are below:

February 2 2016

Musica Viva is delighted to announce that prominent Australian composer, artistic director and musician, Michael Sollis, this month commences as Artistic Director of Education to Australia’s largest and most innovative school music education program.

Mr Sollis has had a long association with Musica Viva, having shown exemplary enthusiasm and drive in his role as ACT Manager since 2008. This position marks the next stage of his relationship with the company as he steps into this visionary new role. As Artistic Director of Education, Michael will explore options that will enhance the future artistic vibrancy of Musica Viva’s renowned education program.

“Musica Viva In Schools has been at the forefront of music education in Australia for the past 35 years and is expanding further with its ground-breaking digital education programs,” says Musica Viva Chief Executive Officer, Mary Jo Capps. “It is fitting that we recognise the scope and impact of this program by appointing an Artistic Director of Education, who will work with Carl Vine AO, Artistic Director of Musica Viva Australia, to ensure we continue to inspire Australians of all ages with the enjoyment and understanding of music.”

In 2016, Michael Sollis will also work closely with Richard Gill OAM, as he takes on this exciting new position that will steer Musica Viva In Schools to new heights. Mr Gill has been Artistic Advisor to Musica Viva’s education program since late 2014.

Richard Gill, who was instrumental in the search for Musica Viva’s first ever Artistic Director of Education, says, “I’m thrilled to see Michael taking the reins of this wonderful not-for-profit organisation that has been setting the standard in music education enrichment since 1981.

“Michael has the energy that will ignite Musica Viva’s education program; he will take it from where it is now and adapt it for the future.

“We can’t sit still – we have to grow and look to the future, and Michael has the vision and artistic integrity that will take Musica Viva In Schools into an exciting future. I look forward to seeing what he is able to achieve for music education in this country.”

Speaking on his appointment, Mr Sollis says, “When a school student sees a live musician for the first time, it truly has the potential to change their life forever, so it’s a great privilege and honour to be given custodianship of an Australian institution that provides over 250,000 students each year with the opportunity to engage with the very best Australian musicians.

“Richard Gill has kept the flame alive for music education in this country, and I’m thrilled and humbled to be able to work with him over the next 12 months as he passes the torch on.”

Musica Viva prides itself on providing broad, high quality music education programs for primary and high school students that range from live performance to digital learning, including extended residencies, intensive workshops and accessible resources.

“Music is more than an ‘add-on’ extracurricular activity – it is an essential part of the human experience,” says Mr Sollis. “My job at Musica Viva will be to ensure that every school in Australia has the opportunity to access the highest quality live music and performance so every child has the opportunity to have their young imaginations ignited.

“If every primary school student in Australia were inspired by live music to pursue their own creativity, imagine what the world would look like.”

Since founding Musica Viva In Schools in 1981, Musica Viva has enriched the lives of over 7 million children across Australia.

Musica Viva In Schools is the largest external provider of music education programs in Australian classrooms, including in regional and remote areas.

In 2015, Musica Viva In Schools musicians travelled over 120,000 kilometres to deliver music education programs to over 260,000 students through 1,700 concerts, workshops and residencies. The company also provided direct training to over 2,000 teachers, as well as a further 8,000 teachers indirectly.

Musical Vandalism and The Beach Boys

June 15 2013

Any musician would be pretty stoked to receive the following accolades from an eclectic bunch of musical icons from the 20th century:

Leonard Bernstein: “One of the greatest composers of the 20th century”
?uestlove: “A modern day Stravinsky”
Paul McCartney: “Classic of the century”
Art Garfunkel: “our Mozart of Rock n’ Roll”
Phillip Glass: “one of the defining moments of its time”
Tom Petty: “I don’t think you’d be out of line comparing him to Beethoven”

Who are they all talking about?  They are talking about The Beach Boy’s Brian Wilson (although Wilson wasn’t stoked at all, and suffered severe depression throughout his life).

