Monday, 28 October 2013


We’ve just spent a hugely gruelling day at Sonica Studios in Clapham, recording four movements of the Pepys Motet with the basses from the Rebel Chorus. Sometimes I think that the Pepys Motet was sent from hell to punish me. I have never known a project smack me so regularly in the chops! It nearly sent me mad in 2010 when it was first performed, and every subsequent incarnation has been fraught with complications and general hideousness!

Today’s hideousness started with the aftermath of the storm. Before leaving the house, I’d checked the internet and seen pictures of market stalls in South East London, twisted and mangled by high winds. As a result, I was expecting the Archway Road to be a post apocalyptic scene of smashed roof tiles and broken windows, but was quite disappointed to merely find a single upturned plastic dustbin and a few twigs and leaves scattered on the pavements. Certainly in Highgate there was nothing to justify the travel mayhem, but trains were cancelled, choir members got stranded on buses and it was subsequently more than an hour before we started recording music. I guess it could have been a great deal worse, but, frankly, any delay was always going to cause problems. The music is not easy by anyone’s standards, and is liberally sprinkled with the sorts of sequences which people think will “come out in the wash” in the studio; one noticeable section of movement one, henceforth known as the “6:8-9:8 zone” is a prime example of one of those bits which singers think is too complicated to rehearse! It’s a perverse logic, but if you’re no good at counting, sometimes the only thing you can hope for is that things will all sort of make more sense with everyone else there!  

Time ticked away. By the time we were meant to finish, we’d only done three of the four movements and so we epically overran, with one of the singers needing to go, which meant we had to rush him through his lines so that we at least had his voice on the recording. Honestly, it was horrible. The feeling of time rushing through your fingers, the dreadful realisation that you’re losing at least a hundred pounds which you’ll need to pay to the studio in over-time, the embarrassment of knowing you’re trying people’s patience; singers, studio engineers...

Afterwards the studio owner said, “catastrophic overrun, Mr Till, I’m surprised the singers didn’t mutiny” and the engineer shook his head and said “too many notes.” Frankly, I just want to crawl under a stone and hide. In fact, as the session came to a close, all I wanted to do was run away. I felt ridiculous, and ashamed. Running decent, professional sessions, is part and parcel of being a good composer, and I’m renowned for running chaotic ones!

So, I need to do some serious thinking. Do we put the project on hold? Do we (yet again) only record five out of six movements? We certainly need a contingency plan because I can’t assume that all the singers will come into the studio as well prepared as they’ll need to be in order to go at the pace we need to travel at.

It’s a horrible situation and I’m too tired to think about it right now. I actually need a day off... Cue tomorrow. I’m going to Lewes. I’m sure everything will seem very different when I’ve had a bit of time with the godchildren.

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