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