In 2017 I was the lucky recipient of a NSW Flute Society Grant. The Grant enabled me to compose a work for flute ensemble which was performed by two different groups in both Newcastle and Sydney. It also gave me more confidence as a composer and sparked the development of future compositions and community engagements. My initial goal for this grant was to compose three works for an adult flute ensemble that would be performed in bowling Clubs all around Newcastle, throughout the year. The works were then to be made accessible for other flute teachers to use with teenagers and adult flute ensembles. I soon came up against some challenges which made me re-evaluate my goals.
Challenges and Changes
I proposed to compose new pieces for an amateur adult flute ensemble that explored the use of extended techniques as well as some graphic notation. The idea was to compose an original piece that could be easily played with varying levels of difficulty between parts. It could then be transferred to other mixed ability flute ensembles. This piece was to be performed by a group I set up at the beginning of this year called “The Unofficial Flute Ensemble”. The ensemble was initially made up of 3 adult beginners and 2 adults that were starting out on flute as a second instrument. The ensemble started well, however many difficulties arose in holding the group together. The main issue with this was finding the appropriate time and venue. I found a bowling club willing to host rehearsals, however again the times weren’t appropriate for the group. After advertising to other local teachers and students, interest was prevalent however commitment and the rehearsal times proved to be too challenging.
After much consideration I decided that it would be good to utilise and test the works with a mixed ensemble I was already running, based at the Glendale Waldorf Steiner school.
I was also approached by The NSW Flute Society to compose the work in time for the Flute Gala Day in March this year. This was a great opportunity to test the work and gain some responses from a much larger ensemble with varying ages and abilities. I was also really lucky to receive feedback along the way from Flute society members such as Lamorna Nightingale and Janet Dimitroff. Whilst the work wasn’t performed in The Carrington Bowling Club in Newcastle as originally intended, it was performed twice by two different groups in two different settings. The Newcastle Steiner school reached students and parents, whilst the Gala Day performance reached parents from Sydney and Newcastle, as well as many other flute players who were associated with the Flute Society of NSW.
The premiere was filmed and shared on the flute society’s Facebook page. (see video and photo)
The general theme proposed for the work was loosely based on “interactions”. In the search for more inspiration I decided to take some field recordings in natural environments. So, I made a trip to visit a friend who has a secluded property in the Manning Valley. At sunset I was instantly taken by the rich layers of sound coming from the insects, frogs and birds. I took a field recording of this and listened carefully to the unusual croaks, taps, beats and rhythms of the surrounding forests. Next came the deep listening process, where I listened to the recording many times and improvised short sounds and melodies over the track. This eventually sparked a theme. Each time I listened I visualised the insects frogs and birds all gathering for an event, like a dance party. From this an overall structure and melodic ideas started to form as well as a collage and some visual explorations of the textures I was hearing. (see images) The greatest challenge then became putting my ideas down into a score or format which could be understood and easily read. I also found it difficult trying to consider the levels for each part, keeping it both simple enough for beginners and exciting enough for more Advanced players.
How were the funds used?
Time composing, recording and creating: 15 hours
Time organising groups, extra rehearsals and performance: 2 hours
Travel to Sydney from Newcastle: $40
Future of the Project
My aim for this project is to compose more works for mixed ability flute ensembles that introduce extended techniques. I will test these on my current flute ensemble that I run at the Newcastle Waldorf School. The aim is to contribute new and interesting flute repertoire for teaching and community ensembles. These will then be made available online for a small price. I would also like to find an opportunity to have these works performed in obscure venues such as Bowling clubs, with the intention of capturing new audience members and participants. “The Unofficial Flute Ensemble” is still generating interest and there is a determination to start again with new members and times in mind.