Merry Christmas

christmas-musicAnd just like that another year is gone! Thank you all so much for your support this year - for coming to concerts, for the opportunity to write you music, for being let loose on your own music, for letting me teach you, for your emails, for commenting on my blog, for the tweets and posts, and for everything else.

I hope you have a wonderfully relaxing Christmas, don't eat too much and enjoy spending time with your family and friends.

This time last year I was late night shopping and battling the crowds - culminating in writing "A Holiday Thought":

[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/31108271" params="color=19c540&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

This year, however, I am feeling more along the lines of this - ready, chilled, content:

[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/16536009" params="color=19c540&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

I look forward to connecting with you all again in 2013 and making some music!

Merry Christmas!

Preparing for some legends!

This last week I prepared 12 arrangements for Dave Dobbyn, Bic Runga, Brooke Fraser and Ruby Frost for an Air New Zealand party. I also wrote a new arrangement for Dave Dobbyn's song, Language. They were string and horn arrangements and were performed by members of the Auckland Philharmonia.

Here are scores ready to go...

...and the parts ready for the players.

"Sounds Perfect" to be in a final

I recently wrote the music for Sounds Perfect - a short film by Sideways Productions which has made it to the finals for Tropfest New Zealand 2013. Tropfest International is the world's largest short film festival. Sounds Perfect image

Dave Dobson is a self –proclaimed ‘audio enhancement engineer’ in the film industry. The adult film industry. While his uninspiring workmates are happy to churn out the same clichéd slaps and squelches film after film, Dave hears a higher calling.

A disturbingly amusing and enjoyable film.

All finalists will be screened at an outdoor gala event at the TSB Bowl of Brooklands, New Plymouth, on Sunday 27 January. This is a free event and you are welcome to come along, bring a picnic and join in that buzz that is the inaugural Tropfest NZ screening. The winning film will be announced on the night. Venue opens at 5pm, films start 6.30pm.

Little pieces of Christmas

Christmas is looming and I have been busy doing new orchestral arrangements for two of the many Christmas concerts that will fill December. christmas-musicLast Saturday the Auckland Philharmonia had their first APO 4 Kids Christmas concert at the Auckland Town Hall which was a great success. It was hosted by Kevin Keys, featured Tim Beveridge and was conducted by David Kay. They performed my arrangements of:

  • All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth - Don Gardner
  • Joy To The World - George Frideric Handel
  • Lullaby for Christmas Eve - Pete King
  • Snoopy's Christmas - George David Weiss, Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti
  • The Little Drummer Boy - Henry Onorati, Katherine K. Davis and Harry Simeone
  • When You Wish Upon A Star - Ned Washington

This coming Friday (7th December) the Auckland Symphony give their impressive annual Christmas Celebration, again at the Auckland Town Hall, and featuring the mighty choir from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They will be performing my arrangements of:

  • Angel's Carol - John Rutter
  • Who Would Imagine A King - Mervyn Warren & Hallerin Hilton Hill with words for introduction by Ivoga Green & Fredda Sorensen, arranged by Niu Syddall (orchestration only)
  • Snoopy's Christmas - George David Weiss, Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti

Get festive, throw on some tinsel and come along and enjoy a wonderful evening.

Playing my role in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

In what is a massively important and no doubt successful film for New Zealand, I am delighted to have a small part in creating its musical soundtrack. The-Hobbit1Howard Shore has composed a stunning 105-minute soundtrack for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and there is a New Zealand flavour too with a stunning song by Neil Finn, Plan 9 and David Long, "Song of the Lonely Mountain". Victoria Kelly did the orchestral arrangement and I was very honoured to prepare the music for recording at London's Abbey Road Studios.

In an epic night I received a Logic Pro session and out the other end, via Sibelius, came score and parts transcribed, typeset, edited, proofread and ready to be recorded in London a few hours later by the London Metropolitan Orchestra.

The soundtrack is released on December 11th, visit here to get a sneak peak and a preview of the song. You may have also heard a rendition of it on the red carpet before yesterday's world premiere.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens in cinemas on December 3rd, go see it.

REVIEW: "What Lurks Among Saints"

What Lurks Among Saints On Friday night I had the pleasure of going to see the Liston College musical, "What Lurks Among Saints". Never heard of it? That's because it is new, brand new! An impressive feat for any school music department, even more so when the script and music is written by students and the director is the head boy. I met the composer, Josiah Carr, at an APO Open Day earlier this year where he came and said hello. He mentioned then that he was writing a musical and although being mightily impressed, I was well aware of the massive amount of work it takes to put a musical on to the stage. So, I was pleasantly surprised when he emailed me recently to invite me to opening night!

