I survived 2012. This is how it was!

The New Year means it's time to have a look back over the past year and see, through my blog posts, what has taken shape and what I have to say for myself! January started with a very well deserved "Shout-out to VaultPress" after they marvellously got my website back up and running after a meltdown!

3100508059_5c99a0f9e1_zFebruary is the start of the school term and I posted about the preparation work I do for schools.

My typing fingers must have been tired at the end of March - it started with two popular posts, iOS apps for music professionals and Digital music stands vs iPads, following on from, again, two very popular posts I did in 2010.

2012-05-15 APO Open Days 236

Following that were four posts on current projects - "Working on workshops" looked at some teaching workshops I was involved with, "An opportunity to make the floor rumble" talked about my upcoming new work for the Auckland Philharmonia and the Auckland Town Hall Organ. I conducted at the Bay Of Plenty Music School once again and my post, "Bay Of Plenty music school hit Rotorua!", pre-empted my visit there, and finally "Opening up an orchestra" reviewed the first two Auckland Philharmonia Open Days were I ran the "meet the composer" area.

In April I reviewed my time at the Bay Of Plenty Music School in "Making music in Rotorua" and posted photos in "Checking out the pipes" after an inspiring tour of the Auckland Town Hall Organ.

My Confession image May is music month and "A month of New Zealand music" checked out the events me or my music was involved with. It's also 48 Hour Film Festival time and our film this year was "My Confession…".

In June I talked about my involvement with Auckland Symphony's "Night Of The Proms" concerts in "Promenading in the colony" and I posted "Questions for a composer" after answering questions for a student's school assignment.

In July I posted my one word review of each piece from the "Nelson Composers Workshop 2012" where I was very happy to go this year as a mentor.

APO "Tiraki" workshopAugust is KBB Music Festival time and I also posted on the ongoing saga regarding the future of Sibelius in "What the heck is happening with Sibelius!". My piece, Tiraki, started to take shape after another workshop with the Auckland Philharmonia.

September was rather dormant on the blog front but in October I reviewed “What Lurks Among Saints” after being invited by a student I met earlier in the year.

The-Hobbit1In November I had the privilege of "Playing my role in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", and I posted about the experience.

December was busy with a number of projects. In "Little pieces of Christmas" I talked about a bunch of Christmas arrangements I did for the Auckland Philharmonia and Auckland Symphony orchestras. I also talked about a film I was involved with, called "Sounds Perfect" and its selection into the Tropfest final in “Sounds Perfect” to be in a final". I then prepared music for some very fine New Zealand singers and talked about it in "Preparing for some legends!".

christmas-musicFinally, no year is complete without a "Merry Christmas" post thanking you for all of your support during the year and the compliments of the season.

Another year ticked off the list, another year doing my absolute dream job - let's get ready for an even better 2013!

What the heck is happening with Sibelius!

Sibelius 7Back on the 3rd of July, while at the Nelson Composers Workshop, I followed the breaking news that Avid was closing the London Sibelius office. This meant the likes of the legendary Daniel Spreadbury, one of Sibelius' greatest assets, would lose their jobs. Initially, some jumped to the worst conclusions, but Avid was quick to confirm that "the Sibelius brand and product family remains with Avid" via their official statement. But the fact that the people that make Sibelius what it is are losing their jobs was terrible. These are the people that have developed Sibelius through the years, have heard all of our recommendations and frustrations and are a key part of the Sibelius community. So the feeling was for Avid to sell Sibelius back to the founders and the users, like it was before they purchased it in August 2006. The Sibelius founders, Ben and Jonathan Finn, posted on the Sibelius forum that they were:

“...very concerned to hear earlier this month that Avid is terminating the jobs of the Sibelius development team in London and handing the software over to other programmers, apparently to cut costs. As far as we know, Sibelius continues to be extremely successful, so this cost-cutting is a response to financial problems elsewhere in Avid, not with Sibelius itself.

Ever since then we have been quietly trying to do everything we can to change this situation, including twice offering to buy Sibelius back from Avid. However, Avid has declined. While they haven’t given a reason, we assume that Sibelius is a substantial source of profits to them, so they don’t want to sell it to anyone.

We naturally feel very sad about this treatment of our friends and colleagues who have been key to making Sibelius a success, and who have become the world experts in this specialized field. We are also very grateful to the many Sibelius users who have expressed their concern and support; though at this point, it seems unlikely that any protests will change Avid’s mind.”

So, Avid are not very popular. Even if they have good intentions to develop Sibelius further, it is hard to think that it is onwards and upwards with what will be a brand new group of developers. It, sadly, does seem likely they just want to keep hold of Sibelius, as it has proven to be a good money earner, but because of growing resentment towards them and poor development, it will probably die a slow death.

What can you do? Join the petition for Avid to sell Sibelius back to the Finn brothers. You also may like to:

Nelson Composers Workshop 2012

Another Nelson Composers Workshop has come to an end. As always there was a mix of pieces restrained by convention, those off the rails with creative freedom and everything in between. I haven't been since 2006, when I was there as a student, so I was reminded what an inspiring and enjoyable few days it is and how good it is to catch up with composers and performers from around the country.

This year I was lucky enough to be a mentor to two composers, Hannah Bright and James Chih-Lin Tu, who wrote two great pieces. James is studying at Auckland University and Hannah at the NZ School of Music in Wellington - she is also a singer/songwriter, check out her EP here.

