White Storks online

This week’s breaking news is that my new piece White Storks for string octet is now available online.

On Sunday 19th July 2020 Shipley Arts Festival broadcast their Wilding Concert on Zoom. It was the festival’s 6th concert to reach the audience via the internet during the COVID-19 pandemic. The concert included pre-recorded performances from three venues in and around Shipley in West Sussex.

I am really delighted to have been asked to write a new piece to celebrate the return of white storks to the UK after over 600 years and to have had the chance to work with the Shipley Arts Festival. The world premiere of my White Storks string octet came towards the end of the concert, filmed and recorded the previous weekend at the Knepp Estate in Shipley, where the storks have been re-introduced. The new octet was performed by members of the Bernardi Music Group and accompanied by dancer Vikkie Mead.

Now in it’s 20th year Shipley Arts Festival, led by violinist and artistic director Andrew Bernardi, is exhibiting an admirable doggedness and determination to keep going under difficult circumstances and is succeeding in entertaining and moving a growing audience at a time when we all desperately need creative and cultural stimulii. The whole concert can now be viewed on Andrew Bernardi’s You Tube channel. along with the previous 5 concerts of the 2020 festival.

The new commission has attracted some media interest with plugs on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM as well as interviews on Radio Sussex’s Breakfast Show with Mark Carter (our interview is 1 hr and 50 mins into the show) and a magazine show, Local World which goes out weekly on two community radio stations in West Dorset: Abbey104 in Sherborne and KeeP106 in Dorchester (my interview with presenter Jenny Devitt and an extract of the new piece is 13 minutes into the 23/07 programme).

I am so grateful to all involved for giving me this wonderful opportunity. They are all named at the end of the concert film. Do take a look.

Of course now, I’m noticing storks everywhere – This morning I went to our drawer of postcards collected by both me and Steve over the last 40 or more years and the first one a picked up was this, produced by German postcard makers Editions Michel + Co in their Sundshine cards category. There definitely seems to be a story here – but what?…… if this rings any bells with anyone, I’d love to know.

Birds and music

Image by katja from Pixabay

In just over 48 hours we will be able to see and hear Shipley Art Festival’s Wilding Concert beamed across the globe via Zoom. Last Sunday the Bernardi Music Group and I gathered, physically distanced of course, at Knepp Castle to record my new commission, White Storks for String Octet. It was the most overwhelming experience – hearing what’s been going round in my head for weeks in reality for the first time. Thanks to the brilliant players and the excellent film and sound producers the piece was reheased and recorded from a standing start in about an hour and a half.

You can get your ticket by visiting the Shipley Arts Festival website and following ‘forthcoming events’ and 19th July or you can go straight to the eventbrite ticket page here.

Shipley Arts Festival have been broadcasting their concerts on YouTube and Zoom since the beginning of lockdown, refusing to give up the idea of sharing music with their friends and audience. In fact this way, people from far and wide can join in and it may be that some who have been unable to attend concerts for years suddenly find themselves among the audience. There are a few silver linings to the restricted world we find ourselves in.

Birds are a frequent source of inspiration for artists of all kinds, but music and dance seem to echo the kinds of words we use to describe the nature and behaviour of birds – flying, soaring, gliding, spiraling. In the first section of my new piece I am imagining the white storks near the end of their journey from Africa to Sussex, glimpsed in the distance, floating in the air, then as individual birds come into view you start to hear solo musical phrases which leap and dip. When we were recording – I explained that the way to play the phrases as I imagine them is to feel like a bird in flight, or a bird on the nest – the storks have a strange way of moving back and forth on the nest as though they can’t quite decide where to stand. The way a stringed instrument is played with the long sweep of the arm with the bow is perfect for this kind of visualisation. The 8 string players play in pairs, sometimes moving as one, sometimes more like a duet or one echoing the other. I’ve tried to write it as a very democratic piece to play. All the players have their moments.

Throughout the process I have been following The White Stork Project on social media and seeing the work of various photographers. I still haven’t seen the storks in real life so for now these amazing images are my reality. Last Sunday I met photographer Malcolm Green who has been following the progress of the White Storks at Knepp for the last 2 years. This is what he said about my new piece:

Your composition is beautiful and it resonated with me because I have watched and photographed the white storks at Knepp Castle Estate for 2 years and your music captures the magic and behaviours of these incredible birds. The white stork project is a re-introduction programme based in West Sussex and it is a wonderful advert for conservation. Your composition is perfect timing too as the first wild storks have successfully bred in the UK for the first time since 1416. For me, your music has now become the white stork project theme tune. Thank you! 