Shamefully, I only really ‘discovered’ Brian Wilson about 18 months ago.  As a teenager in the late nineties, the alternative allure of John Cale and Lou Reed and the avant garde leanings of John Lennon were what defined the sixties:  There was no room for The Beach Boys:  Everything about them including their name seemed to have this sugary sweetness to it, and songs like Surfin USA sounded so trivial.  I mean – there were a boy band, right? – they even shared the same initials as The Backstreet Boys, so why would I bother?

But then came along Big Love.

It is funny the way we discover music (a subject for another blog), love it or hate it, we can’t help but be influenced by the mass media that permeates our days.  And my devotion to the HBO show Big Love, about a polygamist Mormon family in Utah, caused it’s theme song, the Beach Boys ‘God Only Knows’, to forever run in my head.  Of course, I had heard the song before, and subconsciously always knew it was something special, but thanks to Big Love I was now fully aware.

So eventually I got my way around to purchasing The Beach Boy’s classic Pet Sounds – listened to the whole thing, and of course, like Bernstein, McCartney, and Glass, it changed my life.

There are plenty of people who have written about why Pet Sounds is so great, and the genius of Brian Wilson (and besides that would take years to write).  What I find fascinating is, as a child, why I thought The Beach Boys were so bad.  As a teenager, why didn’t Brian Wilson attract my attention like Robert Smith did?  He certainly had enough angst, and bands that I loved growing up, like The Strokes, were more-or-less Beach Boy rip offs (if you doubt me listen to Here Today).  So what was it?

The answer? Musical Vandalism.

While pop culture was what led me to The Beach Boys, I also blame pop culture for causing me to ignore them for so long.  If the court would allow me to present two pieces of evidence to the jury:

Article A:

Article B:

It seems trivial, but I honestly believe that such vandalism of great art is the reason why I just assumed, well, that it wasn’t great.  How could I take this seriously when your knowledge of this work is limited to plasticine figures and chocolate bars.  How a 30 second advertisement can destroy such great songs.

Everything has a lesson, so what has this taught me?  As musical presenters, performers and composers, we have the responsibility to treat great art with great respect.  Every time we program or perform piece, we are inventing it for a new audience – a crowd of new ears whose only knowledge of this music may be informed by how we present it and how we contextualise it.

All audiences have choices of what art they choose to see, what music they choose to listen to.  And this is why Great Art should not be vandalised, the stakes are far too high.  I’m just relieved that I got my second chance to appreciate The Beach Boys without the whitegoods graffiti!

PetSoundsCover

Griffyn’s Swedish Experience

16 April 2013

This blog appeared for the Australian Music Centre in April 2013

So what is making news this morning? Again, we wake up to discover our political leaders are obsessed with who arrives and doesn’t arrive in our island home. How does migration of contemporary music compare? Are our borders wide open, or do we fear a ‘slow drip invasion’ of new works from overseas?

OK – so it’s easy to exaggerate political rhetoric and comparisons! However, fostering cross-cultural learnings and exchanges were the exact motives behind the Griffyn Ensemble’s first festival – the Water Into Swïne Festival, a collaboration with Swedish group the Pearls Before Swïne Experience, which has just finished in Canberra – and we would like to share some of it with you.

But first – let’s look at some first principles:

Australia is a big place. To the untrained observer it can appear empty. Whether we like it or not, the outside eye often describes us as ‘exotic’: a country full of poisonous animals, mining billionaires, jumping kangaroos, and surf lifesavers. Are we an international country? We like to think so, even if we do seem to want to keep the Aussie reality as our little secret – and this seems to be OK by us all.

And at the ‘heart’ of Australia is our national capital, Canberra. And we Canberrans have our secrets too. We are quite happy for the rest of the country to think that all Canberra has is politics, porn, and fireworks, as this attitude has allowed a fertile underbelly of artistic freedom to develop. It has provided a cover for generations of independent artists – musicians, composers, playwrights, printmakers, and glass-artists to name a few – to escape the artistic trends and currents that inevitably flow through cities of a higher density with a higher national profile. Those in Canberra know that there is something incredibly special here, and we love it.

