Tuesday, 26 October 2010

A face covered in permanent ink

Yesterday was hell. I stumbled my way through the day in something of a coma, feeling so unbelievably tired that I could barely put one foot in front of another.

By the evening, I’d run three rehearsals and still had to drive to Shepherd’s Bush for a fourth. This particular session was with three of the opera singers and it went incredibly slowly. I started to panic and suddenly found myself slamming my fists down on the piano keyboard and shouting. Before I knew what was happening, I'd told the tenor that he was massacring my music. I then downed tools, stormed out of the rehearsal and drove home to Highgate feeling angry and sorry for myself.

It wasn’t until a set of angry emails arrived late in the night from the singers that I realised quite how hurtful I’d been. What a terrible thing to say to anyone who’s doing their best... or in fact, anyone at all. In my pitiful defence, it’s terribly hard for a composer to hand his work over to a singer or performer. The music has been in his head for so long that he knows exactly how he wants it to sound. He's controlled it and nurtured it; safe in the knowledge that no one could judge it or destroy it whilst it was locked in there. The moment he hands it to a singer, he relinquishes all control and becomes utterly reliant on someone else to bring it to life. It's really tough... I compare it to handing a beautiful baby over to a child minder and returning to find his face covered in permanent ink!

Anyway, the bottom line is that there’s never an excuse for being unkind and I feel very ashamed of myself.

Pepys was a busy man 350 years ago. Amongst other things, he paid a visit to Westminster Hall to buy a book which he took home to read to his wife. Unfortunately they discovered that the book had been written so badly that all they could do was sit and laugh at it.

Pepys reserved his most florid prose for a description of the dandy Duke de Soissons and the ostentatious coach he’d taken to travelling about London in; “all red velvet covered with gold lace, and drawn by six barbes, and attended by twenty pages very rich in clothes”. A barb, being a small horse, rather than something more decadent, like a hippo.

I'm just writing words now. None make any sense in my brain, which is officially fried!!


  1. It's the stress Benj.. it warps the mind. Chin up! You've created a monster for yourself with this project but you'll get through it & then I'm going to insist that you STOP for a wee while whilst I bake you something vegetarian (or beef wellington if you insist) whilst you regroup your nerves!! :) xx

  2. Make peace with your singers and go on from this. Try and get some time in the day when you do nothing at all Pepys related. Easy for me to say :-) also take your friend Fiona up on her kind offer. What you say about the composer's perspective is both valid and important, by the way. Hugs, Mr WM Non-H