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24 August 2011

A mini-crisis (First Stones)

Lachlan Hughes Image: Lachlan Hughes  

In July, Halcyon and Elliott Gyger brought together a group of young composers, along with the drafts of new vocal works, for an intensive four days of rehearsal and discussion. Here, Lachlan Hughes writes about his involvement - for more First Stones blog articles, please see the Resonate blog. The First Stones workshops are organised with the AMC as a supporting partner. (See also: First Stones concert 19 November.)

Writing for Halcyon as part of the 2011 'First Stones Project' has made me think more actively about a problem that has nagged at me for many years: the role of the voice in contemporary music. Vocal music has been the most resistant of the musical genres to openly accept and relish the innovations of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Complicated pitch syntaxes demanded a higher level of musicianship from vocalists, and those without the necessary technical faculties were left to the repertoires of earlier centuries.

Contemporary vocal music became increasingly specialised, with only a limited group of performers willing to take up the inherent challenges. What I truly admire about Halcyon is their refusal to back away from this challenge. The answer lies not in ignoring 'difficult' contemporary vocal music, but rather in training and educating new generations of singers and composers, ensuring a bright legacy of musical excellence.

In writing music, I find that allowing performers to put something of themselves in a performance immediately raises their level of connection to the music, and this very much comes across to the audience.

I find it interesting to explore different levels of specificity in scores, with economy of ideas being one of my main compositional mantras. Applying this attitude to my 'First Stones' piece resulted in something of a mini-crisis. I found myself looking at text setting anew, searching for different ways to truthfully convey the spirit of my text in a way that remained true to my aesthetic predilections.

In many ways I believe that the most interesting aspect of the 'First Stones' workshops was witnessing the varied ways with which other composers of my generation dealt with this very issue. The approaches were varied, and should make for a great concert on the 19th of November.

Being a part of this process has been truly humbling, and the great wealth of experience I have gained through the workshops and seminars will remain with me for the rest of my compositional life.

Further links

'First Stones - compositions taking shape' (blog article on Resonate by Alison Morgan)
Halcyon - First Stones 2011 (http://www.halcyon.org.au/page/first_stones_2011.html)

Lachlan Hughes is currently studying composition at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music with Damien Ricketson. As a vocalist, he regularly performs with the Sydney Chamber  Choir and the Choir of St James Church.


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