Do writers write from beginning to end, or do they create their work in bits here and there before stringing it all together? Composing wise, I definitely tend to be the latter. You have to go where the inspiration takes you. Sometimes that can be the climatic point of the piece, sometimes a snippet of melody, and sometimes the first bar. Of course, once the piece is completed (and often even before then) the re-writing begins to ensure that the piece makes sense no matter what order it was composed in.
I hadn’t finished the other pieces in the cycle when Graham had completed (or near completed) the text for Curating the Collection. Each stanza – a haiku – relates to a piece in the song cycle. I wanted to find a way to musically tie each haiku to its piece without simply re-using each art song’s melody lines.
At first I played with trying to do clever things with haiku. I looked at patterns of 5/4, 7/4 and 5/4 bars to emulate the haiku syllable pattern. I came up with a few potential ideas, but none stuck – one got closer than the others but still wasn’t completely right. I put it to one side for a while while I completed other pieces in the cycle.
One day while searching for ideas for a different project these three bars suddenly fell under my fingers:
The first three bars of the final Cracked Voices piece were born. The notes are stunningly simple with a more complex time signature: an alternating pattern of 7/8 + 4/4. The 7/8 chimes beautifully with wanting to get the figure 7 into the final song of the cycle somehow. The figure 5 came more easily. My gamelan background means I’ve always loved pentatonic scales, and from those first three bars a mostly pentatonic melody flowed quite easily.
The structure developed quite naturally also. A haiku for each song in the cycle – including one summative one – meant 12 haiku texts to set. Splitting them into groups of four provided a nice structure per section – AABA roughly – and three sections to set. The haiku were divided between soprano and baritone by who performed the original art songs, with some becoming duets. With the text linking back to each song in the cycle, the final pieces of the puzzle was how to ensure the music hinted back at each piece too. With the soprano, baritone and pianist all tied up, that left one performer to tie everything together..
Curating the collection is the final art song in the Cracked Voices song cycle, and was also the final one I wrote. It completes the cycle and reflects all the other pieces, touching on each character’s story. To hear it performed alongside the rest of the Cracked Voices song cycle join us at the second performance on Saturday 28th April at Royston Methodist Church.