Advent Calendar: 5

It’s been really a rather triumphant day! I took my carol along to my group lesson with Errollyn Wallen today. I took both the appalling-singing version I recorded in about 10 minutes yesterday evening and a version that was just the accompaniment/descant in case I felt brave enough to sing. In the end I didn’t feel brave enough to haul out the appalling-singing version, so I loaded up my backing track of giant organ with trumpet descant and pretended to be a choir. And it really went down very well! Errollyn seemed quite taken with it – she’s suggested a couple of tweaks, and then wants me to record it to include in my portfolio at the end of the year! Not bad for a couple of afternoons’ work 🙂 I really enjoyed Michael’s carol too (he’s another third of our group lesson; the final third, Emma-Jean, couldn’t come this week) – he’s got a great intro going and it’s going to be fabulous. Can’t wait to hear the final version in January!

Anyway, Errollyn was so thrilled with both our carols that she got us to sing them again when one of the pupils for her next lesson turned up early! Heh. I also sang them some snippets of WG James’ Australian Christmas carols and we generally talked churchy music and organs for the whole lesson. Glorious fun!

So I’ve done a rather better recording of it (although still very, very rough, and obviously there’s some changes to go in) which I’ve put up on audioboo. Hope you like it!

(afraid my tempo’s a little off. Sorry. Also, may need to tweak the word “undefiled” as it keeps sounding to me like “and defiled”, which is not really the image I’m looking for there…)

I’ve also made some progress on Fear of Falling, the orchestral piece I need to write this month. After yesterday’s wail about not being sure where to start with short-scoring, I did some Googling on the train, and what should I come up with but this extremely useful article from my friend Jenni Pinnock, which has confirmed for me that the logical way forward is probably to have separate staves for separate instrument families. So I set it up – a grand stave each for woodwind/brass and strings/tuned percussion and a single stave for untuned percussion, so 5 in all. It may be a bit larger than Stephen was thinking, but it’ll keep things tidy and is still a good deal smaller than the 19 or so staves it will take to score the whole thing.

And not only did I decide on this approach and set it up, but I’ve already sketched out about 45 seconds of the piece, quite easily. I’ve set the woodwind/brass stave to use a clarinet sound, and the strings/tuned percussion one to use a string ensemble sound and so far that’s working out OK. I’m setting up staff annotations as I go and if/when I need to put in something that’s out of range of the clarinet, I should just be able to switch channels to a different sound so it comes through as bassoon or trombone or something for just that section (I felt most triumphant when I worked out last night how to do this to get the organ accompaniment to use different stop sounds!).

It still amazes me how much my ear has improved over the past year or so. I find myself, about nine times out of ten now, picking the right note when I’m writing something down from my head, so that Finale is becoming more of a safety net/checking tool than a serious requirement. At least for melodies. I still suck at harmony, though, so definitely need it when setting up chords. Gradually getting a bit better though.

I spent some time on the train working through chains of chords a la Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s method, for Fear of Falling, so I feel I have a few things set up and ready to use. It’s becoming quite obvious to me that I don’t really like close-position harmony. I like my notes to be spread out where possible. I’ll be interested to see where this goes though and to discover situations in which close harmony seems appropriate to me.

So that’s today! I might carry on with the chords this evening a bit, but I’ve got a huge day tomorrow working on the Fourth Plinth exhibition concert at the Institute of Contemporary Art with the rest of the class so going to attempt to get to bed a bit early – for once!

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