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12 June 2009

The MODART diaries, part VII

Anthony Dunstan Image: Anthony Dunstan  

'I often want to say too much, and yet these words were so simple...' writes Anthony Dunstan in this MODART diary entry. The fourth edition of the MODART composer development initiative by AMC and The Song Company was set to motion in Sydney at the beginning of February. The works will be performed in two concerts in Melbourne and Sydney in July.

I didn’t expect to look with such brutal honesty at the inner-workings of my work (though to me it seems ‘my work’ is still a frenzied collection of musical etchings), but at the first MODART09 workshop, that’s exactly what happened.

I had a text I had written myself with music that seemed a little too vocally generic, and it soon became clear it wasn’t right. Though there were a number of helpful suggestions, it was essentially a small, unassuming piece of poetry that revealed itself to be the one. With no title, I was drawn into this intimate world of fragility, vulnerability, and yet an honest courage beneath the frail images. As a composer, these are all feelings I have had frequently when writing, and it was refreshing to find someone of a different art form feel similarly. Fiona Wright (the poet) had written this piece sometime ago, so when I contacted her, I had to explain the piece before she knew what I was talking about. She graciously allowed me to set her work in whatever way I wanted. She did add a little inspiration when she said she was excited this piece would find a new life again.

From there, the process has been slow. I often want to say too much, and yet these words were so simple, so elegant, I simply had to keep this thread going. Words have always been very important to me. (I was almost going to do a creative writing degree instead of composition). Not just to hear the words and understand them, but to allow the text and music to be married in a unified manifestation. Even if the words can’t be heard, the music must capture something of the poem, the essence of its voice and character. This has been quite a difficult thing to accomplish (even attempt). The workshopping of our works has been essential, but what has shaped me dramatically in just this last year has been the relationship built between composer, performer, words, and music.

Each performer and each composer brings something of himself or herself to a work. It is this humble, co-operative relationship between composer and performer that to me has been the most rewarding. That’s not to say ‘too many cooks can spoil the broth’ - in fact, the composer’s initial expression interpreted and realised by the performer means there is a connection between composer, performer, and music that can’t be found anywhere else.

I found in this safe, open environment that the performers not only wanted to present my score as genuinely as possible, or even to make sure I, as the composer, knew what it was I wanted, but in fact put themselves in the music they were singing, bringing a depth of musical expression you rarely find. For a young composer, to see performers searching and sifting through the music, pulling apart every delicate line, makes you want to write better. That sounds odd, but when it comes down to it, you want to grow, and allow your music to grow too. Because of this, it has been an experience I will never forget.

Further links

Melbourne concert details (18 July) - AMC calendar
Sydney concert details (19 July) - AMC calendar
The Modart Diaries, part I - Lachlan Skipworth
The Modart Diaries, part II - Amy Bastow
The Modart Diaries, part III - Melody Eötvös
The Modart Diaries, part IV - Rae Howell
The Modart Diaries, part V - Mark Oliveiro
The Modart Diaries, part VI - Alexandra Hay
The Song Company (www.songcompany.com.au/)


Anthony Dunstan has studied with Nigel Butterley and Mary Finsterer and is completing a Masters of Music under a University Postgraduate Award. During his undergraduate studies, Anthony developed skills in music analysis, orchestration, electroacoustic and audiovisual composition, conducting and vocal composition. In 2008, he travelled to Amsterdam, London and New York on the ‘Dame Joan Irvine Scholarship’, meeting a number of prominent composers and young performers from the Conservatorium of Music Amsterdam, The Royal Conservatoire Den Haag, Manhattan School of Music and Julliard. He was also invited to attend Gaudeamus Week 2007 in Amsterdam. He is currently writing a Chamber Opera set in the suburbs of Mt Druitt.


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