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sydney children’s choir composer-in-residence for 2014

February 19, 2015 , , , , , , , , ,

Neon spatterThis article will appear in the online version of Limelight Magazine. So excited to be profiled + to have the chance to talk about my work with the Sydney Children’s Choir. Stay tuned!


 

Name: Annie Kwok

Mission: 2014 Composer-in-Residence for the Sydney Children’s Choir

In A Nutshell: Total and complete secondary classroom music teacher with a nerdy love of musicianship, choral director with an unabashed love of the different colours of voices, a soft spot for the sound of the just-changed male voice with its wonderful fragility + rawness, renegade choral composer and accidental academic.


Having the opportunity to write for young people who can get into the very soul of your work and bring it to life is one of the most inspiring occurrences in my place of work. I was honoured and excited to accept the role of Composer-in-Residence when approached by Lyn Williams, the Artistic Director of Gondwana and Sydney Children’s Choirs.

Each year, Sydney Children’s Choir works in conjunction with a major Sydney cultural institution, to bring to life some aspect of that organisation. Recent residencies have illuminated facets of the Powerhouse Museum, the State Library, and the Art Gallery with insight, warmth and relevance. It’s a wonderful and lively way of connecting young people with the city and, with the composer and the SCC artistic staff guiding their interactions, new words and snippets of compositions begin to grow.

I particularly wanted to be a composer who was there, present and onsite, to be with the choristers and for them to be able to ask me questions about the composition process. With the generous support of the Australian Arts Council who provided $5000.00 toward living costs while undertaking my residency, I was able to work with the choristers, run workshops at their camps and spend time with them, visit Cockatoo Island several times to absorb the history of the place I was writing about, and to get to know a little of the bustle and energy that is Sydney.

To have those intensely creative, lively and playful composition workshops, contained within the connective world of a choral camp provided a present and personal foundation from which to write. In getting to know the personality of each choir, vocally, intellectually and emotively, I was inspired to write in a way that could bring their unique selves to life within the living, breathing entity of a choir.

Even more inspiring was interacting with the choristers on their personal compositions, and seeing a raw, essential creative energy alive in so many of them. I love demystifying the composition process and making it accessible; composition is a skill which needs to be practised, a place where you need to be daring and tender, imaginative and disciplined…that this is the nature of being creative, which often runs at odds with the discipline I require in my classroom teaching. There is always a change of momentum in the room when students realise that if they improvise and change things, or play with sounds on the piano, the nuances in a phrase, and the resonance in words, that they are being creative…and they are composing. How they decide to shape their fledgling ideas is what brings their work into being and turns them from sketches into something substantial. Some of the ideas that they showed me in the gaps between rehearsals and workshops were truly innovative, sensitive and intelligent. The thing with young people and composition is that anything is possible; there is no pre-determined framework. That sort of raw desire to make a certain sound, or inspire a certain feeling is the perfect place for innovation and self-expression, and the birthplace of all things creative.

The Sydney Children’s Choir team was fabulous, extending an open invitation for me to come and sit in on any rehearsals I wanted and to interact with the students between breaks and on camps. I had a clear idea of how I wanted to approach my composer residency and how I wanted to connect it with the story and history of Cockatoo Island. I felt it would be impossible to tell the story of the history of the island in my pieces, so what I aimed to do was take one different aspect for each choir…the boys’ industrial school, the girls’ reform school, the ship building, the convicts, the changing and unstable history of the island, the thrill of discovery…and bring that to the forefront of the chorister’s thinking. I wanted my pieces to be not only musically satisfying to sing, but also a beginning point of discussion between themselves and their tutors in a language that resonated with them. Because of this, I found myself writing pieces with a thread of self and identity running…for example, the piece “Who Am I?” written for the Kats-Chernin, Byrne and Leek choirs, is written as if the spirit of the island were questioning its own history and worth, to be performed by choristers at the age where creating their identity and realising their self-worth is at the forefront of their thinking.

There is also a particularly special composition in the mix, “My Corner of The Sea”, written around the same time as the sudden and sad passing of Harley Mead, and will be dedicated to him. I was then writing a piece about the boys’ industrial school and wondering how a young boy aged between 9-15, who longed for a moment to just “be”, would find joy in a highly-structured institution. I thought if they found their own little “corner of the sea”, that might be one way of finding time for themselves so they didn’t not lose sight of their identity. Those who know me well will know that it’s me all over…my little corner of the sea is at the end of the jetty at Henley Square in my hometown of Adelaide, a place where I go when I have been “whumped” by life, and holds many special memories for me!

I whole-heartedly thank Lyn Williams and the sensational team of artistic and administrative staff of Sydney Children’s Choir for the opportunity to write for so many wonderful choristers.

With joy!

Annie Kwok

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