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24 August 2011

It's not personal, and it's all about the music (TSO Composers School)

Scott McIntyre Image: Scott McIntyre  

One of the best things about writing an orchestral piece is the chance to have the piece performed by a real orchestra. For many of us this is not always possible, and potential pieces sit in a drawer or on a hard drive, having never been realised. This also makes it difficult for composers to practice writing for the orchestra, as rehearsal and feedback are critical in developing one's craft.

Luckily we have programs like the Symphony Australia TSO Composers' School to help us on our way. As well as the opportunity to have a full orchestral piece workshopped, performed and recorded over the space of a week, we had the mentorship of some of Australia's foremost professional composers. Andrew Ford and Paul Stanhope were invaluable in their feedback and suggestions for the work.

The week started off with a fairly heavy schedule. After the introductions came many lectures on writing for the orchestra, writing for the voice and the combination of writing for both. Everyone involved (Tim Shawcross, Mel Wright, Callie Wood and myself) had the opportunity to write an orchestral work and an arrangement. We each had one project with voice, and it was challenging for all to massage the sounds comfortably into place.

Despite our varying amounts of experience, I don't think any of us did not take away invaluable knowledge on instrumental and vocal writing. Richard Mills certainly knows his stuff; his speech at the beginning of the week encouraged us to keep an 'open mind' when it comes to comments and criticism, as these were ultimately designed to help us in our craft. While Richard speaks his mind openly and candidly, it's not personal, and it's all about the music. Presenting one's own ideas musically to the world can be a hard thing to do, as composition is a personal utterance and we can often be overly sensitive to the pinpricks of others' thoughts.

We had three rehearsals in total during the week, and a presentation of the works to a small audience on the Friday evening. So, despite some rewrites, omissions and general crossing out of sections of the score, the works became better for the experience - as did we ourselves. Thanks to the New Zealand conductor/composer, Ken Young, and the feedback from the members of the orchestra!

The week left me 'fired up' and wanting to apply what I had learnt. I am currently working on a large-scale vocal work and an orchestral work for my PhD at the University of Tasmania. The knowledge gained from the week will go a long way to improving and developing these works.

Further links

'A lot of breakage, a lot of growth' - a blog article by Callie Wood on Resonate (16 August 2011)
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra - education and training

Scott McIntyre is currently pursuing his PhD in composition at the Conservatorium of Music at the University of Tasmania, with the assistance of an Elite Scholarship.


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