Saturday, 9 June 2012

Swings and roundabouts


I woke up this morning unable to find any clothes to wear. I knew I was going to be spending long periods of time in a damp cemetery, and realised I don’t have a single pair of shoes without holes in them. I auditioned shoe after shoe from the wardrobe, and each one had some kind of rip or major flaw. I thought for a moment about wearing an odd pair, simply to stay dry. I wear odd socks every day, so why shouldn’t I wear odd shoes?

...I didn’t. I found a black pair, which were only a bit scuffed and had a worn-down heel one side which made me walk like I was in a pair of callipers. They were dry.

We reached Abney Park cemetery, however, to find that the high winds had caused the place to be closed down by the council and apparently when the council make a decision to close the cemetery it takes 24 hours to open it up again. Filming was promptly cancelled.

Fortunately, the lovely John, who runs the park, allowed us in to do a recce of the place, which involved a veritable smorgasbord of experts from soundmen, to cameramen, to odd-job men, milling around the ruined chapel in the centre of the cemetery, pointing, measuring, pretending to be chairs and drawing crude diagrams on the backs of envelopes. It was nice to be surrounded by a group of people who had such strong views on the way things should be done; it means they care, and want the project to work.

The sun came out, briefly, but the high winds continued, and John told us to listen out for the sound of creaking, which in those parts is often followed by the mayhem of a falling tree. Apparently they’ve lost two poplars in the park this year already.

Whilst walking between the graves, I was simultaneously hearing from a variety of tenors who were interested in replacing our Australian departee. Soundman John and I kept disappearing behind trees to listen to renditions of everything from Mozart arias to The Prayer from Les Mis.

I went from Abney Park into town. One of the tenors had invited me to the sitz probe of his latest opera production. I scooped up Ellie en route, who was meant to be filming with us, and we listened to some really very fine music. I forget what a thrill it is to listen to a good quality chamber orchestra doing their thing. The soprano had a very fine voice indeed, as did our tenor. I immediately handed him the score and said I’d see him at the first rehearsal on Sunday. I got on the tube feeling greatly relieved.

On the way home, Barbara Windsor phoned. It was so surreal to hear her voice! She’s performing on the Requiem recording, and was booking herself in for a little rehearsal. I can’t tell you how honoured and excited I feel to have her on board. The day, at this stage was getting better and better. I went to the local shop and bought a lovely loaf of bread to have for my tea...

Home, and I opened my emails to discover the horrifying news that we’d been turned down once again for Arts Council funding. After taking a full week to do eight re-writes of the application, with the very kind assistance of members of Arts Council staff, we were still turned down. Worse than this, instead of hearing via official letter, I received an email from one of the staff members which basically just said; “gosh you must be gutted not to have been successful...” It hit me very hard, and I cried like a baby for about 30 minutes solid.



It was also rather a long time before I could get in touch with anyone to talk things through. Nathan’s phone was out of battery. Penny wasn’t answering and all the Arts Council folk had left work for the weekend. An hour or so later, I’d managed to talk to Fiona and Penny, who were both reassuring. Obviously, we’re going to see what we can do to move a few pots of money around, but it’s looking like the money I would have been paid to deliver material for The Space, will now have to be diverted into the recording of the Requiem (which forms the basis of the material we feature on The Space), so I’m effectively working for three months with no pay! Put another way, the composer of a work, which is being funded by the Arts Council, is self-funding the musicians who are playing it. Put like that it sounds about as dreadful as it is...

Thing is, this is not the Arts Council’s fault, or indeed their responsibility. It’s a vast organisation, and it’s sometimes difficult to join up all the dots. They’ve had their budgets slashed. It was never a done deal that we’d receive funding. They’ve always been so profoundly generous to me in the past, and their members of staff have always been helpful at all times. It’s really our own fault, for thinking it would be easy to fund live musicians, and because of this, the buck needs to stop with the man who stands to gain the most from having his work featured on The Space. And that’ll be me. Besides, how much would most people pay to have a group of wonderful musicians interpret their magnum opus? In this world you have to invest to see returns.

I feel a lot better about things tonight, following a rehearsal with the Fleet Singers, who I just adore. They’ve still got a big mountain to climb before next Saturday’s performance, and really only they can climb it as individuals, but they’re such a wonderful bunch. It’s so inspiring to look out at a group of people singing your music with big smiles on their faces. I hope they’re gaining as much from the experience as I am.

And, as a parting comment, I should point out that Arts Council England is very generously sponsoring their performance... Life is about swings and roundabouts... 

350 years ago, Pepys and his clerk, Hater, spent the day indexing (or "making an alphabet" as Pepys called it) of all his contracts. Pepys became quite well-known for his obsessive lists, and this was no exception. In the afternoon, he went drinking with Ralph Greatorex, the great mathematician and instrument maker of the day, who suggested someone to help Pepys learn how to measure timber. Quite why he wanted to measure timber is anyone's guess.

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