An email from Rhian Sheehan pondering an upcoming collaboration is the type of email you look forward to… knowing that you’re about to embark on an incredible musical journey and have the pleasure of exploring his masterpieces from within. In short, the guy is a bloody legend. The way he evokes emotion and explores texture and colour within music is something I greatly admire.
It was a year ago, September 2017, when we started working on the first track. Co-arranging and orchestrating the strings for what is now is latest album, ‘A Quiet Divide’. Over a few months we tweaked the arrangements, added layers, subtracted layers, lengthened, shortened, rewrote endings over and over until they hit the mark. Finally comes February 27th this year when we recorded in Wellington with some of NZ’s finest string players as part of Stroma FilmWorks.
Later Rhian recorded pianos in Auckland with his wife Raashi and the wonderful Justin Bird.
Depth of colour, textural clarity and control of phrasing were themes in these charts. Here’s two examples of how this was achieved:
This type of arranging/orchestration work is so rewarding. Working with such talented musicians and, with the strings, bringing out the magic that lies within their creations.
Fast forward to today, October 5th, and the album is released. And it’s pretty stunning. This is music for the soul. There’s been some good write ups on the album already. This from Drifting, Almost Falling I particularly enjoyed, which gives thoughtful insight on the inner musical elements:
Take a listen below and then buy a copy for yourself! Our string collaborations are tracks: 3. Lost Letters, 4. Soma Dreams, 5. Between Us and the Dying Starlight, 6. We Danced Under a Broken Sky, 10. Someplace and 12. April.
And if that wasn’t enough, Rhian is performing live shows around the country to celebrate. Dunedin was last week. But coming up there is:
12 October, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington - TICKETS
20-21 October, Nelson Theatre Royal (Nelson Arts Festival) - TICKETS
…and in Auckland you might just find a special guest in the viola section.
Synthony is done and dusted for another year after two massive sold out shows last weekend.
The lineup featured P Digsss (Shapeshifter), Ria Hall, Helen Corry, Omega Levine, sax legend Lewis McCallum, backing singers Cherie Mathieson and Iri Aumatangi, the 90-piece Auckland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Thomas and all hosted on the night by General Lee.
For those who are late to this party, Synthony is one big music, dance, lighting and visual extravaganza in the Auckland Town Hall. Basically, 20 of the biggest dance hits orchestrated and produced on a massive scale. The two shows sold out in a matter of hours.
I’m hugely proud to be a part of the creative team, working closely with Erika Amoore (one of the event creators) to produce the orchestral realisations of these tracks. As an arranger it really is such a treat to be able to work on an entire show of such forces. The scale is huge. Here are some stats on what we produced: 236 pages of conductor’s score, 720 individual orchestra parts, all adding up to 2531 pages of printed music being played on the night.
Here are my favourite pics:
This year every department upped their game and knocked last year’s triumphs out of the park. Musically, the arrangements are bigger and better, the orchestra itself is bigger too… and we unleashed the Town Hall organ! There were 15 brand new tracks, and the 5 repeat tracks from last year were all refreshed.
The response was overwhelming. Orchestras aren’t used to quite that degree of ‘audience interaction’. Here was the view from up in the percussion section…
Reviews were great as well:
Immense thanks to Peter Thomas and the Auckland Symphony Orchestra who did an amazing job bringing this music together… with click track pumping in one ear… deafening audience in the other… with lights in all directions… while beads of sweat gather on the forehead… and yet they still smile and deliver yet another top level musical event for Auckland.
Finally, huge kudos to Erika Amoore and David Elmsly for their incredible vision and direction of this event. It really is quite something, and I’m already looking forward to the next one!
Robin S. - Show Me Love
Inner City - Good Life
The Chemical Brothers - Star Guitar
Robert Miles - Children
Laurent Garnier - Man With The Red Face
Roger Sanchez - Another Chance
Paul van Dyk - For An Angel
ATB - Till I Come
Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams
Moloko - Sing It Back
Eric Prydz - Pjanoo
Avicii - Levels
Faithless - Insomnia
The Chemical Brothers - Galvanize
Disclosure - Latch
Underworld - Born Slippy
Tiesto - Adagio For Strings
Delerium - Silence
Solitare - You Got The Love
Shapeshifter - Electric Dream
Saturday night is going to be a totally epic night as Synthony kicks off in Auckland. DJ + vocalists + choir + symphony orchestra + an incredible visual feast which I'm not sure the Town Hall has ever seen before.
"Leave your Nan at home, THIS IS NOT AN ORCHESTRA AS YOU KNOW IT or a sit down affair... this an event you will lose your sh*t at."