So, enter the Griffyn Ensemble, our band of six musicians: flute, clarinet, composer, harp, percussion, and soprano (cue self-promotion). Currently in our 8th year, we have performed over 50 Australian premieres from composers across the globe, over 15 world premieres, and dozens of new interpretations of old works. We regularly get 200+ Canberrans joining us in our adventures through contemporary music, including our 70 loyal subscribers to our annual season of carefully curated musical events (e.g.Cloudy With a Chance of Rain – part weather-forecast/part concert; Behind Bars – music from concentration camps; etc.). We will play anything from anywhere – whether it is new works by Australian composers, old works by Mexican avant-gardists, reinventions of Burt Bacharach, folk-oratorios by cultural hero Mikis Theodorakis, or new works by some of Estonia’s most innovative composers. And we’ll work with anyone – as astronomer Fred Watson and weatherman Rob Gell can attest! Basically, we love music, and we love sharing it in creative formats that illustrate its cultural context. So where to next?

To Sweden of course! The Swedes have their own secrets, and we are not talking about ABBA, and blonde/blue-eyed/long-legged tourists. Why not bring one of their secrets over to Canberra? So enter The Pearls Before Swïne Experience (a band of four piggies – flute, violin, cello, piano). The Swine as they like to be called (since the pieces are the Pearls) are Scandinavia’s top new music group, who have commissioned more than 120 works from 21 countries in their 18-year history. And they do cool things like play music in pubs and get the audience to complete maths puzzles while they play their pieces. So we thought we would bring them over to Canberra and have a festival – the Water Into Swïne Festival, eight events over ten days during Easter.

What eventuated was an experience that I, as a composer and musician, could have only dreamt of – a feeling shared by my colleagues and reported by our audience. Put two groups of creative people from different corners of the globe into a room, shake the room up a bit, leave them in there for a while (not quite to the point of cabin fever!), and it’s likely that something radical will happen. And it did – whilst having a lot of fun in the process! We heard new works by Swedish and Australian composers; we were pushed to play with electronics in ways that Griffyn hadn’t quite done before; and we experimented with different concert forms – an Easter Vigil, a Last Supper recreation, a film-music concert, an Easter Feast, and an April Fool’s concert where audiences had to answer questions about contemporary music for day-old Easter bunnies as prizes. And it all came together with an abundance of energy – only afterwards did we realise how significant the event(s) actually were. And the audience had a pretty damn good time as well!

As a band of musicians we learned an incredible amount from all this frantic exchange and performance (cue dot-points):

  • Repertoire: we love looking for music from all over the world at Griffyn, and we’ve looked at a lot of really cool Swedish works – but to be able to hear them performed by musicians who have worked closely with them was eye-opening and useful for future programming. Likewise, we introduced really cool Australian works to Swedish musicians.
  • Exchange: working in a cross-cultural environment is kind of a musician’s and composer’s lifeblood – to be able to develop partnerships with groups overseas creates an extremely fertile creative bond between the groups, which could give rise to anything in the future.
  • Boundaries: there are great musicians in Australia who inspire us. However, working closely with great musicians within an international context really sets your mind to push the boundaries of what is possible. It also makes you realise that what we are all doing actually matters to people all around the world.
  • Identity: through working so closely with a different group, Griffyn started to realise exactly ‘who’ we are – what our strengths are, and what our weaknesses.
  • Density: we successfully programmed an incredibly dense amount of events of contemporary music within 10 days in Canberra. And it worked – people came and were not afraid. As the wise pig once said ‘audiences can smell fear’. Do not be afraid!
  • Comparison: seeing how an overseas group rehearses contemporary music was incredibly different to how Australian groups rehearse – and we found this incredibly illuminating and useful. As a composer, it was fascinating to have the Swine interpret a piece I wrote for them differently than an Australian ensemble would. Different cultures, different ways. And we learn and steal/borrow.

The future? The wishlist right now is a little too large – but that’s a good thing (and Sweden’s not too far away). What is sure is that Griffyn will continue this musical migration program, both as an exporter and importer. And why not? Just because Australia sits at the bottom of the Earth doesn’t mean we can’t aspire to be a musical gateway to the world. And what better place to do this than our nation’s capital (wink wink – or as the Swine would say, oink oink).

