Adventures in NOVA-land, Part Three

Sandy France is the composer of Playing With Fire, also receiving a workshop this week.  We know each other a little from Canberra, where we both teach and rail against the wilful ignorance of youth.

We immediately extended a mutual open invitation, to attend rehearsals, give feedback etc.  We’ve been hovering a bit around the other composers when we see them (OK, just me doing the hovering), hoping they’ll invite us along too, but perhaps they’re equally nervous and self-deprecating.

The music calls are happening in an intimate room with an upright piano, and in the main hall, which looks like this:

  

With these essential operatic supplies laid out:

 

Much of Sandy’s session, like mine yesterday, was concerned with learning, and re-learning new material.  Sometimes, for example, singers know their parts in a duet individually, but once they have to sing with each other, they feel as if they never learned it at all.  This frustrates them, because note-bashing is dull, and they don’t want to be doing it at the expense of higher musical values, like actually running the thing.  It frustrates composers too, because note-bashing is dull, and they want to know if the piece works as a whole.  

Composers should either grow a thick skin or stay away from note-bashing sessions.  You need a thick skin, because …

What the Singer Says Is

“It’s hard because of the length of the phrase.”

And What the Singer Means Is

“It’s hard because of the length of the phrase.”

But What the Composer Hears Is

“You can’t write for voices.  You have no idea.  Go home.”

Afterwards, Sandy and I went for Tom Kha nearby, discussed the above matters, our sneaking fondness for tunes and basic triads, and my fanboy love of the Flower Duet from Lakmé.

Highlight From Day Two

Opera singers, it turns out, are as human as the rest of us.  I say this because I thought they could sing anything.  You know, with all those scary bang-on-a-can, throw-the-plates-at-the-audience, sing-into-a-dead-goose, modern operas floating around, that today’s singers had seen and done everything, and nothing could faze them any more.

Then, in my afternoon session, we spent half an hour note-bashing a couple of bars of waltz time I wrote back in 2009.  It is pretty tricky, that part, and although the three female voices all land on the same A by the end, it’s a little hairy until they get there.

I have a pretty thick skin, as per my own recommendation, but this is what my head does to me when singers find something difficult.  The singers, by the way, are saying things like “It’s hard because of the length of the phrase.” 

Stage OneWell, that’s not what I wrote yet.  I’ll wait until it’s what I wrote.

Stage TwoThat’s closer.  Maybe what I wrote isn’t good …

Stage ThreeWow, this is really hard.  Why did I write it to be so hard?  What was I thinking?  I must have had a reason; I don’t write hard just for the sake of it, do I? 

Stage FourMaybe they could all sing the same part?  Would that be worse?

Stage FiveOK, in five minutes I’m gonna suggest we cut it.

Stage SixWait, that was nearly it!  Now I remember: it’s to contrast with the next part!  The next part is a great relief after all this tension – that’s what I was thinking!

Stage Seven Yeah, that’s it!  There’s that A!  Hell, yeah!  And you all sound great!  And I AM A GOD.  On your knees, all of you.

What Pride Goeth Before

Tomorrow’s call makes me nervous.  Tomorrow’s call is the first orchestra call, and I think I know my way around a voice and a piano, and I can handle a big band just fine, and I can orchestrate for a Broadway-style pit orchestra without too much stress.  But this is a little chamber ensemble, seven instruments, and I just know I will have made some very, very amateurish mistakes.  I just know that the French Horn player will politely call me over, point to a bar, and say, “See this note?  You can’t really play this note at that dynamic.  It’s not the right register for the instrument.  You can’t write for horns.  You have no idea.  Go home.”

I may not get beyond Stage Five tomorrow.

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6 thoughts on “Adventures in NOVA-land, Part Three

  1. I suppose this makes finding an old and extremely squashed invoice for Kids on Keyboard at the bottom of your daughter’s schoolbag pale into insignificance – but not to me. All fixed.

  2. This is a really interesting insight Peter. At least the note-bashing will be much quicker and less tedious with the orchestra than the singers!

  3. So inspired by your adventures. Makes me almost want to go back to the piano lessons I had as a child. Awesome stuff Peej, but still no Tubular Bells.

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