Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Never give up

September 4th always means we're going back to school. I am almost convinced that I started secondary school on September the 4th. It was the day I met my bestest school friend, Tammy, whose birthday it also is today. Imagine starting school on your birthday? I remember, on that first day, she was sent by the teacher to do an errand at the school office and said "if I'm not back in an hour, send out a search party" and I thought, "there's a sparky girl I could get along with." We were pretty much inseparable for seven years. Tammy, if you're reading this, happy birthday, chunkus!

Of course, having a September birthday has its benefits: You're the first in the year to learn to drive and you've had eleven months more to mature than people like me who are born in August. And, you get to vote in the 1992 general election. Still bitter? Too bloody right!

It's been another utterly brutalising day. I worked at the kitchen table for twelve hours straight, formatting scores for the Nene piece and then, horror of horrors, trying to create a piano reduction so that the choirs have something to rehearse to. The work is of epic proportions. It's scored for 600 musicians. Imagine trying to condense all that into one piano part?!

My computer software has a little button you can press for an automatic piano reduction, which I thought it might be worth trying. Alarm bells ought to have started ringing when the process took half an hour! I'm not lying when I say that every note in the composition was there, across two staves... every last demisemiquaver... including representations of snare drums and whips! It was the most bewildering and bizarre score I've ever seen - and I've performed Eight Songs for a Mad King! Five virtuoso pianists wouldn't be able to play it, there's so many notes. It would be like listening to a row of a pianolas on crack!

So, I've had to go old school and am writing it note-by-note which is like pulling teeth. By the end of the evening I'd managed half. In first draft. And I was so convinced this morning that there was light at the end of the tunnel. But then again, a composer without patience is a useless entity. A piece of music starts with a glorious pin prick of inspiration which can often lead to a veritable vomiting of pen on manuscript. An entire song, theme or leitmotif can be scribbled down in broad strokes on paper in seconds. Then the orchestration process begins and everything slows to a standstill. Notes are inputted at a ludicrously slow pace. Every note in every chord needs to be drawn in. Looking at the empty stave is deeply intimidating, but all you can do is sigh and make a start. One note at a time. Just as my epic walk along the Nene was one step at a time. People give up smoking one day at a time and deal with grief one week at a time. One day you'll look back and be astonished at the distance you've travelled. If you spend too long obsessing about how far you still have to go, you'll freak out and give up.

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