And some belated Easter Eggs from the Festival to finish with! Hear Griffyn and the Swine get in the ABC Studio for a political cover of Prince(!).

See the Swine perform the world premiere of Australian composer Michael Sollis’s Water Into Swïne (YouTube).

See Swedish composer Marcus Fjellstrom’s film-music project Odboy and Erodog performed by the Swine (YouTube).

Everyman and his God

July 26 2012

Woody Allen’s God opens with an actor and a writer unsuccessfully trying to come up with an ending to their play.  This then explodes into a post-modern fantasy of theatre and reality, before it finally ends with the actor and writer reciting the same lines that they started with.

My blog post will not be anywhere near as witty, nor as perfectly constructed – however, it shares one aspect of Allen’s God in that it is confused about where to begin and where to end.  Maybe it was because of the thought-provoking content of the two works?  It’s more likely because it is almost midnight on a freezing Canberra July and I haven’t yet turned on the heater.  But that doesn’t really matter because what I saw was so damn brilliant that the need to share it has seemed to override basic human needs of warmth and comfort!

So, the facts:

  • Everyman Theatre are a Canberra based theatre company led by Jarrad West, Duncan Ley, and Duncan Driver
  • They are currently performing Woody Allen’s God and Mark Ravenhill’s pool(no water)
  • It was inspiring, outstanding, <insert superlative here>
  • If you are free on Friday 27 June or Saturday 28 June YOU MUST SEE IT!!!

Normally I don’t like self-referential art that much.  What do I mean by hating self-referential art? If you really hated the second paragraph of this blog post (and hate that I am referring back to it even more), that is exactly what I mean by hating self-referential art.  Artists generally create art about being artist far too much.artartart.  Both one-act plays were inspired loosely by artists and arts making.  God was about theatre and structure.  pool (no water) was about a group of visual artists who ultimately trash the work of a former friend whose success they despise.

So why was it so brilliant?  It was perfectly executed by Everyman’s cast and direction.  God was perfectly funny, and pool(no water) was perfectly tragic.  The comic timing of Duncan Ley and Jarrad West’s could have come straight from a scene of Monty Python;  The creative energy between West, Steph Roberts, Amy Dunham and Zach Raffan in pool(no water) was simply inspiring.

The format of two one-act plays was great and wished there was more of this about- hopefully Everyman will return to this sometime in the future?

There were two things I didn’t like so much.  Although Mark Ravenhill’s pool(no water) was engaging, thought-provoking, heartstopping, etc. I found the whole work far too depressing.  Not that there is anything necessarily wrong about that – but Ravenhill cleverly brings out the very worst in his characters, and paints a bleak picture of human nature.  Although he ends with a surprisingly optimism of the mundane, you can’t help but watch it and put yourself in the characters shoes, thinking “am I really that terrible”?  The cast were effective in giving the audience just enough belief of their own humanity to allow us to make this emotive leap.  Disturbing, creepy.

The second complaint was the length of Jarrad West’s outfit in God!  Although making a whole audience blush through the first 5 minutes of any show is certainly an achievement!   The show opens with an actor and a writer unsuccessfully…. (blegh.. STOP IT!)

school pride – a song for Harrison

Jun 23 2012

“In our place and space years ago, a windmill slowly creaked
A boy sat in the Canberra breeze and drifted off to sleep
He dreamed of what was yet to come, of how his place would change
The promise of exciting news, strength in things that still remain”

Over the past couple of weeks I have spent some time at Harrison School for Musica Viva In Schools as composer-in-residence, helping a group of 30 Years 5-8 students compose their own song for their fledgling school in the north of Canberra situated on farmland in Canberra’s pre-history.

The end result was something quite special – it’s always amazing to see what students can create when given the right resources and circumstances! We recorded a ‘first version’ of the song yesterday, which will then be taught to the rest of the school over the next few weeks – I thought it might be worthwhile to share what they came up with – hopefully we’ll have a full school version hundreds strong in the next few weeks!

