Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Water everywhere

For a moment, as I exited a tunnel on the train this morning, and found myself staring and blinking at a village nestling in a lime green valley, I had no idea where I was heading. A sure sign that I'm travelling too much at the moment. It turns out I was going to York, and within a few miles, it was obvious I was up north because of the dreadful floods by the sides of the railway tracks. This place has taken a proper hammering. York itself was even flooded; not terribly... but enough to know that something is wrong with the weather.

About 125 of us danced and sang and skipped through the streets of York tonight. The sun was low in the sky and lighting the tops of sandstone buildings. Hot air balloons drifted low above the city. We were rehearsing the Ebor Vox with possibly only about one sixth of the full of amount of singers who will converge on the streets of York in 2 weeks’ time. It’s going to be an astonishing spectacle – young men were even cheering in the streets today - and I'm so touched at the work that many of the choirs have put in to learning the music I’ve written. One particular group, who shall remain nameless, impressed me hugely. They stood to my right when we reached the York Eye and have the most infectious love for singing, which is an absolute joy to behold. I was really proud of so many of the people who joined us this evening; the woman who walked along with her hand in the air keeping count of the number of bars we’d sung, the wonderful characters from the male voice choir who camply serenaded the ladies from the steps of Clifford’s Tower, the young drummers who kept time for 2 hours without complaining. It’s going to be a wonderful occasion; join us on July 9th at about 6pm outside York Minster.

My hotel room up here is less joyous. The bathroom smells of mouldy flannels, and there’s blood spattered on the wall! The hotel Ibis charges £5 for 24 hours’ Internet, and £3.75, I discovered, for a cup of tea and a Mars bar, to a customer who is waiting for his room to be made up. I don’t really mind. The bed’s comfortable enough, and there’s tea and coffee making facilities... and a telly. I’m lucky enough to be next door to the ironing room, so, you know, small mercies and all that...

I'm struggling with the admin for my recording of the Requiem. At the moment I’m simply trying to create a contract for some of the performers and backers, which offers them a cut of the profits, should we make our money back. I sent it to the MU for their opinion and the solicitor tore it apart saying I’d need a proper solicitor and a lot of time to work something out. The advice from the MU is that I should pay the singers more up front, and not offer them a cut of the profits. Problem is, there is no more money up front, and I want people, my friends, to make money if the sales are good. The problem is, when you start paying musicians, the MU suddenly regards you as a contractor. I’m suddenly a record company in their eyes, not a composer, and therefore, their standpoint shifts towards supporting players rather than me. I fully understand why it's happening, but the unfortunate fact is that the big record companies, with their ridiculously complicated contracts and in-house lawyers, are not funding new classical music any more. More and more composers are having to self-fund and self-release albums without any understanding of the legalities involved, and in my view, the MU needs to step up and help composer entrepreneurs, because without us, very little interesting music will be released, and the classical recording world will collapse under the weight of Catherine Jenkins and Rolando Viazon singing the hits from Carmen.

It’s difficult to know what the next step should be. Nathan bore the brunt of my stress in the middle of the night last night when I started thrashing around and screaming in my sleep. I was dreaming about a rocket attack, and trying to push Nathan out of the way of an explosion. I subsequently woke up this morning with an aching jaw. I’d plainly ground my teeth throughout the night. It’s frightening. On Thursday I’m paying 20 string players to perform my music. What if I’m completely off the mark? What if they all start playing in the wrong clef? What if everyone sits there thinking I’m a complete nutter like Florence Foster Jenkins? Of course there’s the other part of me which goes “bring the session on, and watch those musicians weep at the sheer beauty of what you’ve written...” These are seriously the thoughts that bombard a composer when he lies in bed at night. Music is so bloody subjective!

350 years ago, and Pepys was constipated. There we go. Now don’t read on if you have a fragile constitution because Pepys went to lunch with Commissioner Pett and was horrified to find his fish coming to the table covered in “very many little worms creeping,” which he put down to the staleness of the pickle. Absolutely gipping in my view.
He spent the evening playing the violin. Pepys was genuinely meant to have been a pretty useful bass viol player, but the violin is a very different technique, which involves a contortion which can only be coaxed into supple, young bones or the player sounds like he’s sawing wood.  My friend Sharon learned the hard way that it's impossible for an adult to take up the violin. She did a recital of Blow the Wind Southerly at a party I was at. The E string slowly unwound, seemingly without her noticing. 2 people wet themselves, someone laughed so much they farted and then followed through, and I couldn't look at her for the rest of the evening. 

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