Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Blossoms and drills

Today's been quite extraordinary: Endless. Productive. Adrenaline-fuelled. Exhausting.

We've sunk our teeth very firmly into Brass during the past twelve hours. We tormented the lads in our company big time. First they had to endure an hour of Swedish Drill with Matt (who shouted at them, and made them run around barefoot outside), and then they were forced to do an hour with an army Sergeant Major who taught them all how to march, salute and do military manoeuvres. There was a rather beautiful moment when I looked out of a rehearsal room window and saw them all standing in a line underneath a tree which was liberally shedding large clumps of blossom which fluttered through the air like hundreds of white butterflies. Butterflies are a key feature in Brass. One of the characters has a tendency to see white butterflies whenever someone dies almost as though he's seeing the souls of the dead, so the image of the men practising their drills in a sea of blossom took on a great poignance.

We started learning songs today as well; specifically two of the big numbers, which are starting to sound tremendous in glorious three-part harmony. Everything must be sung in broad Yorkshire accents, and it's becoming quite a fun game to finesse these unique vowel sounds.

We also made a start on choreography. Matt and I devised a process which involved him choreographing a routine to the lone accompaniment of a timpani drum, which played the rhythms he felt best expressed the mood of the dance he wanted to create. When this week is over, I will revisit the drum chart and use it as the basis for a fully-orchestrated composition. It's a really interesting and incredibly organic way of choreographing a dance number. Composers don't often think hard enough about the music they write for dance sequences. This will force me to!

As usual, I was last to bed. I've been sitting up writing up the big central ballad in the show, which, unsurprisingly, is called Brass. I've actually been writing the song for weeks. It's the longest period during which I've ever held a song in gestation apart from some of the passages from my requiem. I guess the wedding is mostly responsible for its slow progress, but it was also not a song which "wrote itself" like the majority of my other compositions. I've been known to complete the structure of a song in minutes, but this one was a little like chiseling away at some kind of ice sculpture... Here a nip, there a tuck... Sleep on it. Put it away in a drawer for a bit. And so it went on. I kept throwing it away, but retuning to it. Anyway, committing it to manuscript, even in a first draft form, is my way of taking control of a song, which has hitherto been entirely in charge of me!

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