It’s a small Galaxy After All

March 12 2012

Later this month I’m directing the Australian premiere of a performance with astronomical proportions (quite literally) – a musical exploration of the Southern Sky from The Griffyn Ensemble and astronomer Fred Watson, under the stars at the ruins of Mt Stromlo Observatory in Canberra before performing in Melbourne and Bendigo. It’s fitting that a piece of music of such ambition has reminded me of how small a world we actually live in – from Estonia to Australia – through the bizarre series of coincidences which allowed the work to ‘come home’:

Estonian composer Urmas Sisask

Last September whilst in Tallinn, Estonia, I contacted a few composers of works who I had performed or had programmed with Griffyn (that Estonia has produced the wealth of composers, conductors, and musicians which have been exported across the globe is in itself remarkable). One of the composers was the maverick Urmas Sisask – a legend in Estonia known throughout the world for his choral works. Only a few weeks before that meeting, Griffyn had performed the Aussie premiere of his Zodiac suite, and his music was intriguing – relentlessly original, connected to astronomy, and beautiful and bizarre at the same time – the kind of material that the Griffyn Ensemble laps up.

After a series of confused emails (Urmas does not speak English and I do not speak Eesti) we arranged to meet in the Hotel café, and I seconded a friend of mine, the lovely Kristel Pedak to translate. We discussed his theories of music and astronomy, the musical observatory that he built in rural Tallinn, and towards the end, my home town of Canberra. To this, he excitedly exclaimed ‘oh yes, that is where the big telescope was’ (a messy translation – it took a while to work out exactly what each other were saying!). As it turned out, Urmas had been to Australia about 15 years earlier under the commission of Estonian House to visit observatories and Aboriginal rituals around Australia and write the second of his Starry Sky Piano Cycles – ‘Southern Sky’. He was particularly inspired by his time at Mt Stromlo Observatory near Canberra, before it burnt down during the infamous bush fires of 2003.

The intrigue of Southern Sky continued: although it was inspired by Urmas’ time in Australia, based on Australian rituals and astronomy, and frequently performed around the world, it had never been performed in Australia. The piece had a lot of allegory to Aboriginal mythology concerning bushfires, and Urmas performed the piece in Estonia a week before the Bush Fires ravaged Mt Stromlo in 2003. With an uncanny coincidence, he dedicated that work to the people of Canberra (the irony was not missed by Estonian Newspapers who reported the Canberra bushfires in the following week).
My interest at this point was sky high (excuse the pun). Upon returning to Australia I purchased the music and found it to be a work of indescribable quality – like much of Estonia and it’s music, and naturally falling into Griffyn’s unique instrumentation.

But fate still had a role to play in bringing Southern Sky to Australia – I contacted astronomer Fred Watson to see if he wanted to collaborate in the Australian premiere of the work in the burnt-out ruins of Mt Stromlo Observatory – a fitting tribute to the composer, and the observatory which inspired him. I had never met Fred before, but had frequently heard him on ABC Radio, and always found him incredibly engaging and fascinating to listen to. I also knew he had a musical interest, having worked with Australian composer Ross Edwards (which incidentally, was the only Australian composer Urmas was familiar with when we met last year). Fred then informed me that he was about to embark on a tour of Northern Europe in search of the Northern Lights – and he had already hoped to meet Urmas during this trip, being familiar with his interest in Astronomy and Music – of course a meeting was arranged, and the rest will become history!

The Griffyn Ensemble perform Southern SkySo, we are now a few weeks out from the premiere of Southern Skies, and it’s exciting to be able to bring this work back to Australia for the first time, performing it under the stars at Mt Stromlo Observatory, and then making our Griffyn debut to Melbourne and Bendigo. This is music – Estonia and Australia sharing new art through the medium of the constellations – a living tradition, a shared language, and a connection between people and places. The stars really have seemed to align.

