Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Serenade

Here’s a strange fact. There is no sign at York train station that indicates where platform 4 is. The rest of the platforms are very clearly marked with neat little signs; a black number on a white metal square, but it’s as though platform 4 doesn’t exit. It turns out that it’s actually an extension of platform 3, but I had to ask a station guard, who informed me that it started “somewhere near that bench.” I asked why it didn’t have a sign and was astonished by the answer:

“We need planning permission to put up a sign. We’ve applied to the council, but these things take time.”
So a train station needs to apply to the council to put up a sign which would potentially prevent travel chaos?! There are no words...

I didn’t sleep well last night. I was worried my alarm clock wouldn’t ring and kept waking myself up to look at the time. 5am, 6am, 7am...  and then I had a surreal dream; I’d forgotten to write a piece of music for a choir, and only realised the night before the concert. I used to have a similar dream which involved returning to school to retake my A-level exams and realising I’d not attended a single German lesson. It implies I have rather a lot on my plate; so much that my subconscious is getting involved to sift through information whilst the rest of my brain vegetates.
I had a fabulous day nevertheless. I’m utterly exhausted, but buzzing like a bee. There are very few people who can claim to have been serenaded by a choir standing on a boat drifting down a river, but at lunchtime today I was lucky enough to become a member of that particular prestigious club.

We’ve been in York all day launching EBOR VOX; a massive choral festival which celebrates the 800th anniversary of the City of York being given its charter. As a wannabe honourable Yorkshire man, I’ve been commissioned to write a huge anthem which will be premiered by 800 singers on a flotilla of 800 boats on the River Ouse. Our mission today was to see if it would be possible to hear a choir from the banks of the river if they stood on a boat. A York City cruiser was chartered, and we were joined by the wonderful Can Sing community choir, who gave up their lunch breaks to become guinea pigs. Surprisingly, the Ouse acoustics are almost perfect for choral music.

The festival takes place in July, but was launched to the press at breakfast today. There were speeches and power point presentations from bleary-eyed council types, and I got a chance to catch up with quite a number of my pals from BBC Yorkshire, some of whom later came to film us by the side of the Ouse. I think we were on Look North tonight...

The second part of the festival will see the same 800 performers singing the anthem whilst processing through the winding medieval streets of York. It promises to be the most magical weekend and I can’t wait to get cracking on the commission.

Last night I discovered that Fiona and I had both been elected to join the Musicians’ Union Writers’ Committee, which is a real honour. I very much hope that I’ll be able to use the post to help other composers from descending into the hell that I found myself in last year. It strikes me that a composer needs to be bullshit savvy. It’s vital he or she has the tools to identify a woolly contract or a dishonourable, inexperienced, or frankly utterly barmy potential employer. Often the most important tool in one’s armoury is instinct. If it feels wrong, give it a wide berth, even if you’re desperate for the work. Stick to commissions which are backed by a known organisation. An amateur organisation could well rush into a commission without a real sense of what is required, or crucially, what’s acceptable.

And what of Samuel Pepys 350 years ago? Well, it was a pretty average day, really. He went book-shopping at St Paul’s Cathedral, before lunching with Lady Sandwich in a sort of impromptu celebration brought about by the news that Lord Sandwich wasn’t actually dead, as reported the previous day. Imagine being called Sandwich before sandwiches existed... Like being called Jesus. Or Hoover.

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