You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
I have recently come back from directing the Young Composer School at Gondwana Voices National Choral School, a role that I have relished as it combined the paradox of creativity with the responsibility of quality choral education.
Creatives who are choral composers are always asked to straddle the line between imaginative possibility and what choirs are able to do for them. Write a work that is too specialised, and only the very best choirs with well-developed technical ability can perform them. Write a work that is too juvenile and simple, and choirs will find it unsatisfying on both counts. Even more than for instrumental writing, choral composition requires the composer to write as both a creative and an educator.
Write a piece that resonates with choristers of a certain age-bracket and ability, enhances their vocal development, and expands their performance confidence + sound, and you will have a sustainable and well-loved piece of repertoire which has the power to affect choristers long after the final performance of the piece.
And this is where I find complete joy; trying to find that sweet spot. I write like an educator, always looking for words that will stick, and what feels good on the voice, and how to create a choral framework whereby a developing choir will feel and sound good performing my pieces. I also seek to extend and develop quality vocal technique but in the “Mary-Poppins-spoon-full-of-sugar” kind of way, through embedding choral technique in a way that it is unnoticed until you have reaped the rewards of it through rehearsing and performing an engaging piece of music.
And this is what I have spent that last week mentoring and teaching to the young composers at Gondwana NCS.
I had an incredibly nostalgic realisation during the choral school; that when I was 25 years old, someone took a chance on me as a young composer. That someone was the artistic director of Sydney Children’s Choir, Lyn Williams, who saw something worth developing in my writing and in my love of choral education. Now, at age 37, I realise that my time for looking for mentors is being overlapped by actually doing the mentoring myself. Rather than cold-calling for mentorship, I am now cold-calling to mentor. When I see that spark of determination, uniqueness of voice, a love of the voice, dedication to developing as a composer, resiliency, and a talent that resonates with my own creative values, it is my job and privilege to offer to nurture that talent.
And so I did this. There were two stand-out composers in my small group of 7, and I wrote emails acknowledging the manner with which they embraced the composing school, their quality of work, and their ability to collaborate in a healthy and productive way whilst still maintaining their creative voice.
It’s now my responsibility to look for places where I can shine the torch on the brilliant and innovative young talent coming through. And what an honour to look at things so differently, whilst still having the chance to work as a creative myself.
It feels enlightening to be holding the torch and illuminating the journey from the other side!
Each day, we do our best. And each day, we need to look for ways to strive to be more, to push our boundaries, to be inspired by others, and to be humbled.
This is today’s dose of all that for me. Beautiful, inspiring, and humbling. A reminder of how strong and supple we all are, how innately beautiful, courageous, and creative.
Don’t live within the boundaries. Nobody knows they can be pushed up against and broken unless someone does it. You can’t live life always looking for an example of “someone who’s done it”.
Why don’t you be in the front line, and go and do the impossible?
Oh, that war with creating + creativity which drives us creatives mad. And, if you’re a working-creative, as most of us are because we like to eat, then finding snippets of time can be such a challenge.
But, for those of you out there who love to create, answer me this. How much more yourself and alive do you feel after you’ve directed that creative, imaginative energy someplace? Even if starting the project is absolutely excruciating, when you are in it up to your armpits, making, generating, imagining, dreaming, gathering, speaking, composing, writing – whatever your means of creating, after you share a little bit of yourself with yourself and the world, you cannot help but feel more whole.
As Brené Brown advocated from her research, “Un-used creativity is dangerous. It metastasises.”
We are deeply human, and therefore, we must create.
Finding my voice in all the tiredness and noise is an immense challenge, and one I’d like to explore more deeply in 2019. I am a composer + writer, and a full-time teacher. My teaching takes every bit of creativity and energy from me, but I find that when I am composing + writing, I have a voice that is uniquely my own, and I owe it to myself to nurture and celebrate more consistently. How can I be an effective teacher of a creative subject if I do not explore my own creativity? Just as I am a practicing musician, I would like to consciously make time and room to be a practicing creative.
Finding my voice. When I am on the work treadmill, in go-mode, my truly authentic and creative voice takes a while to surface. I would like to find a pathway back to that voice by practising using it, by playing with ideas. I can find time, always, but finding the strength of purpose to commit to practising my creative voice will be a habit which requires focus + persistence. But when I find that voice and I am in the sweet spot of creating, there is nothing more real or authentic. And then, what I have to hand on to my students in composing + creating becomes more relevant + meaningful.