The Griffyn Ensemble: Southern Sky
Canberra: Mt Stromlo Observatory, Fri 30th March 7:30pm – Purchase here!
Melbourne: Gasworks Studio Theatre, Sat 31st March 8pm – Purchase here!
Bendigo: Discovery Science & Technology Centre, Sun 1st April 5pm – Purchase here!
More details about the concerts here

Giant Cynicism

February 20 2012

Last Friday there was a lot of noise made about the AFL’s latest franchise, the Greater Western Sydney Giants new theme song:

Maybe it is a little cynical of me, but from listening to it, it seems that the AFL Marketing Department asked The Cat Empire’s Harry Angus (who wrote the song) for a song that sounded a little ‘middle eastern’, a little ‘exotic’, maybe a little ‘Greek’ in order to try and find an affinity with Western Sydney’s large ethnic community.

This wouldn’t be out-of-step with the AFL’s attempts to invent a sugar-coated tradition in the Rugby League stronghold – the signing of Israel Folau to attract the Pacific Community to the game, the choice of team colours to mimic the most popular League team in the region, as well as Giant’s coach Kevin Sheedy bizarre claim early last year that Western Sydney was the true birthplace of AFL in the 1850s, are examples of this.

The song has been criticised for sounding too much like Russian peasant dancing… i guess not too far off the mark.

money from music

September 13 2011

You do some private teaching and sometimes give burnt CDs to your students because you know they won’t go and buy them if you ask them to, and you don’t want to lend your own CDs to people. You have also just spent $10,000 on an album with your group and after 3 months of busily doing gigs and promoting the CD you have made back just $2000. One day you go to a lesson and the student brings in a burnt copy of your album that their friend gave them. What do you tell them? Explore all aspects of this question. Would this change your behaviour in the future? How?

That was one of the questions posed to a group of 50 young musicians last Saturday at ‘Money From Music’ – a workshop presented by the Australian Youth Music Council (which I currently chair) in my home town of Canberra. We asked the participants to answer questions such as:

– Why do I want to be a musician?
– Do I expect to be paid as a musician?
– Do I expect to earn other sources of income to sustain my Arts Practice?

Despite a lot of last-minute organising and preparing, the day seemed to be incredibly successful in terms of having musicians dissect broad questions about the wider industry and interact with difficult issues. We played a ‘game’ (likened by a few to be somewhat similar to Stephen Fry’s QI), where teams of musicians had to answer a range of situational questions, and got points according to how popular their answers were. The idea was to get people to think about broad issues, not to disseminate information. To provide a context we featured 8 diverse speakers to give a snapshot of their own careers – Griffyn compatriot Matthew O’Keeffe from the RMC band, Boy and Bear manager and AYMC member Rowan Brand, Fourplay musician and Senator Christine Milne’s adviser Tim Hollo, and film/TV composer Art Phillips to name a few. We then challenged the groups to answer questions such as:

You’re auditioning for a job in a Stage Band that tours. They select you, but realise that they pay you as a casual for the first 6 months before they commit to a full time contract. You currently are a music teacher with 50 students. Do you cancel all your students, knowing that will not be able to get them back to take the risk and commit to the trial?

This blog isn’t the context to summarise the responses – what was most important was that it got people thinking about larger issues of music and how to make a living out of it. (…although the group that answered the above question suggested that if they were a good teacher that if they were a good enough teacher their students would come back to them if it didn’t work out – so they should go for the gig!…) However, the responses were incredibly interesting and we’ll be working to follow up on some form of summary, which will be presented at the International Music Council’s World Forum on Music in Tallinn later this year.

Most illuminating for us [the AYMC] was how this seemed to be an effective model for youth advocacy. How did we achieve this? We hunted around for a few answers to this post-workshop: It was free, there was a mix of ages and genres, it was about exploration instead of disseminating information, it was interactive, it was about global issues affecting primarily a local audience, and there were strategic local connections. More important was how everyone had fun and were able to share their own diverse experiences as an aspiring, emerging, or established musician.

So what next? Perhaps a ‘Watch This Space’ for how such investigation can continue to be promoted throughout communities around the country, and hopefully illicit debate and discussion among young musicians as to how their Practice fits in with the broader economy and society.

