Giddy with a new romance, swaying under a hangover that could have floored a horse and upright only because I lacked the energy to lie down I scribbled a setting of Left Coast by Ming Holden, one of my favourite poets. An hour later I was looking at a dense, spinning score for three violins, three violas and three male voices. One year and more than 30 re-writes later I found myself standing in front of nine musicians in the visually delicious, acoustically divine Unitarian Church in Newington Green.
You’re planning a statue, a gigantic, magnificent statue. You have some master sculptors coming in and your job is to pen their instructions. But here’s the thing: no pictures, no diagrams, no sketches, words only. Describe in words how they are to hold their chisels, the angle at which each hammer-hit should be made, every knock, scrape and scratch. In file your sculptors, squeezing around the granite boulder which nearly fills the room. You hand each a thick pad of instructions and step back as they don safety goggles and get stuck in.
Imagine, through the clamour and rubble seeing the shapes you’ve blearily conceived in your head over the past months begin to take shape. Except it’s better. Little flourishes, additions, variations instinctively made here and there. You’d never thought of them, but now you see them they make perfect sense. That’s the wonder of master sculptors: what you get out is better than what you put in, more nuanced, more personal, more believable. Right, allow me to jump ship on this increasingly shaky metaphor.
But in summary, I have no idea how sculpting works and hearing a limp puppet of a piece on paper being brought to life by a group of gifted musicians is the best feeling I know. Over the rewrites, Ming’s poem had been joined by a piece by Ashley Roach Frieman, an old favourite of mine by A. E. Housman and a few words of my own. Most of it worked perfectly, some of it worked imperfectly and a couple of moments were perfect examples of why playthroughs are so important. I left the rehearsal with a score covered in scribbles and notes and revision ideas that I wouldn’t trade for its weight in gold.
Of course, the other thing playthroughs are useful for is getting booked for concerts, and it’s awesome to be able to announce that Left Coast will be performed this summer by the Clemens non Papa Consort and the musicians will be dressed by none other than designer Alice Maughan. Concert details here when I have them.