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16 August 2011

A lot of breakage, a lot of growth (TSO Composers' School)

Callie Wood Image: Callie Wood  

The Symphony Australia TSO Composers' School is tough - but in a good way. I sometimes think that, in order to learn anything knew, you have to break a part of yourself. Like shedding a protective shell and opening up to constructive criticism. Over one week in Hobart I learned more about composing music than I've learned in the last few years. So there's been a lot of breakage - and a lot of growth.

I was lucky to be accepted into the TSO program. I haven't composed much orchestral music, and I haven't played in an orchestra since primary school. I trained as a singer, and up to this point I've mainly focused on composing choral music. But, like an artist who only works with charcoal, I felt like exploring the world of colour for a change. So I decided to have another go at orchestral writing, and to apply for the TSO Composers' School.

It's an honour to be given such a wonderful opportunity to learn and to improve as a composer. There's a daunting amount of work and money that goes into making an education program like this successful, so the TSO should be highly commended for taking up the challenge year after year. I'd also like to thank all of the expert tutors and players who engaged with me and passed along their hard-earned knowledge and thoughtful advice. It's been an invaluable experience.

The piece I composed for the TSO Composers' School is called Bird Miniatures. Some of the ideas for this piece are old ideas recycled and reborn, and some are brand-new. Scenes and sounds from my life, and scenes from myth and story, inspired this piece, and all of these scenes and stories have some section or motif inspired by or infused with birdsong. I didn't intentionally go out and try to notate birdsong, but music can be in any sound - and the sound that I seem to have focused on while composing this piece was birdsong.

One of the big lessons that I took out of this school was to trust myself. My musical instincts are good and are rooted in a solid technique, and things mostly start to go wrong when I second-guess myself. I also learned about orchestral protocol, and was given the chance to fully experience and synthesise the 'less is more'/'KISS' concept of orchestration. The compliment that kept my head above water during the most difficult moments of the school came from Andy Ford when he said that in his opinion my piece was different and original and he hadn't heard anything quite like it.

I've emerged from the school with a new sense of determination to work hard and improve my craft. The TSO Composers' School is tough - and so am I - in a good way!

Further links

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra - education and training

Callie Wood is in the final stages of a PhD at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, Adelaide. Her music has been broadcast on Radio Adelaide, 5MBS and the ABC. Her song cycle ‘Drift’ features on Eve Vocal Trio’s CD, ‘Muse’. Recent works include 'Bird Miniatures', 'The Long Goodbye' for solo cello, and 'Everyday Extended', a choral work for the 2010 Future Now workshops with Stephen Leek. Callie has worked on multidisciplinary projects including the Helpmann Academy-funded 'Splice', hybrid dance work 'My Unbelievable House', and hybrid media work 'Tram' (SALA Festival of the Moving Image). She was nominated for the National Music Camp NIDA Composition Fellowship in 2005. In 2003 she was a recipient of Australia Council & Helpmann Academy funding for the VoiceLab workshop project tour. In the next few months Callie plans to complete her Bushfire Oratorio, and to compose a solo cello work for John Addison.


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