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16 December 2019

Cranbrook Centenary Composition Project: the Sound of a School

Luke Gilmour Image: Luke Gilmour  

Luke Gilmour writes about the Cranbrook Centenary commissioning project that first culminated in performances in 2018 but that continues to bear fruit - a new education resource about one of the 10 commissioned works, Katia Beaugeais's Latitude 33° South has just been made available by the school - to obtain the pdf kit, please contact the school via email music@cranbrook.nsw.edu.au.

I have often thought that music has the power and privilege to both reflect the values of a community, a mirror if you will, and the opportunity to speak into the cultural fabric and set a course that propels the community forward. For these sorts of reasons, for Cranbrook School's 100th year, the School embarked on a significant commissioning project of new musical works to celebrate its Centenary.

Our goal was to commission some of Australia's leading and emerging composers to capture the voice and sound of our school. In addition, we had a desire for this project to be available to the broader music education community. With this in mind, 10 works were commissioned from these composers: Matthew Hindson, Gerard Brophy, Brian Hogg, Paul Jarman, Ella Macens, Katia Beaugeais, Brian Hogg, Adrian Kingwell, Alex Pozniak and Luke Byrne.

Premiere of Luke Byrne's The Front at the Sydney Town Hall.

The engagement of these composers gave Cranbrookians the ability to work with and achieve the vision of a living composer - a rare opportunity for students. The composers were asked to challenge our budding musicians, and compose with aspiration and professional precision and excellence, at a professional level the boys could aspire to, creating pieces which would in addition make a significant contribution to young musicians and ensembles working outside of Cranbrook and across the world.

We also had a desire for the commissioning and performance process to reflect three themes that our Headmaster regularly touches on and that underpin our music program - community, conversations and curiosity. The process of preparing for the premiere of the pieces at the iconic Sydney Town Hall and City Recital Hall provided us a chance to bring to life true conversations across the generations - both spoken and unspoken - between parents, staff, Old Cranbrookians and our Junior School and Senior School boys.

The 10 compositions were as follows:

Atomic Tangerine for string orchestra by Matthew Hindson
The Front for symphony orchestra and massed choir by Luke Byrne
• Memories on the Shoreline for SATB Choir, piano and violin by Ella Macens
Soloing Free for SSA Junior Choir by Paul Jarman
The Happy Warrior SSA Choir for Junior School Massed Choir by Paul Jarman
EQV for String Quartet by Alex Pozniak
organ for Jazz Ensemble and Electronics by Adrian Kingwell
To Be for Concert Band by Brian Hogg
Psalm for Piano Quintet, Percussion and SATB Choir by Gerard Brophy
Latitude 33° South for clarinet and piano by Katia Beaugeais

Upon reflection and with a bit of 'daylight' now between the last echoes of our Centenary Concert in 2018, it is easy to see how, in a school, it's possible to quickly move on to the next project, performance and event. However, ripples of this project continue to move through our community. Recently, a recording of Katia Beaugeais' Latitude 33° South was recorded by the ABC, and a fantastic HSC Music 2 education resource has been co-written by the composer and our Senior School Head of Music, Phillip Beverley, to accompany this recording. In addition, our composition teacher Alex Pozniak has released an education resource to accompany Hindson's Atomic Tangerine. (These education resources are available by contacting us: music@cranbrook.nsw.edu.au )

Our boys and community are now emboldened to embrace and be curious about the new, and there is a momentum that has been generated by asking, and answering, the 'what if' questions. What if we were to commission and premiere 10 new works? What would that look like? Are we good enough to do this? Where do we need to improve in order to perform these? In answering these questions, we unlocked, and continue to identify and navigate, numerous pathways both for our students and staff for future growth as musicians and teachers. In some ways, the Centenary Project was a trojan horse vehicle to enable a lot of other aspects of music-making and culture-building to occur.

Were there challenges? Of course! For anyone considering embarking on a commissioning process, it is important to adequately plan and above all allow enough time both for the commissioning and the rehearsal. Constant communication with the composers is also critical in achieving a work that truly represents the sound of your school or organisation. My sincere gratitude is extended to all of our commissioned composers for contributing to the artistic fabric of Cranbrook School in its Centenary, forming a tangible part of our future legacy.

The full album of commissioned works is available for listening on Soundcloud. Vignette videos about the premiered works are available on Vimeo: Organ by Adrian Kingwell; To Be by Brian Hogg; EQV by Alex Pozniak; Soloing Free by Paul Jarman; Atomic Tangerine by Matthew Hindson and The Front by Luke Byrne. A live performance of The Front can be watched here.

> Cranbrook School website

Subjects discussed by this article:

Dr Luke Gilmour is Director of Co-Curricular at Cranbrook School.


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