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23 September 2015

Insight: Anthea's Garden

Simon Howe's illustration for <em>Anthea's Garden</em> Image: Simon Howe's illustration for Anthea's Garden  
© Simon Howe

Katherine Rawlings writes about her long-term project in this latest instalment of Resonate's series of Insight feature articles. Anthea's Garden began its life as a solo percussion piece, took a new direction after the tragic loss of a friend and fellow artist, and grew into a duo work and an illustrated children's story. The next incarnations of Anthea's Garden will be a concert (31 October- 1 November, La Mama, Carlton, Vic), a printed book, and, hopefully, an animated iBook. For details of the current crowdfunding campaign and samples of music and illustrations, follow this link.

> To browse all Insight articles by the AMC's Represented and Associate artists, see our Scoop page.

Anthea's Garden is a tribute to Anthea McKie (1980 - 2003) a close friend and fellow artist. I had intended to ask her to create illustrations for a composition I was working on, when I learned of her unexpected passing. The themes explored in the music became a reflection of my memory of Anthea herself. Her interests and things that she loved inspired the creation of Anthea's Garden.

Anthea's Garden is the story of a little girl who has a series of dreamlike, magical adventures. She has shrunk to the size of a mouse and explores her garden where she finds a runaway pot plant, her giant cat, fairies dancing, and a parade of insects. Set in a suburban backyard in Melbourne, the story encapsulates the magic of childhood through the power of the imagination and children's instinctive fascination with nature.

Simon Howe's illustration for Anthea's Garden
© Simon Howe, words by Ailsa Wild

The Anthea's Garden project first began over ten years ago (in 2003) when I was commissioned by Carmen Chan to write a solo percussion piece for her Master's recital. The theme for her recital was 'children's games', so the piece needed to appeal to children.

Carmen was my neighbour at the time, and she could hear me composing the piece through the open windows. I remember, with some amusement, her yelling through the windows, 'Is it going to be that fast?', and me yelling back, 'You said you wanted difficult!'. As I was working on this music, I could see that the structure was taking shape as a series of movements that could be tied together into a kind of children's story. The story could primarily be told with music but I liked the idea of using illustrations to help convey what was happening in the music.

One of my best friends from school was an artist who had expressed interest in illustrating children's stories. I was really excited at the prospect of collaborating with her on this project, but when I called her up to ask her if she'd like to work on the project with me, her sister answered the phone. My artist friend Anthea had just passed away in a tragic drowning accident. This was the first and most profound loss I had experienced in my life. From the time I learned of Anthea's death, the piece evolved into a personal tribute.

My memory of Anthea and the things that she loved - cats, fairies, insects, and a sunflower pot plant - gradually etched out the foundations around which the music and story of Anthea's Garden took shape. I found another artist, Kelly Hobbs, to illustrate a few black and white pencil drawings to go with the music, and the work was performed at Carmen's recital as planned on 12 June 2003. Following this performance, perhaps due to its level of difficulty, I was unable to interest other percussionists in performing the piece, and so I shelved the work indefinitely to focus on other projects.

Over ten years later, in 2014, Carmen suggested I arrange Anthea's Garden for two players instead of one, to reduce its level of difficulty and to make it more accessible to performers. As I'd been dealing with having a baby, serious family illness, and moving to and living in Hong Kong, I had not written anything substantial for around two years. I had, to a large degree, replaced my composition work with teaching as a means of securing an income. Teaching music was something I loved immensely and I wasn't sure whether writing music was something I still wanted to do, but Carmen's idea intrigued me, and I was curious to find out what would happen.

Simon Howe's illustration for Anthea's Garden
© Simon Howe, words by Ailsa Wild

I took Anthea's Garden back off the shelf and began to arrange the music for percussion duo. The inclusion of another performer opened up a whole new range of compositional possibilities that had previously been impractical, and I couldn't resist the temptation of significantly rewriting the music. But it didn't end there. This small suggestion to arrange Anthea's Garden marked the beginning of what evolved into a major two-year project to transform this new edition of music into a children's book, with words and illustrations to accompany the music, and if all went well, an iBook.