Creativity as a practice. Creativity doesn’t just spring up when bidden like a willing genie. In fact, it’s the most unwillingly, cunning, slippery little son-of-a-biatch that I’ve ever met. Like most teachers, I can find whatever time you need me to find in a week if I try hard enough. But finding the headspace?! Good luck! So, as with practising the authenticity of voice, I am going to commit to practising my creativity like a habit. This will mean writing, performing, playing with ideas, working snippets of melodies, active listening, and analysis. I cannot grow without drinking in all the inspiration around me on a regular basis, and I know that I would like to be purposeful in my creative ventures, rather than leaving them to chance. Therefore, my creativity will be a hobby that I will pick and prod away at with curiosity, purpose, and a new level of responsibility.
Daydreaming. To the complete opposite end of the spectrum to everything I have just said, I’d like to find unstructured daydreaming time, where ideas can be immersed in rich, creative limbo and take shape + structure. These times will very likely be in the shower, on my drive to school, on my morning walks, my weekend runs, or anytime that I have where I do not have to actively be engaged with anything else. I am going to allow myself permission to do sweet nothing and daydream.
Play. I look back at my 25-year-old self and realise I was so innately playful as a young composer + teacher. While the joy and authenticity is still there, I want to be in it all, being the one who throws the confetti into the air, or who asks the crazy “what if?” Being playful in how I approach my daily tasks will strengthen not only my problem-solving abilities, but keep my creative muscle strong. It also requires regular leaps of faith, something that becomes all too easy to sidestep the older we get.
Tiredness. This one is an eternal challenge, and the thing which most quickly kills creativity. For this, I would like to tap into my tiredness and temper it with a gentler creative activity; reading, writing, or active listening. I lost a lot of time this year in mindless busy-work versions of procrastination, and if I were able to gently discipline and guide those moments of tiredness, I might restore my energy levels in a much more productive and artistic manner.
Start. This one is excruciating, and if you’re a creative, you will damn well know what I mean. So this one is simple. JUST START. Do the shitty first draft, do the totally rubbish throw-down of lyrics, or chords, or melodic ideas. Because from the rubble will come a gem, and from that start will grow embers of excitement and discipline. You cannot pick when ownership will take shape on a creative project, but it always does. Inevitably, there is always a connection, a moment where you fall in love with what you’re doing. There is ALWAYS a turning point.
Authentically human. Create for the sake of using my voice, and because I am so completely human. Not for an audience, not with untold limits. The fact that I am creating art must be for myself, so that someone else might be moved and see themselves reflected in what I have to say. There is no greater drain on creativity than when you create with the expectation that you will please someone, or conform to someone else’s ideals. Even in a commissioned work, the voice must be authentic. Set down your framework and requirements, be it words, vocal ranges, abilities, and so forth. Then play within the parameters. You voice begins there.
Yes, I’m a Year 6-12 Specialist Classroom Music teacher, but being in a secondary school comes with hilarious and awesome benefits. Like being asked to RIDE A STUDENT-BUILT HOVERCRAFT!
This was the coolest thing ever. We had Year 8 Science Week and a KID BUILT A HOVERCRAFT, from a leaf-blower, piece of wood, and a lightweight plastic chair.
WHAT. A. CHAMP.
The gala piece that became the Olympic free skate for Adam Rippon.
And the story behind it which I never knew until now; a strong capable leader of the flock injured and in recovery, creating a new strength + redefining themselves.
A reflection of Adam’s own personal journey and his confidence in defining his own artistry, which in my opinion stands him apart from the crowd despite not having the technical merit of the top contenders.
Amazing, the light that shines when we each of us commit to being authentic.
My new laptop decal. My students get even more excited about these than I do!
And note the TOTALLY GORGEOUS Tiff Manuell laptop case, a belated b’day gift this year. LOOOOOVE!
My colour and OCD tendencies are humming with joy right now! How cool is this?!
I wrote this piece for the inaugural Gondwana Voices National Choral School Young Composer Award in 2006.
It was premiered by Gondwana Voices in January 2006 + broadcast nationally by ABC Classic FM in June 2006.
It is entitled “Waking Dreamer”, with lyrics written to inspire + empower the young choristers of Gondwana Voices. It has been mistakenly titled, “Walking Dreamer”, which makes me laugh + I quite like! Inspires thoughts of industrious lemmings, or sleep-walkers on a mission! 😉
Performance Date: January 2010, Verbrugghen Hall, Conservatorium of Music in Sydney
Choir: Gondwana Singers
Conductor: Ben van Tienen
Pianist: Luke Byrne
I am dawn, I am sunlight, I am the promise of a brand new day
I am sky, I am noontide, I am the wonder of an open page
Open eyes and see the world!
