Questions to the composer
Q1. How has the coronavirus pandemic affected you directly? Please feel free to ignore the ‘personal’ if you are uncomfortable speaking about this. Personally – have you and your family avoided the virus? How has the area where you live been affected? Professionally – effect on work in progress, commissions, performances and travel plans.
Ans: As with the majority of people the coronavirus pandemic has certainly affected my life and it is likely to change the pattern of my daily existence for some time to come. However, I am very fortunate to live in Worcestershire and not in one of the large conurbations where the virus is most prevalent. So, up to this point my partner and I have not come into contact with the virus. Of course, we have followed the ‘lockdown’ and ‘social distancing’ rules to the letter and have been in isolation since it began. On a professional level, the current crisis has been, as with so many of our musician friends, devastating. All the recent and near future concerts and recitals that were to feature my music have been either cancelled or postponed. This included a much- looked-forward-to performance of my new Requiem with Merton College Choir, Oxford at this year’s Worcester Elgar Festival and a song recital in Vienna.
Q2. What went through your mind when the PM announced that the country was going into lockdown?
Ans: My first thought was, what will all this mean for the performing arts and to my friends who work freelance. How will they survive?
Q3.How have your living and working circumstances changed during the lockdown period? Have you felt a greater or lesser desire to create new work? Has this changed during the period of lockdown?
Ans: Apart from not being able to travel and meet up with family and friends my day-to-day life has not really changed very much. I generally work from home and spend a great deal of time composing in our music room. This pattern hasn’t been altered by the current epidemic.
Q4.Has there been a positive side to your experience of lockdown?
Ans: On a personal level one of the good effects of this lockdown is that I have been taking more outdoor exercise. As the lockdown regulations eased I began taking long walks in the wonderful Worcestershire countryside. I’ve been discovering more of its secret history and hidden places . As Landscape has been an important influence on my music these recent experiences may well have some positive effect on my music in the future.We will have to see!
Q5.Has the music you have written/are writing been affected by the experience of lockdown? I hesitate to use the term, ‘inspired by’ under the circumstances but have you written anything as a direct response to the pandemic?
Ans: Initially, I was quite dispirited by what was happening to the Country and my friends and I didn’t really wish to compose anything. However, as I had before the lockdown been commissioned to write a short choral work time was moving on and I thought I had better start looking for a suitable text. After some weeks of research I eventually found what I was looking for. As is often the case, the words seem to find me or perhaps with the current situation uppermost in my mind I was simply drawn to them. For what ever reason, I found Psalm 67. The words jumped off the page and seemed to have such a resonance with what is happening to our World. In the opening lines, the psalmist implores God to return health to the Nations and after praising God the earth will be ‘…rejuvenated and bountiful again…’. So in a strange way this epidemic has most definitely influenced my music.
Q6.If you have composed work during the lockdown does the music reflect society’s fear and anxiety or is intended to be soothing and/or uplifting?
Ans: I think that I have partly answered this question above. While the music for this setting is generally affirmative it is I think also consolatory.
The economy has suffered enormous damage because of the pandemic. The arts have suffered and will continue to suffer as a result. If people cannot come together there are no audiences. There is much talk about a ‘new normal’. As a composer, where do you see your place in this new normal?
At the present time it is difficult to know what this this so called ‘new normal’ will look like. Everything depends upon whether an effective vaccine can be discovered that will largely eradicate both the spread of the virus and prevent further outbreaks. If this can be done in the short term, then there’s every hope but the world of live music will recover and concerts the recitals can resume. If this happens, then I do not foresee any change in my work as a composer. Hopefully, new commissions will come my way and that they will be performed as they were before the crisis.
Q7.Technology has done much to bringing people together during this time of crisis – including an online EMF. How is technology helping you as a composer? Have you become more adept at using technology in your life and work?
Using modern technology as always played a part in certain aspects of my work. For example, using computer software programmes such as Sibelius to typeset my scores, or perhaps using Zoom for long distance interviews. If, in the future means live music has to be streamed online, then I may ell have two become more adept with some of the more recent forms of online communication.
Q8.Many musicians have taken to the internet to perform to an admittedly virtual audience. Have you worked with particular musicians to encourage the performance of your music?
Ans: Regarding my own music I think it is still early days regarding future performances. If the present circumstances become the norm then I would hope to work with musicians on mounting Live streamed concerts that might include my work.
Q9. There is already a major crisis in the arts in the UK which the continuing lockdown will undoubtedly exacerbate in the months pass. I would therefore like to conclude by asking contributors how they envisage the future of classical music in the ‘new normal’. What recommendations would they have to help the classical music sector survive and thrive?
Ans: Assuming that recitals and concerts are allowed to resume and that social distancing measures remain in place then I would urge concert organisers to consider ‘back to back evening concerts. With a slightly earlier start time and a shortened but similar programme that could be repeated in the later concert, the organiser could issue tickets that would allow social distancing to occur in both concerts. What I am suggesting is basically two concerts per night.
Graham Wiffen, Articles editor