With this idea in mind, I needed to find an author, illustrator, performers, sound engineer, graphic designer and some kind of funding for the project. As I was living in Hong Kong, much of this needed to be done by email, and finding the right people for the project was a slow and sometimes difficult process. I've found that being successful as an artist often necessitates being multi-talented and versatile, and this is certainly true of the artists I ended up working with on the Anthea's Garden book project.

I had worked with Ailsa Wild back in 2006 when she performed as a circus acrobat for my Sydney-Melbourne concert tour Lucid Dreaming. Apparently circus performing was only one of many of Ailsa's artistic endeavours. Ailsa had since then authored a number of successful children's books - she was perfect for the project. Equally versatile, Simon Howe was not only able to fill the role of illustrator and graphic designer, but also film editor for our crowd funding video. I had seen Collision Theory perform a number of times before and was so excited that they were available to perform for the book's recording and the live performance of the work, but I still wasn't prepared for being completely blown away by how awesome the music sounded on the large and resonant vibraphone, marimba and glockenspiel.

I have collaborated a number of times before on other people's projects and some were definitely more successful collaborations than others. For this book project I felt that the best artistic result would be achieved by relinquishing ownership of the work and sharing it equally with my collaborators, and so I gave Ailsa and Simon my music and story outline and encouraged them to contribute their own ideas, inspiration and artistic style. I wanted to see what could be achieved by putting complete trust in their artistic ability and expertise. This freedom to make the work their own was incredibly exciting as I was always being surprised by their unique creative interpretation and the end product was far more beautiful than I ever imagined it could be.

There have been plenty of things that haven't gone the way I expected or would have liked. I haven't been able to secure funding for the project, despite spending weeks on a number of grant applications. There were a couple of people I approached to fill different roles that didn't end up working out. Sometimes things that didn't work out ended up making room for opportunities that were unexpectedly much more preferable, so I've learned that a setback is not always a bad thing. It helps to be flexible, let go of the reigns and let the work create itself. I've also come to appreciate how much more can be achieved by collaborating with other artists.

One reason for the success of this collaboration has come from combining the different artistic disciplines and their networks. Through Ailsa's networks we were able to secure a venue for a live performance and an illustrator. Through my networks, we were able to secure performers and a recording person, Frank Pearce. Our illustrator Simon also put his hand up for the graphic designer role, and we are now in the final stages of completing the Anthea's Garden illustrated children's book with music.

The music for Anthea's Garden is made up of five movements with a total duration of around twenty minutes. The music is highly thematic and emotive with some use of chromaticism. Each movement can be performed on its own or as a collection, however the level of difficulty for each movement varies substantially. When the music is performed as a collection, movements occur in the following order:

• I Asleep for glockenspiel, vibraphone and marimba
• II Runaway Pot Plant for five-octave marimba
• III The Fairy Dance for glockenspiel and vibraphone
• IV Insects for five-octave marimba (see left)
• V Asleep II for glockenspiel, vibraphone and marimba

There is more information about the music on my website - you can also visit my blog to read more about my artistic process.

In recent years I have seen mentioned multiple times the idea that great work is achieved through the collaboration of many minds. In putting this idea into practice, I have repeatedly been encouraged by the results of my collaborations with other artists. These benefits of collaboration are most certainly evident in Anthea's Garden.


We are currently running a crowdfunding campaign to pay for the work that was done by the project team (composition, illustration, text, performance, recording) to create the finished product, as well as for the printing, production and distribution costs of the book. If we manage to raise enough money from the campaign we will also be creating an animated iBook of Anthea's Garden that will be made available in late 2016.

Anthea's Garden will be performed live by Collision Theory in Carlton Victoria as part of the La Mama for Kids program on 31 October and 1 November this year, with words read by the author and the illustrations projected on screen.

AMC resources

Katherine Rawlings - AMC profile
Anthea's Garden - 31 October - 1 November event details (AMC Calendar)
Anthea's Garden (2014) for percussion duo - work details and sheet music (AMC Online)
Anthea's Garden (2013) for solo percussion - work details and sheet music (AMC Online)

Further links

Katherine Rawlings - homepage (www.katherinerawlings.com/)
Anthea's Garden - crowdfunding campaign (Pozible)

Subjects discussed by this article:


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