To set the scene, here is a short synopsis courtesy of the Liston College head of music, Janice Spearritt:

"In 1962 the townspeople of Chicago are gearing up for what seems to be another dreary election. After a year of mismanagement under the current Mayor the citizens are looking for a change. Victor Whitman is a newcomer to Chicagoan politics and seems to have stolen the attention of many of the townspeople including the determined businesswoman, Angelina Iverson. CEO of the largest stationery company in the Mid-West, she recently has had the Mayor at her beck and call, but seems to be abandoning the sinking ship. Her sights are currently set on expansion of her company and monetary gain, with acquisition of the foreclosed Chicago downtown Cathedral on the agenda. However she is meeting resistance from Stanley Glasgow, the manager of the downtown bank currently in possession of the church. Not that the church was going to put up without a fight, the clergy are set to try anything they can, even if it means to back the unpopular Mayor." Rosalina Rodriguez arrives to the convent in Chicago, a happy, optimistic novice sent from California, unaware of the struggle the church is facing. Her presence seems to have an uplifting effect and the church seems to gain traction. But when everything starts to look hopeful, catastrophe strikes – a catastrophe which turns Chicago upside down. Tension is high, romance is evident, and Chicago is in chaos. Lives are at stake, as everyone is searching for, what lurks among saints."

So, there is a lot going on. The "Inspector" did provide a short introduction but it was the first of many dialogues (or songs) not entirely comprehendible due to the band being too loud. This was an essential dialogue considering no one in the audience knew what it was about. A short synopsis or "scene-setter" in the programme would have also been nice so we could enjoy and understand it right from the beginning.

The band was made up of a flute, 3 clarinets, soprano saxophone, 2 alto saxophones, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, 2 trumpets, trombone, drums, piano, synthesizer, electric and bass guitars and 2 violins. A nice group, and they made a great sound, but I wonder if the instrument numbers were too large for this setting and a smaller group would mean more control over dynamic contrasts and problems wouldn't arise like mentioned above.

The music itself, however, was very well developed. It fitted the 1962 Chicago setting and as well as being stylistically aware, it was clearly original and gave the production a unique sound. Themes were well used, recurring as they should and providing a clear musical element for our ears to catch on to. While the full ensemble writing was indeed very polished, more variety with smaller combinations of instruments and different textures/colours could add even more strength to the production. There was some great links between the music and comedic happenings on stage, and some very fine moments of ensemble singing.

The performance of the music was good, clearly a lot of work had gone in. The rhythm section was a real asset and the brass in particular managed some very high and exposed passages impressively. Josiah very securely conducted the ensemble and the only minor slips came due to either him being not well illuminated or due to the bulk of the musicians being quite a distance away.

On stage it had everything it needed - romance, death, humour, intrigue, religion, politics, scandal and more. The lead characters all had a lot to offer, some great stereotypes and some fantastic lines to amuse us. There were a lot, however, and all coming at the story from different angles so there is a lot to keep on top of.

Being a musical, you do expect a script with twists and turns, fantastic music and... choreography. I was a tad disappointed that there was no dance sequences until the very end. It was good when it came, but it is a key element of musicals so would have been nice for some more. Dance sequences are also a chance for the music to shine and for the musicians to let loose.

My wife and I both thoroughly enjoyed the production. Huge congratulations to Josiah Carr (composer), Anthony Yelavich (script-writer) and James Devereaux (director) for creating and producing a very enjoyable and successful show - an accomplishment many only ever dream about. Major kudos also needs to go to the music department and school for giving the students this opportunity and supporting it through the final step.

Read a newspaper article on the three students here.

The production had three shows on 19th and 20th October at the Massey High School Performing Arts Centre. It also involved students from St Dominic’s College.

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:

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.

Promenading in the colony

This weekend was the Auckland Symphony Orchestra's "Night of the Proms" concerts conducted by Peter Thomas and featuring the Auckland Symphony Chorus and range of soloists. ASO Night of the Proms 2012 2

This year I had the pleasure of preparing the Auckland Symphony Chorus for the concerts.

ASO Night of the Proms 2012 1

They also performed my orchestration of Brent Stewart's arrangement of the traditional A Te Tarakihi - now in its fourth outing! The concerts were a huge success, well done to all.