And yes, the rumours are true, I'll be up the back thrashing the tambourine and caressing the thunder sheet as part of our impressive percussion section.
But, it's been quite a journey leading up to this, and I haven't actually posted much about it, so here's a run down.
July 2016, the journey begins. Peter Thomas calls me and says he’s got a great gig on the horizon. He always does, but this time I knew it was special. He explains the concept and sends me off to watch the Ibiza Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. Online, not in person! I watch it. I’m sold. I’m in.
My first real taste of the project was in March when the first two arrangements were done and recorded for the promotional video. Wow, got the feels.
Two arrangements down. Eighteen to go.
For a few years, Peter Thomas and I have pondered doing a project where we could get young secondary school arrangers involved. There is always opportunities for composers, but there are some hugely talented young arrangers looking for experience. We knew this project was perfect, and so we recruited: Tom Lawton, Ki Hoon Sung, Matthew Beardsworth, Sarah Rathbun, Vivien Whyte, Lauren Tantrum, Angeline Xiao and Weihong Yi. Legends. I briefed them and mentored them along the way, sending countless emails of feedback and reassurance.
I also got to work on the rest of the show. Transcribing, arranging, and editing the electronic tracks with DJ Erika Amoore (who along with David Elmsly are the two behind the event). Here's a bit about what I was doing (and yes, this was shot before they knew how to spell my name correctly):
The show launches, and... it sells out. Fast. The absolute boost I needed as I was working day and night to complete the arrangements. Everyone starts getting really excited. Erika and I get interviewed on Radio NZ. What a blast. Have a listen:
The tracks mentioned in the interview were Robert Miles by Children, Right Here, Right Now by Fatboy Slim and Silence by Delerium. Want to know what the other tracks are? No, not likely, come to the show.
So early September arrives and I'm done. The 20 orchestra scores and 580 instrumental parts (who's counting?) are proofread and it's all off to the printer.
Massive shout out to Erika, David and Peter who dreamt up this event, brought me onboard and have all been absolutely wonderful to work with. Special thanks to the Auckland Symphony Orchestra for doing an almighty job playing all the notes.
Three rehearsals down, two to go. If you've got a ticket, you're in for a treat. Bring your best dance shoes. Carb load. You know the deal.
On Friday I finished a few weeks of work preparing Victoria Kelly's glorious arrangements for Neil Finn's new album, Out of Silence. Here's one of my favourite tracks, Second Nature:
These are my favourite projects because, aside from working with two totally amazing people, ridiculously good musicians, and in an absolutely gorgeous space... I get to follow through the whole process from receiving arrangement mockups, to transcribing, typesetting and preparing them, to printing and taping them, through to saying "hello!" to the musicians at the session and handing them the music. There is something so completely special about that.
This was one crazy idea. Each Friday in August Neil streamed a live recording session online, so everyone could see the album take shape. Here's the final week where it was a complete run of the album:
This must be about the 5th collaboration between Neil and Victoria that I've had the privilege of working on. Always inspiring. Be sure to check out Victoria's post on the project.
Everyone likes to see beautiful looking music. Right? Here are some pics I took along the way:
Oh, and if I could forget. Unfortunately Victoria fell ill before the final session, and so I stepped in to conduct the final rehearsal. What. Fun. Photos by Adrian Malloch and Steve Dykes:
So, check out the stunning work by these super talented people.
My annual pilgrimage to the KBB Music Festival was a little more exciting this year. Firstly, a new premiere!
Grammar Virtuosi, from Auckland Grammar School, commissioned me to write a new work for strings and percussion this year to mark the anniversary of when Grammar men went to the battle of Passchendaele in the first world war. It's called Foray.
"foray: a sudden attack or incursion into enemy territory"
It's been great popping along to some of their rehearsals and working with them on the piece, once such occasional pictured above. Huge thanks to their director, James Donaldson, and tutor, Boris Kipnis, for their tremendous support of the piece.
Secondly, a bonus performance!
St Cuthbert's College Concert Band and their wonderful director, Sally Tibbles, gave another performance of my piece, Bubble. I wrote this piece several years ago for the Bay of Plenty Music School and it's had several outings since then. It's a cool little piece and I am SO happy it got a performance by this group.
Thirdly, a gold award!
Let's start at the very beginning.
The Rangitoto College Concert Band is directed by the tremendous Beverley Brockelbank. Unfortunately she was away on tour with another school and was unable to conduct them, so I got the call.