Blas Gonzales at the 2012 Nelson Composers Workshop

I also gave a talk during the morning seminars on advanced Sibelius techniques. I know composers of contemporary music can feel limited when using Sibelius to notate their music, so with this talk I introduced some techniques which will hopefully help - like aleatoric writing, creating graphic scores, using colour, contour graphs and woodwind fingerings, and creating custom symbols and noteheads.

During the workshop I made one word summaries of each piece, check them out below:

Grace Carpinter: Calm Glen Downie: Breathy Ben Powell: Suspicious Monique Farry: Unpredictable James Chih-Lin Tu: Diverse

Sudharsan: Relentless Phillipa Ullenberg: Epic Tom Jensen: Intense Xu Tang: Energy

Amos Mann: Exquisite Jun Kagaya: Classic Alex Campbell-Hunt: Fragmented David Taylor: Unique Alex Wolken: Frantic

Blas Gonzales: Moving Louise Webster: Beautiful Hannah Bright: Intriguing Dave Miller: Charming

Callum Blackmore: Colourful Andrew Leathwick: Creapy Andrej Nowicki: Jittery Catherine Sullivan: Dark Xander Perrot: Romantic

Ben Hoadley: Fun Reuben Jelleyman: Awkward Kerian Varaine: Refreshing Alex Taylor: Intriguing

String quartet in action at the 2012 Nelson Composers Workshop

It was such fun I may just have to go back next year, and so should you. Keep an eye out for entry forms appearing here early in 2013.

Questions for a composer

School_WorkEvery now and then I get sent an email from a student who is doing an assignment on a "living musician", or a "real composer", or on how to "make it in the music industry". Recently I got a list of questions from Jayde, a student at Kerikeri High School. I first met Jayde when I did some composition workshops there last year. He had a great list of questions and I thought they, and the answers, were worth sharing.

Why did you choose to become a composer?

I definitely never thought I would grow up and be a composer. When I left school all my friends automatically went to university to do music, so I did too. I am no performer so composing was the natural progression. As I progressed further I realised it was something I really loved doing.

Is it hard to become a composer?

Yes. You have to work very hard to get each job in the first place. And most jobs will be for free until you have experience.

What sort of essential skills do you need?

  1. You need the musical skills of course, like theory, knowledge of instrumentation and ability to be creative with ideas.
  2. These days you also need to be excellent with computer software. As a composer you generally have very tight deadlines and can be thrust into performing many duties like preparing parts, recording and editing music, and so on, so it is very important to know what to do.
  3. Business skills like doing your accounts, invoicing, marketing, advertising, networking and so on. No point creating a business if you don't know how to run it.

Where do you source your inspiration from when you compose (if any)?

I have always found that compositions are for something quite specific. Like for a "rivers" concert as an example, or to celebrate a certain event or location - so that makes it very easy. I would then go to Google (or would go there first if I have no inspiration at all) and research different topics, words, pictures until I have a clear focus for the composition.

What do you begin with first in the composition process i.e. planning ideas, or finding a nice melody to build around etc.?

Most often I will play around with different ideas on real instruments and come up with some ideas - could be melodic, rhythmic, harmonic.... I usually am then very excited about putting some notes down in the score so I write the initial ideas down. Then will I think about the structure!

What does composition mean to you personally?

It means a lot to me. I get lots of ideas in my head and I have to get them out somehow!

Do you regret ever becoming a composer?

No. Some people think I'm crazy and wonder how anyone could ever make any money off writing music but I am super happy, have just bought a house with my lovely wife and I really do think I have a dream job!

What composition activities are you currently involved in?

Currently I am writing "Dancing Thistles" - a piece for string orchestra, and "Tiraki" a piece for the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the newly refurbished Auckland Town Hall organ.

What sort of opportunities are there on offer these days for composers such as yourself?

For young composers there are a number of good opportunities to get your music performed by professionals, in competitions or workshops. Notably the NZSO/TODD Young Composer Awards which I was part of three times, and the Nelson Composers Workshop which is run by the Composers Association of New Zealand and will completely inspire you and open your eyes to music of your peers.

What advice would you give to prospective composers?

  • Always get your music performed by real musicians - you will learn hugely from each experience.
  • Always write effectively for the instruments and performers - think about their specific characteristics and don't write virtuosic moments for a piece you are hoping your classmates will perform.
  • Be open to all styles of music and types of performers. We all speak the same one language of music and every element of it has something important to offer.

A wee update on my music

I thought I should sum up what's happening musically at the moment. Well... I've got the NZSO workshops next week which should be great. My piece "Unspoken Monologue" is being workshopped and recorded which I am REALLY looking forward to. Last years piece of mine that was in it was 'nice', this years piece is fantastic. So I can't wait to hear what they do with it.

Then after that "NO Ordinary Sun" is in the NZSM Composition Competition finals concert on 15th September. It WILL be great. Am having an absolute battle getting all the players for it ... especially a tenor. But SLOWELY its coming together (though fingers are still crossed).

Finally "Insight" is being premiered by 'The New Aesthetic' - the NZSM Graduate Quartet. This piece is great, I was trying out a heap of new things, so I guess I will find out if they worked. lol It will be a great concert though. Details on any of these concerts can be found here.

At the moment I'm working on "Mei Spero" for nine instruments (including a heap of percussion) and have ripped to bits (not literally) "Through my eyes, I see" which was workshopped at the Nelson workshop and I'm gradually building it up again and it is AWESOME!! It's going really well. Aside these things for my masters work, I'm revising my wedding suite for piano which is getting recorded soon. It's a really awesome piece of music. I've been contemplating the role it actually plays in the service - part of the reason I'm revising it. I definitely haven't got an outcome.