Overcoming string-quartet-phobia

September 9 2011

(As published in the Australian Music Centre’s Resonate Magazine)

I have always been terrified of writing a string quartet – what could a developing Australian composer possibly have to offer the genre which boasts hundreds of masterworks by luminaries such as Beethoven, Ravel, Shostakovich, Haydn, etc. Perhaps my love for the string quartet repertoire was the reason I had avoided it for so long. Fortunately, the opportunity to have a piece workshopped and performed by the Australian String Quartet was too great for me to pass by – it took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to face my fears and put notes on the page.

And so emerged ‘So she moaned, and as she uttered her moans…’. It is an adaptation of a work I had written several years earlier, The Raw and the Cooked – an impression of an Amazonian myth explaining the origins of death and disease. Adapting a pre-existing work was ideal for me: I had always known, in the back of my mind, that it could be turned into a string quartet, and this allowed me to concentrate primarily on the colours and combinations that have been so well developed in the string quartet for the past 250 years.

The Australian String Quartet had done an amazing job in interpreting what I had written, and in the workshops I was able to focus purely on the technical elements of the piece – hearing a different tone colour here and there, perhaps a change in tempo, dropping an octave once or twice – greatly increasing my understanding of the string quartet dynamic.

Watching five of my colleagues work with the quartet in a similar way was equally (if not more) valuable – a tactile awareness is so important for composers. Future hints will hopefully be stored in the memory banks for a while (for instance: did you know a second violinist strings their instrument differently from a first violinist for a deeper tone colour in the bottom strings? It seems so obvious now…)

Over the weekend I made a few alterations – nothing substantial, although upon reflection I have been toying with the idea of making some more fundamental changes to the piece. I think this is one of the hardest things for a composer – to know when to change something and when to leave it alone.

The Australian String Quartet performed my piece magnificently – that murky quality which I wanted, coupled with a melodic ground that was more or less in-stasis, and a gradual dynamic rise from beginning to end. But as a composer, at what point does murky become too ambiguous? When does melodic-stasis become too repetitive? I know I will never find answers to such subjective questions…

The hunt for definitive answers can be a risk of such occasions where peers and mentors meet – that every comment and suggestion made can become permanently ingrained in your consciousness, forever dictating the way you write as you aspire for that chimerical ‘perfect’ piece of music. Fortunately I was lucky enough to be in the company of not only inspiring musicians and composers but wonderful people – reminding me that after all ‘it’s only music’ – and departed with what feels like a greater musical freedom of expression. It was a joy to share my music with such fantastic people, and to have learnt much along the way.

birds from East Africa

August 15 2011

I wish I read more. I just don’t seem to read enough (although ironically, almost everytime I do read something I’m inspired to write a piece of music about it – funny that). One of the few times I do tend to read is when I’m away travelling – I’ve recently been in Adelaide working with the lovely Australian String Quartet and 5 other ‘young’ composers, and whilst waiting around at airports read cover-to-cover (another thing which I ashamed to admit that I infrequently achieve) a charming book by Canberra-based author Nicholas Drayson A Guide to the Birds of East Africa.

P.G. Wodehouse once said something along the lines that his writing was a ‘light musical comedy’ compared to other more ‘serious’ endeavors, with a flippancy that is moving and at times mysteriously profound. Birds of East Africa has that Wodehouse charm about it. It tells the story of two competing Indian Kenyans – Mr. Malik and Harry Khan, competing for the right to ask out Scottish bird enthusiast Rose Mbikwa out to the Annual Hunt Club Ball through a competition proposed by the esteemed men of the Asidi Club: who can identify the most species of birds first hand in the space of the week.

Although there may be no Jeeves, post-colonial Kenya is evocative of Wodehouse’ colonial England with a gentleman’s club and all (although I doubt Bertie ever got attacked by Somali militia). The premise sets up an incredibly unbelievable series of incidents midst the race to count as many birds as possible. It is hilarious, charming, sweet, and thrilling, and I (obviously) found it hard to stop reading.

It sometimes amazes me how many talented artists we have in a place as small as Canberra – for someone who thinks that a light musical comedy is just as artistically valid as a Wagnerian opera, I found Drayson’s Birds of East Africa tremendously inspiring… so to stay true to form i have to wait for a pair of binoculars to write my next work… maybe for guitar duo… the Birds of North Canberra anyone? Someone please stop me…