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10 August 2011

Thomas Mann and the temporal preoccupation (First Stones)

Pedro Oliveira Woolmer Image: Pedro Oliveira Woolmer  

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. Pedro Oliveira Woolmer writes about her 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.)

From the moment I knew that I was selected to take part in the First Stones project, I celebrated in the knowledge that I could write an ensemble piece that would realise my recent compositional ideas without having to worry about the performers' technical capabilities. I found a text by Thomas Mann that picked up on themes that I found relevant to the temporal preoccupation I have in my music, and I began to form musical ideas with the voices of Alison and Jenny in mind.

The seminars back in May gave me plenty to consider in terms of how to write music with text, particularly the ways text can be manipulated to better emphasise its meaning. With ideas and new music swimming around in my mind, I set off to write a draft for the workshops.

With the standard and experience of the performers in mind, little was held back in the first draft. I had attempted to explore the exasperation and confusion conveyed from the text with a 'spiky' vocal line (as Alison put it) while also developing unusual tempo relationships between different layers of the ensemble.

Elliott Gyger's advice was invaluable in taking my intentions and finding the simplest realisations for them. This helped to reduce any unnecessary stress on the performers in a conductor-less chamber music setting, allowing our focus to be directed on the all-important details of the piece.

For the second workshop, we all had the opportunity to revise the first draft with the suggestions we had received from the performers and Elliott. The results were eye-opening.

This experience really emphasised the fact that, as composers, we learn so much more from the performance of our works than at our desks - especially when it comes to crafting the physical sound. It became increasingly obvious, as we went through the pieces, that the complex of considerations one must take into account, when writing for voice, is huge. The endless possible variations to tone, projection, phonetics, the question of comprehensibility and the conveying of meaning, the consideration of tessitura and the way the voice compares with the registers of other instruments, are just a few of the factors needing consideration. Although complex, these became exciting possibilities under the guidance of Halcyon and Elliott. Perhaps, then, the most valuable part of this experience is the new enthusiasm for writing for voice that will remain with me long after the project's conclusion.

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)

Pedro Oliveira Woolmer graduated from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 2009 with a Bachelor of Music in composition, completed with first class honours. His works have been performed by the Kammerklang ensemble and Alison Morgan, as well as in various competitions and recitals.


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