Early Stroll Songs - thinking about Betjeman

Early Stroll Songs is a new song cycle by Richard Barnard. I've commissioned it to go along John Rutter's cycle Shadows (which, like Early Stroll Songs, is scored for guitar and baritone) and it's going to be performed on October 11th 2016 in St Georges, Bristol. 

Richard has recently sent me the full score, so I'm now able to start thinking about the songs as a set and to begin considering how to perform them and keep a narrative through them.

To some extent the narrative side of things is quite easy as the lyrics - all of which are actually tweets, sometimes two in a song - have been chosen to go through a year. There's autumn, winter, spring and summer, so it should be easy enough to keep involved in the tale. 

But now I've started to look at them in more detail I can see some other 'hooks' I might use to keep people's attention. 

One is a surprising number of references to horses. But more consistent, more telling and more difficult to pin down is the tweets' intense attention to the little details of other people's obvserved lives. I've decided that in places, it reminds me of the documentary films that I used to watch when I was a teenager (I've just found one, called Beside the Seaside, which is exactly what I mean - John Betjeman is the narrator. View it here. I just have, and the start is fantastic - VW Sea Symphony with some great footage). Boy, they knew how to make documentaries in those days when every inch of film, quite literally, was valuable. 

Not being too fussy about it, tweets are the same. You don't have the luxury of great resources, and every little nuance counts. A small observation holds the weight of a universe; a well-chosen rhyme or metre speaks volumes. Ian's tweets have all those things, and much more. 

Meanwhile Richard's music has an amazing diversity. Punchiness, lightness, melody and poise, imagination and some cheeky references to well-known pieces. 

This is going to be a mighty addition to the repertoire. I am very happy that I'm going to have the responsibility of premiereing it, let alone having commissioned it!

Early Stroll Songs Fundraiser

Crowdfunder over the initial target!This morning, thanks to 34 lovely people, we have more than surpassed our original Crowdfunder target for the Early Stroll Songs fund raising effort. And the money keeps coming in! We've set a 'Stretch target' of £1,500. 

The extra money will allow us to extend the education element of the Early Stroll Songs project, as well as giving us the freedom to explore future performance opportunities. 

It will also mean that we can do more publicity and investigate the options for higher levels of media exposure. 

So if you've pledged, thank you - and if you still want to pledge, please do. The rewards and the crowdfunder remain open until 31st May, and the premiere is scheduled for 11th October, when I'll be singing the songs along with John Rutter's Shadows and some Dowland songs, accompanied by Mark Willcocks.

Early Stroll Songs

Have just been reading through the proposed text for the Early Stroll Songs by Ian McMillan. 

As a composer myself (albeit a very low-level one) I'm looking at the words - which are based on Tweets - and thinking: "How would I go about setting these?". The answer is that I have no idea. 

Tweets are a bit like haiku. They are limited in length, but have to hold an entire context. They're complete, condensed and intense. It's this sort of thing which makes them so difficult for me, as a bad composer, to contemplate. I've got no doubt, though, that Richard Barnard is going to turn them into something marvellous for our commission in the autumn. 

But it's interesting doing it this way round: normally as a singer I get the musical score, devour the notes and (as a academically-minded musical analyst) subconsciously concern myself without how the music works, Then I take the important step of learning, understanding, declaiming and absorbing the words. This time I've got no choice. The music's not been written. I've only got the words. Instead of having the words presented to me through the lens of the music, I'm going to get the music added to the landscape of words that I already know. 

I'll try to keep you involved with that process as I start to get the music in the coming months.