Hush! I am the waking dreamer
Open eyes so much to tell!
Hush! I am the waking dreamer
There is a spirit alive within me
And all I dream, I dare to see
I am the laughter of the endless salty sea
The fragrant hush of mighty eucalyptus trees
The cutting cold of dead of night which stars so silently
And every thought and sound is so alive in me
How blessed I must be to sing upon the winds of change
Winds of change! Turning, spinning, blurring, I’m a dreamer!
Waking dreamer, tumbling, spinning dreamer
Waking dreamer, touch the ground and
I feel the ache of my history
I dare to write my reality
How blessed I may sing upon the winds of change
I feel the ache of history, I touch the searing pain
And though I tumble through each word, each page, each chapter read
I know that I can change the course of what is said
Dream and see, dream and believe!
Seeker! Sleeper! Speaker! See-er!
I read an article this morning which got me thinking as to why I journal:
I am an avid journaller. I have written since I was 11 years old, when my Year 6 teacher said that I could improve my haphazard English if I wrote + read regularly, anything + everything, and that if i practised these skills, I could be as “articulate in my words + language as clearly as I could think my thoughts.”
What a magical idea to plant into the head of a precocious 11-year-old. What an extraordinarily insightful teacher.
So I became an avid reader of “anything + everything”; books, magazines, instruction booklets, recipes, wine labels (here’s where it started!), lolly wrappers, bread bags + cereal boxes.
And I wrote. Sometimes it was pages, sometimes it was a single sentence, but I always checked in with my thoughts. Glorious, haphazard, cascading words which tumbled from my mind + pen like colourful beads, threaded together in whatever way I wanted, in pure and beautiful creation. I loved that these words could resonate with my very being, I loved that I could actually make my language stronger + better, and I loved to be able to articulate the nuances of my thoughts in a way that allowed a myriad of new colours as I developed vocabulary.
Now…and I still write. I write for the pure joy of writing. I write because it allows me to see that passage of my thinking, and collect the value and worth from every corner of my thoughts.
I write for the flow of words…a thread of thoughts that sometimes don’t have meaning until I see them on the page.
I write to understand + to make sense of happenings.
I write, and suddenly I’m collecting hidden gems that never would have shown themselves in the flow of everyday thinking.
I have an empty page in which to “imaginate”, and ideas blossom + cartwheel across the page in wild abandon. I can’t do that when I’m thinking in a linear fashion, or when I’m in teaching-mode…writing allows me to shift into 3D; to see every aspect of a concept, idea, thought, or emotion.
I practise my words. I practise language. I am constantly learning how to “good speak the Engrish”! My absolute love of the sounds + melody in language comes from the fact I do not have perfect command of it; I have to work to discover it every day. Every day, my word-palette grows. My ears are awakened to new cadences + harmonies in language. I’m like a magpie collecting sounds.
I write and close my journal on the chaos, then I read it a few days later and marvel at how the chaos has suddenly become clarity, and that clarity speaks truly of what is going on in my head + heart, and what my next step should be. Sometimes the clarity is generous + full, other times I am stunned into silence, and I know I need to draw on my courage to take the next step. But there is never lack of clarity.
Often I write, and I never read those words again. They have been sent off, they have been set free…but some heaviness has lifted, some clarity of focus has been given to me, and I am blessed with the next step. I know what I need to do. The words have afforded me clarity, compassion, integrity + freedom.
It’s the draft before I speak in a conversation that I know will be hard…and somehow, the written words give courage + life to the ones I need to voice.
I’m allowed to put the puzzle pieces in order. Those of you who know me very well will know that when I am completely wrecked + exhausted, I speak like Yoda. Without the wonderful wisdom. That’s also a quirk of the “Engrish-as-a-2nd-language”!
I write because I have a message, even if it’s one just for me, that I don’t even know I need to know yet!
Another funny quirk of having “Engrish-as-a-2nd-language” is that as I write, no combination of words is off limits. So some of my most unexpectedly lyrical, perfectly surprising pairings and strands of words happen because I just write. There are no rules, no corrections, no requirements, no frameworks. The open page is a place where I can give my thoughts + words a place to dance in whatever way they want.
I write because I am a human being with a heart that beats.
I write because I absolutely have to create.
I write because I have a voice.
Clever + creative!
Love every one of these! 🙂