Hold the truck! 'Déjà vu', I hear you say? Yes. Spot on. Earlier this year Bev was unable to take them to Hawaii, so I had that arduous(!) task. Reminisce with me here...
So anyway, back to KBB. Bev and I worked together with the group in the lead up to the festival and then I took them through festival week.
They performed SO WELL. Like, completely blew my socks off. And they were awarded with a very shiny GOLD award. Hugely proud. Here are some pics:
Next year I may well be back to my committee duties of managing the website, online entries and honours programme, but I'll do my best to make it another extra exciting one.
So I just got back from a seriously good few days in Rotorua, adjudicating at the Rhapsody Rotorua Music Festival, alongside the rather legendary Owen Clarke. It's a festival populated by mainly Australian groups, popping across the ditch for some music and adventure, but it always has a collection of New Zealand groups, and is a great performance opportunity for local groups from the Bay of Plenty region.
Days one and two are adjudicated sessions directly followed by clinics with an adjudicator - this was good fun, great to hear and work with so many groups.
These two days finish with rehearsals of the combined and honours groups. I took the combined string ensemble of 61 players. It was mammoth - 15 firsts, 22 seconds(!), 6 violas, 13 cellos and 5 basses. We enjoyed working on Sibelius, Holst and Leonie Holmes. Here they all are...
Day three is mainly a day of instrumental workshops with specialists. As a bit of difference I said I'd do one along the lines of 'composing for your school ensemble'. I thought I'd get 5, perhaps 10 people max. About six people turned up in the first wave, and I was about to shut the door, then I heard footsteps and I ended up with about 70 students all super excited and ready to hear some tips. We had a medium sized dressing room and were packed to the absolute brim, with people out the door too. Here they all are...
Concerts Thursday and Friday nights complete the festival, and the groups have concerts elsewhere too.
I managed three pretty impressive dinners while I was there, so I thought they deserve a mention. First night was Indian Star Tandoori Restaurant - super, super delicious, and it's located in the impressively modern Eat Streat precinct. Second night was Sabroso Restaurant - Mexican, heathy and completely hit the mark. Third night I hit the Rotorua Night Market - I remember having an almighty feast here when I was at the festival last time, but this one topped it - completely blew my socks off - glorious, fresh and great atmosphere too.
A really fun few days. Hopefully I can go back again one day!
Good news! I have a couple of spots available for private music tuition - more details at the bottom.
"Teaching is the greatest act of optimism." - Colleen Wilcox
I'm a sucker for a good quote and this one made me smile. As anyone who has taught will know, you've always got to be tremendously optimistic about the potential your students can achieve. And... it's always great when it pays off.
Every week I try to keep it real by teaching/tutoring/mentoring around town. It's always a mixed assortment of opportunities, over the last few months it's looked like this:
MAINZ, Central Auckland - I give an annual lecture on string arranging. This is really enjoyable as I get to share some of the arrangements I've worked on, and the students love analysing them and seeing what techniques they can use in their own work. This year the class seemed to have doubled in size, so that's a great sign for them.
UNITEC, Mount Albert - I've been taking most of the theory/musicianship classes for the Certificate in Music and Diploma in Contemporary Music courses so far this year. Really, really enjoyable. Awesome students who are eager to learn new things.
Michael Park School, Ellerslie - it's my second year there as an Auckland Philharmonia APOPS Composer Mentor. This is where I get allocated hours to go in and mentor some of their composers. These guys are heaps of fun.
St Mary's College, Ponsonby - I've been there for the first five weeks of this term working with the amazingly talented senior composition students. I've also got some Auckland Philharmonia APOPS hours there so we've got time through the rest of the year to develop some exciting projects.
Carmel College, Milford - I have a few hours here, working with the senior composers and arrangers. This is such a wicked little music department and they certainly achieve some impressive results.
Long Bay College, Torbay - I teach all of their senior composers and arrangers, a lively department with loads of good students doing great things.
Private - I also have several private students who either come to my studio or have lessons online. AND... I've got some spots available if you're interested in having lessons in either composition or music theory. I've got some info at NZ Music Teachers Online and you can contact me there or on my contact page.
Really hard to try and find an appropriate header image for this post. So I went with a little snippet from a Brian Ferneyhough work.
Back in October 2015 Rhian Sheehan asked me to help out on the music he was writing for a new rollercoaster ride at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi. Yesterday it all came to fruition with five hours of recording down in Wellington with some of NZ's finest musicians. There was a 10-piece brass section and 19-piece string section from Stroma FilmWorks. Absolute credit must go to these amazing musicians who perform at such an incredible level, yet between cues are so friendly and enjoyable to work with.
