Music school magic!

BOPMusicSchool I am just back from working with the concert band at another superb Bay of Plenty Music School. What a great weekend - there is something so great about gathering at the beginning of a weekend, meeting new people, working hard and presenting a wonderful concert together on Sunday before returning for another week of the real world.

I had a really fantastic group this year including a solid contingent from Auckland University which gave great depth to our woodwinds in particular. We ditched the easier pieces and launched into the challenging repertoire and with fine results - our set at the concert was so tight and I think the most technically advanced and polished performance since I've been conducting the group.

Our concert set was:

  • Stalter – Ignition
  • Shostakovich – Folk Dances
  • Berlin – Alexander’s Ragtime Band
  • Kahelin – Clown Act

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There was also some wonderful results in the orchestra (David Adlam) and choir (Peter Watts), as well as some impressive combined performances - which I was most happy to hand the baton on for this year and feature only in the percussion section!

The combined works were:

  • Mendelssohn - Hebrides Overture
  • Mozart - Requiem (excerpts)
  • Copland - Hoedown
  • Brahms - Symphony No.3

Congrats to the Taupo organising committee for a very fine job, thanks to all the players for your efforts and I hope to see you all again next year!

Merry Christmas

christmasAnd just like that, another year is coming to an end. Thanks so much to everyone who has supported me in some way this year - that may have been with work, with ideas or just with conversation.

It has been an incredible time of music making for me with many wonderful opportunities, inspiring people to work with and some stunning ensembles and musicians to bring the music to life. Some of these include:

Auckland Philharmonia, New Zealand Symphony, Auckland Symphony, Christchurch Symphony, Auckland Youth Orchestra, St Matthew's Chamber Orchestra, Manukau Concert Band, Victoria Kelly, Neil Finn, NZTrio and Horomona Horo, Tecwyn Evans, Michael Norris, Leonie Holmes, John Rowles, Ben Hoadley, Val Landi and Scott Hunt (USA), Bluebird Avenue, Fatcat & Fishface, Alexandros Pappas (Greece), Sideways Productions, Elizabeth Mandeno and David Kelly, the Polkadots, the KBB Music Festival and The Big Sing.

Next year is going to be a big year and absolutely business as usual so get in touch to get me involved with your projects - either as a music preparer, typesetter or editor, or as an arranger and orchestrator.

Over Christmas and New Year I'll be fishing and eating too much near here, chill-axing and probably still eating too much here, and then tramping and working off the Christmas food here. I'll be back working full-time on Monday 6th January, but feel free to get in touch over the break.

To leave you with some music, earlier this year I received the New Zealand Symphony recording of my original work, Rakaia. Auckland Symphony commissioned it in 2007, the NZSO workshopped it in 2008 and then this is their recording from 2010:

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/5080029" params="color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=false" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

Enjoy, and have an absolutely wonderful Christmas!

Workshops in Taupo

I was invited down to Taupo to work with the Taupo Concert Band and thought it was a good opportunity to bundle some other activities in too. I went down last week, here's what I got up to: TUESDAY AFTERNOONAwesome composition workshop at Tauhara College in Taupo this morning. They even baked me a cake!!

Presented a workshop for the music students and staff at Tauhara College. It was also great to see the staff from Taupo-nui-a-Tia College there as well.

We went back to basics and explored the six things we need to create a great composition (and get a good mark too!). Loads of ideas, plenty of talent, good fun.

TUESDAY NIGHT

I had a four-hour session with the Taupo Concert Band. They are working towards a big concert so were really keen for an intensive evening! They may be a smallish band but make an incredibly good sound and with some versatile musicians - and the new drummer turning up during the dinner break - it made for a really great evening of music-making. We worked on:

  • "Oregon" by Jacob de Haan
  • "American Overture" by Joseph Willcox Jenkins
  • "Symphonic Dances" from Fiddler on the Roof by Jerry Bock (arr. Hearshen)
  • "Granada" by Agustin Lara (arr. Longfield)

WEDNESDAY MORNINGHad a great four-hour session with the Taupo Concert Band last night. This morning gave two workshops at Reporoa College. Now on my way back home.

I headed up to Reporoa to give two further workshops.

  1. The first was for their gifted music students - we talked about finding your place in the world of music and it was great to be able to share some stories and listen to some music from various projects that I have been involved with.
  2. The second was actually part of their science curriculum - we looked at sound. After working out what it actually is and exploring sound waves, we launched into the fun of playing loads of different instruments, discussing how they make their sound and categorising them.

Here are some pics from the session:

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It was a great two days, hoping to do a similar trip again next year.

 

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.

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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!

Tiraki takes shape

APO \"Tiraki\" workshopThis afternoon the Auckland Philharmonia had their second read-through of my new piece for organ and orchestra, Tiraki. The first workshops were in May and so now the pieces are really taking shape. I initially talked about the project here, but since then I have changed my organist to the wonderful Nick Forbes, who is doing an outstanding job. We've spent a fair amount of time at the organ working on the notes and developing the different colours which we've been saving on the organ's computer. Sounds all very flash, but we lost them all before today's play-through!

The piece is coming along. I'm happy with most of the orchestrations and the general material, but the transitions still need plenty of work and today it really wasn't sounding together so I might have to tweak a few things to help out the listening. It needs to constantly tick along like a metronome and with often just relentless semiquavers and quavers that need to lock together while having the organist miles away, it makes it challenging.

I went through two sharpened pencils writing on the score during the session, so plenty to do. Stay tuned!

Oh, you may like to check out some photos I took of the organ here when I first checked it out.

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.

Checking out the pipes

The Auckland Town Hall Organ is mightily impressive, mind-blowing, even enough to take your breath away! Hours before the first drafts of my APO + Auckland Town Hall Organ composition were due, Kerry Stevens gave me a tour. Amazing. Here are some of my photos. IMG_2700IMG_2702 IMG_2705 IMG_2707 IMG_2710 IMG_2712 IMG_2713 IMG_2727 IMG_2730 IMG_2736 IMG_2740 IMG_2745 IMG_2750 IMG_2751

Here are some facts from the organ's very own website:

  • The Auckland Town Hall Organ weighs 40 tonnes, the pipes alone account for 28 tonnes.
  • Number of pipes: 5391, of which 939 have been restored from the 1911 organ.
  • Largest pipe: bottom C of the 32-foot Open Wood: 9.75 metres high (32 feet) with an interior volume of 2600 litres. The note sounded by this pipe has a fundamental frequency of 16 Hz.
  • Smallest pipe: speaking length 6mm (the pipe itself is quite a bit bigger than this to make it possible to handle!)
  • Lowest frequency note: bottom C of the Pedal Gravissima stop, 8 Hz. (The entire bottom octave of this stop is below the limit of human hearing: it is felt rather than heard).
  • Highest frequency: 17kHz from the Swell Furniture.
  • Loudest stop: equal place to the 16' Ophicleide in the Pedal organ and the Orchestral Trumpet in the Solo. The largest pipe in the Ophicleide rank has a diameter of 349.1mm at the top.
  • The three electric blowers in the basement deliver a wind flow of 209 cubic metres per minute, into 320 metres of wooden wind trunking (the length of three football fields), into 23 bellows loaded with four tonnes of weights, and then into 18 main wind-chests: ready to blow through one pipe or hundreds at once.
  • Most pipes operate on a wind pressure of 3 inches (water gauge). Highest wind pressure: 15 inches.
  • The organ was built by a team of 42 personnel from Klais Orgelbau over a period of 26 months, taking around 27,000 man-hours. The chief designer of the organ was Stefan Hilgendorf.