So please do join us on Sunday at 6.00 pm for the Shipley Arts Festival Wilding Concert and the world premiere of White Storks.

Off to Knepp

Tomorrow, Steve and I will be driving off cross country for the first time since the beginning of lockdown. We will be travelling on the iconic A272, subject of ‘A272: An Ode to a Road’ by Pieter and Rita Boogaart, heading for the Knepp estate in Shipley, West Sussex, where the Bernardi String Octet will be recording my new piece, White Storks.

Four of the octet are the members of the quartet who performed in Artmusic’s ‘In the Field’ in Wadhurst in May 2015 and played my ‘A Field in May’ so beautifully. This commission is a consequence of that collaboration and it will be great to be working with those players again.

This morning Andrew Bernardi and I were interviewed on BBC Radio Sussex. The White Stork Project and Shipley Festival’s innovative online concerts are attracting a lot of attention. This concert is special in that it brings together Knepp’s rewilding project and the storks with music and the local community which supports Shipley Arts Festival. This is all very rooted in Sussex but interest in rewilding and protecting endangered species is universal. Because of the online platform we hope the audience will be from across the globe.

The first of the stork chicks flew the nest on Thursday afternoon. The other chicks may be taking their first flights while we’re at Knepp, which would be very exciting to see. The first new stork life in Britain for 600 years. They are beautiful, engaging birds with great character and I feel very fortunate to have been asked to write music to celebrate their return to our landscape.

You can see video of the first chick’s first flight on instagram at @kneppsafaris and you can follow the progress of the storks by visiting the White Stork Project website. And to find out more about the concert on Sunday 19th July and to buy tickets visit the Shipley Arts Festival website.

Pencil and paper

White Storks parts 1
22 pages of parts for my new White Storks string octet

I have been promising myself for years that I will aquire and learn to use a music writing software package. And, thanks to a bit of emergency COVID19 funding from Arts Council England, I will be able to buy my preferred software and aquaint myself with the joys of digital music writing over a semi-locked down summer.

However, I am very much in two minds.  Sitting at the piano with a lovely soft pencil in my hand and blank manuscript paper on the music stand, I feel a bit like an artist poised, brush in hand, to make the first marks of a new painting. It’s not a part of the process that I want to move onto the computer. So sketching out initial ideas will definitely stay analogue.

If it’s an ensemble piece, as in the case of White Storks, even when the score is finished there are the parts to write.  A totally different kind of exercise – very practical – a matter of putting down each player’s notes in such a way that they will be able to understand what’s going on in the other parts without cluttering their page.

White Storks the right ruler

I get my tools together: a pencil, preferably B, a very good rubber and a ruler – I use my father’s old Gestetner ruler – the best ruler I’ve found yet.   In the vicarage in Wolvercote, when I was growing up, the Gestetner duplicating machine sat in the corner of the dining room.  My father would write the notices for the Sunday service by hand.  Then my mother would sit up on Saturday evenings typing them onto the very distinctive Gestetner stencils ready for feeding through the machine to print the sheets for the next day.  I would often come home after a Saturday night out to be welcomed by the ink smells and the machine noises of the Gestetner at work.  So the ruler which I have inherited must have come with the machine. Anyway, a ruler is essential. Hand-drawn note stems are fine but bar lines must be straight.

pencil and music paper

I noticed today after writing with it all week that the pencil I was using had the words ‘shadow play’ printed on the side. So actually it is a drawing pencil designed for creating light and shade – hopefully this is what I’ve been doing with it in some way.

Am I talking myself out of getting to grips with digital technology? No, I’m sure I will find ways to integrate modern ways into my practice, comfortably old-fashioned as it currently is. It’s strange really as, in my work with Artmusic, digital technology is an essential part of the production and presentation process.

Now my hand-written parts for White Storks have winged their way to Sussex and the members of the octet. On Sunday we will gather at Knepp Castle to perform the piece for the first time and record it for broadcast on Zoom the following week.

And meanwhile the source of the inspiration for the piece, the white storks, are busy. The first of the recently hatched chicks took it’s first flight yesterday afternoon. See @Kneppsafaris on Instagram for video footage. These are the first white storks born in Britain for 600 years. This young stork’s siblings will surely take their first flights over the coming days. The ambition is for there to be at least 50 breeding pairs in Southern England by 2030. Such a brilliant story to write music for. Such a privilege.

The Zoom virtual concert featuring my new piece is at 6.30 pm on Sunday 19th July 2020. For more info and links to tickets visit Shipley Arts Festival

For more information about the White Storks visit the White Stork Project