Rhian Sheehan wrote the music, the brilliant Tane Upjohn-Beatson came on board as co-writer and co-arranger, the legendary Graham Kennedy and John Neill recorded and engineered the session, and I conducted, with some co-arranging, orchestration and music prep along the way.
Speaking of that small job of music prep, here are some stats for those delightful few who appreciate such things:
29 musicians, 16 cues, 48 scores (3 copies of each), multiple layers totalling 305 different instrumental parts, equalling 494 copies of the parts, 551 copies of scores and parts combined, don't ask for the number of actual pages, and thank goodness Jetstar didn't weigh my carry-on.
By far the best part of my involvement in this project was following it right through from early stages to recording. So often I prepare everything and then pass it on to be printed and conducted, but this time it was great to be printing and taping parts, and then seeing it on the stands and taking the musicians through it. Need more of this, it's good for the soul.
So, now we just need to go to Abu Dhabi to experience it.
Let's be honest, we always proceed cautiously when someone asks you for a favour... but when they're asking you to go to Hawaii it's a completely different story! I'm in, 100%. To make it even better, it was with the wonderful students and staff of the Rangitoto College Music Department, conducting their concert band for a friend who sadly could no longer go. Also on the tour was the orchestra, chamber orchestra and big band.
We were there as part of the Pacific Basin Music Festival, with groups from USA, Philippines, Australia and New Zealand - about 700 people in total. Events were at the Sheraton Waikiki, Pacific Beach Hotel and Hawaii Theatre, as well as performances at the incredible Ala Moana Shopping Centre, as well as the Hard Rock Cafe for the big band.
A highlight was working with the band from the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts for our exchange session - a truly amazing band. They absolutely loved the 'kiwiness' in David Woodcock's Forest Sketches, and we had a healthy argument as to whether they are crotchets or quarter notes...! I won.
I haven't done a huge amount of conducting in recent times as I've had other priorities, but wow what a joy to be back and working with such great people. I was super proud of their focus and sound in the adjudicated performance - it was late and at the end of a very long day - and most definitely it was the best I've heard the group play. They, along with Rangitoto's two other competing groups, received silver awards for their efforts.
Congratulations to Rangitoto College for a most wonderful tour. If anyone else needs a last minute conductor for their Hawaii tour, call me and I'll say yes.
It's not often you score a nationwide tour with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, but that's just what the Modern Maori Quartet have done and they're going all out commissioning arrangements from several fantastic New Zealand composers: Claire Cowan, Chris Gendall, Anonymouz, Gareth Farr, Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper, Robbie Ellis and Mark Dennison, I have thoroughly enjoyed preparing five of these new arrangements - those by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper and Anonymouz, along with some additional orchestration.
They're touring to 12 centres in February and March. It will be impressive, get a ticket here.
I would never give up an opportunity to travel. So when it looked like I could take a week to make it to London (to meet my wife before our Spanish adventure...!), I went for it. First stop, Los Angeles. There I met with some very fine people in the music biz that until now I've never been able to meet in person. The aim of course to keep strong connections and talk possible future work.
There's things to love about LA, and things to drive you completely loopy, but what you gotta admire is the vibe that anything is possible. Most people are there to make their dreams come true, not surprisingly mostly as actors, but what's awesome is that there is so much opportunity for that to happen. And for the bulk of whom are still waiting, they're still friendly, still optimistic and still driving Ubers - and they're okay with that.
Also while there I managed to catch the LA Phil in concert. Sadly I missed Gustavo Dudamel, but instead I saw Santtu-Matias Rouvali conduct Mosolov 'Iron Foundry', Dvorak 'Cello Concerto in B minor' with Johannes Moser, and Sibelius 'Symphony No. 1 in E minor'. Amazing.
I then travelled to London and hung out with the legendary (and delightful!) music copyists Jill Streater and Ann Barnard at London's Air Studios. There they worked me hard collating parts (or 'running around the table' as we called it!) for the Kong: Skull Island score being recorded there. Being a music copyist in New Zealand is rather solitary most of the time so to meet and hang out with such legends is wonderful, and reassuring too to know that how I do things is pretty much how they do things.
Finally, I met up with several friends in London to catch up on times gone by and to round off my time there... oh, and I saw the musical Aladdin.
As much as I'm a great fan of working remotely, basing myself online and sending music all over the place, there's still nothing like a face-to-face meeting to strengthen relationships and to get inspired by others' passion for what they do. For this reason, I hope it isn't long until I next head away to catch up with some of the amazing people I get to work with.