Thursday, 26 August 2010

Laughing, jovially

I'm melting on the tube from Bank heading up to Highgate. It has literally done nothing but rain all day and I’m now at the stage where I've stopped dealing with it particularly well. I smell like wet dog. Every time I’ve walked anywhere today, I’ve been properly drenched, and then of course the moisture in the air turns the underground into a massive sauna and everyone ends up feeling even crappier than they were at the start of the day. And I have holes in my shoes! It’s now officially time for my cold to go away. It’s moved from my throat to my chest, and now I have a tickly cough, which is frightening the Tyndarids.

Today was the first day of auditions for The Pepys Motet. They took place at St Olave’s Church, which felt very special; particularly as the light has been fixed which illuminates the statue of dear Elizabeth Pepys. You can now see every detail in her face as she stares down from the ceiling, as though she’s half way through shouting at her husband for complaining about her clothes, or being too jealous...

Before the auditions started I was able to spend about an hour writing music in the church. What a thrill. Obviously it was just my subconscious playing tricks, but I felt an incredible atmosphere in there, almost as though, and you’ll no doubt think me mad for even bothering to write this, the great man himself were standing behind me, tutting and saying; “no no... too busy... too much polyphony...” He's probably right. I'm in the process of thinning things out a bit. My friend Fiona once told me the best thing you can do as a composer is to write the music, and then cut half of it. I was working on the section where Elizabeth finds Pepys in flagrante delicto with Deb Willet and wondered if the statue was suddenly going to come crashing down from the roof. Come to think of it, Elizabeth did look a little angrier than usual today. Sometimes I look up there and merely think she's laughing, jovially...

The auditions themselves were good. I felt a bit out of my depth to begin with, trying to teach people music I’ve only just written, and immediately became aware of a few errors which I hadn’t previously spotted. Of the 11 people who auditioned, I’d say around half were good enough to sing in the piece. There were some lovely voices; many of whom will be fighting over places in just one choir; unsurprisingly the early music bunch. As ever, it was a joy to chat to people about their lives and backgrounds. The most interesting career has to belong to the Coventry-based engineer at Aston Martin, whose job it is to crash cars for a living!

Give or take a few wrong notes, and a couple of very unconfident singers, it was a real privilege to hear the music for the first time. We focussed on the fugue from the Great Plague movement and there were very brief moments, when I started to get a sense that I might just have written something very exciting. I kept looking towards the alter, under which the Pepyses are lying and wondering if they would approve. I very much hope so.

Speaking of which, the 26th August 1660 was a Sunday and Pepys went not once, but twice to St Olave’s Church; the first time hearing a stranger preaching a “dry and tedious long sermon”. He went with Sir William Pen and the two of them were placed in “the highest pew of all”. I had assumed that the Royal Navy pew when it was built was the only galleried pew in that particular church, but obviously not. I've no doubt, however, if Pepys had anything to do with it, that it was the tallest!

Pepys and his wife walked on the leads of their roof in the evening. So it obviously wasn’t raining in 1660 like it is right now!

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