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23 February 2009

The MODART diaries, part IV

Rae Howell Image: Rae Howell  

Rae Howell continues our series of Modart diaries. The fourth edition of the Modart composer development initiative by AMC and The Song Company was set in motion in Sydney at the beginning of February. Rae Howell's piece Goodness Gracious! is based on an Australian children's book, with text by Phil Cummings.

The first stage of MODART 09 was quite inspirational for me. Having primarily written instrumental music for the Sunwrae Ensemble over the past few years, it gave me an insight into writing works specifically for solo voices and how to go about developing my work whilst staying true to my particular style of writing. The feedback I gained from the initial hearing of my piece was very informative from a compositional viewpoint, learning that my lines are typical of string writing and often not practical for voices! Following some enlightening suggestions by Roland about vocal writing and ranges (learning the importance of voicing, register & timing), we spent some time switching vocal lines, octaves and keys, which seemed much more comfortable for the vocalists to sing. They are truly superb – it was great to immediately hear what can work (rhythmical/melodic motives), what can't (vocal ranges, dynamics in certain ranges etc) and where I can go from here to develop my initial ideas.

During the following session, The Song Company vocalists improvised some motives from the music I had written, in combination with the succeeding text. This proved very helpful for me, as they are incredibly flexible with style, open to improvisations and – I quote – 'there's no end to the silliness' they can achieve in any performance! This also solidified the importance of text in vocal writing. Whilst relatively new to me, seeking the right text was very challenging, however the improvisation inspired me to embrace the text I chose and let it steer the work naturally forward.

In retrospect, my composition turned out quite different to the other composers' works, by focusing mainly on repetitive rhythmic and melodic motives, keeping it playful and fun. The constant movement and rhythm of the work will make excellent use of the various solo voices, which I learned is particularly important (and much more interesting!) in smaller vocal group works. It was also fascinating to hear and observe the varied compositions by the other composers, gaining further tips from Roland & TSC on vocal writing, voicing and timing etc.

In conclusion, I have come away from this initial MODART workshop feeling very invigorated about Goodness Gracious! From working alongside Roland & The Song Company and other very talented composers, I learned that whilst it will be very challenging for me to work with text and utilise solo voices in an effective way, I will enjoy the process more if I maintain my compositional style, developing the work in a natural way. It's a work in progress...

Further links

Melbourne concert details (18 July) - AMC calendar
Sydney concert details (19 July) - AMC calendar
Modart 2009 (www.amcoz.com.au/projects/modart/modart2009.htm)
The Song Company (http://www.songcompany.com.au/)
The Modart Diaries, part I - Lachlan Skipworth (www.resonatemagazine.com.au/article/the-modart-diaries-part-i.html)
The Modart Diaries, part II - Amy Bastow (www.resonatemagazine.com.au/article/the-modart-diaries-part-i.html)
The Modart Diaries, part III - Melody Eötvös (www.resonatemagazine.com.au/article/the-modart-diaries-part-iii.html)
Article on the Sounz website by the NZ participant Alex Hay (http://sounz.org.nz/news_articles/show/162)
Rae Howell - homepage of Howell and the Sunwrae ensemble (www.sunwrae.com)

Rae Howell (also known as Sunwrae) is an Australian freelance composer and performer on piano and vibraphone. She is Artistic Director of the innovative chamber music group Sunwrae Ensemble. Rae Howell works with Australian Puppet Theatre Company Peepshow Inc, Dance Ensemble State of Flux and numerous film & mixed media ventures.


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