The Accidental CoLabber, Day 1

Actually Day 2 of the project, because yesterday I didn’t have a CoLab project. I don’t actually have to do it this year (which does mean I also don’t need to keep a blog, but I want to because I’ve learned so much just this afternoon that I think it needs to be written about so I can start to mentally process it) and I’d got in a muddle and missed the deadline, but I had to return some music to a singer-friend today and she said her project actually wanted a composer but didn’t have one, so I said that if she wanted to ask her group leader if one was still wanted, I’d put my hand up.

So now I have a CoLab! It’s the Other English Song project. Which is a TERRIBLE title, but apparently there’s an English and American Song Project, so we’re the Other one. Oh dear oh dear. Anyway. Enough of that. So I joined the group after lunch and the singers split into groups to start learning some new songs from a range of sources – some classical, some pop, some musical numbers, etc. Part of the project is to play with existing music and change it somehow, so I’ve found it really interesting working with one of the groups and with sitting in while our fearless leader suggested changes – keep the vocal part the same, but make it dark instead of cheerful, play off the beat, and for one Tom Waits song which was an out-and-out waltz, “lose the waltz”! Fascinating how apparently small alterations can completely change how the piece is understood, even when the words and melody remain totally unchanged.

Suzie, Melanie and the pianists performing the Gabrielle Aplin song 'Home'

I’m also finding it interesting to see her insistence on “not DOING singing” – sing, yes, but focus on breathing and conveying the words, not on singery affectations. It really makes a huge difference to the interpretation.

Oh yes, and I’m composing for this! The singers all started compiling short texts about good and bad things about ‘Home’ (which is the theme of the project), so I’ve been given a few of these that their writers felt were ready (4 today, hopefully a couple more tomorrow) to create tiny fragments of songs for tomorrow.

I like the idea of fragments, but I also find some of these texts very moving. They’re really very personal things, so what I’m doing – which admittedly is a bit of an experiment which may fall flat on its face – is to reduce texts that are too long – either cutting or recasting them but trying to preserve as many of the writer’s own words as possible – then pick out a line or two that I want to focus on. The rest of the text then is to be spoken, and a very simple piano accompaniment. So far I’ve done 2 songs like this and I’m pleased with them, although I feel that pitching may be a bit of a challenge when singing follows directly on as part of a spoken sentence – may need to tweak a little to adjust this. I think the benefit is that there actually aren’t that many notes to create – and I’m using a cipher on the writer’s name for each one to reduce the decisions still further (project-mania!) – yet what we should end up with should be a ‘complete’-sounding piece. Fingers crossed…

Nose back to the grindstone now…

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