St Magnus International Festival & Composer Course

So I spent from 10th-24th June 2017 on the beautiful Orkney Islands, attending the most phenomenal composition course and festival, with the marvellous composition tutors Alasdair Nicolson and Sally Beamish.

There were 8 composers on the composers course, and this ran alongside the writing and conducting courses, 9 and 8 individuals in each respectively.

Our task, before arriving in Orkney, was to create a piece that was near finished, but had room for improvement and changes; this should have been about 5-6′ of material. Mine ended up being 7′. Throughout the course we worked extensively with some of the best musicians I’ve encountered, The Assembly Project. Their dedication and commitment to workshopping, playing, rehearsing, tweaking, and finally performing all 8 new pieces was absolutely stunning. Every composer on the course was thrilled about their time with the ensemble, and even more thrilled about the results during the final performance.

As part of this project the composers were each paired with a conductor from the conducting course, and my wonderful collaborative partner was Tom Coult, a brilliant musician who is both a composer and conductor – there was no one better for my piece. A non-stop, ever changing, theatrical onslaught needs a conductor who understands the whacky wants of composers, and Tom was exactly that!

I hope my piece hasn’t scared all the players away! A big shout out to Fraser Langton for being the best diva on stage!


Alongside this project, we also collaborated with those on the writers course. I was fortunate enough to collaborate with two writers – Aileen Ballantyne, and Kate Oldfield. Their poetry was extraordinary, and the composers were to compose short string quartets in response to these poems. The string quartets were workshopped by the wonderful Gildas Quartet. One of mine was definitely successful, the other lesser so, but the poetry was nonetheless stunning. I’m hoping to collaborate further with both writers in the future.

One of the most difficult, yet rewarding projects of the course, was the collaboration with Hear My Music, an organisation that helps those who have learning difficulties experience music making. All the composers were paired with a child from a local school in Kirkwall; the children all composed and provided a bit of musical material as a starting point for the composers on the course to write something for The Assembly Project (again! they must have been fed up of us!). I was paired with a lovely girl called Evie, who provided me with 6 notes. I found out that Evie likes mysterious shipwrecks, so I tailored the 6 notes to that kind of mood. During the concert I noticed how a lot of children found some of the pieces very difficult to cope with, either being too tense, not resolving, or not to their taste. After the concert I discovered that Evie really liked it! So at least one person was definitely happy!!

During all of this we were supported by Alasdair and Sally, who both provided the most invaluable advice. There was also a wonderful workshop with Rafal Łuc, a Polish accordion player, who introduced us to its amazing contemporary repertoire. And of course this was all complimented by all of the concerts in the festival!

I stayed in a place called Berstane House, which was a 30 minute walk into Kirkwall, with 3 other composers, all of whom I’ve come to greatly respect, and hope I will keep in touch with! (That also goes for the rest of the people on the course too!). Berstane overlooks the sea, and has the most stunning views, views that no photo can do justice.We also had the most marvellous views of cows and sheep (pretty good pictures of those though!), pretty much in 360.

The opening reception took place at The Sound Hub, a new club for Kirkwall, in the presence of Norwegian Royalty! Many a night was spent at the Festival Club (the same place) with all the musicians, performers, composers, conductors and tutors – I was introduced to Kirkjuvagr Gin and I think I may be hooked!

As the course was so intense with so much work and revising of scores, there was very little free time! But with some perseverance, however, and a few days spare at the end I managed to fit in some trips with my Berstane-housemate Matt Grouse, an absolutely fantastic composer, based in Glasgow, Derrick Morgan, a conductor based in Edinburgh, and some of Matt’s friends. We went to Stromness, Skara Brae, The Ring of Brodgar, The Standing Stones, Scapa Beach and Scapa Distillery.

Alasdair, Sally, Tom, Matt, David, Mike, Lillie, Angela, Carol, Anselm, Derrick, Fraser, Fenella, Emma, Rachael, Ian, Clea, Emily, & everyone else involved in the 2017 St Magnus International Festival, thank you so much for making it the most incredible experience, I will cherish the memories I made with all of you.




Secrets Untold Devour

I have recently finished a piece for the wonderful Jennie Boase, a trumpet player at the Birmingham Conservatoire. The piece is titled Secrets Untold Devour, it’s around 14 minutes long, and is for trumpet, piano and percussion. Jennie commissioned the piece as part of her Major Project, where 4th year students undertake a large project to show their skills in a number of different areas, not just performance or composition.

Jennie’s goal with her Major Project was not just one for the sake of fulfilling an academic requirement: her goal was to get composers to write a varied set of adventurous works that will encourage other trumpet players to work with more than just the available means, which she tells me is as a soloist, sometimes with piano, mostly without, or as various brass ensembles. There is a void of chamber music for trumpet that needs to be filled!

Working with Jennie thus far has been a fantastic experience, she has walked me through the trumpet, and showed me many of the marvellous merits it has. As part of this project Jennie is taking the mammoth task of learning all of these pieces by February 2017 and recording them after. The result will be a CD, and I am so excited to work further with Jennie and for the CD.

I’ll keep you posted!


Return to go forward

I have returned to the University of Birmingham for my masters, which I’m doing by research. I tend to fall asleep in classrooms, so I am giving the research approach a go! Sometimes I think going back is a bad idea, but sometimes one can also really benefit from having familiarity, whilst taking the challenge from a new changed angle.

So with new studies comes a new website, something a bit cleaner, tasteful and hopefully more stylish!

I’m currently also re-thinking my research ideas. I was originally going to pursue research into vocal music, and the relationship of the voice with other mediums including electronics, text, dance and choreography, and theatre. Whilst I still think this research is worthwhile, I’m currently having ideas for many other compositional endeavours, some of which I think are more interesting, such as exploring emotionality, expression, dramatic and teleological structures, and the Romantic in the Postmodern Era, insofar that I can still create vocal works, but also venture out into other mediums. I also have a number of performers and friends asking me for works, so I can kill two birds with one stone.

I am looking forward to whatever this year may have in store for me, and for you!

Until later,



Works, works, everywhere! Well…not EVERYWHERE…

So in the last two months I’ve had two works performed: one for Violin & piano at the Stratford Upon Avon Music Festival, performed by Alessandro Ruisi & Dina Duisen,  and one for Orchestra, as part of the Composers’ Orchestra Project at the Birmingham Conservatoire, performed by the Composers’ Orchestra and the wonderful Edwin Roxburgh.

It’s always so wonderful to hear works performed! As a composer it can be so easy to just write a piece, probably not hear it, forget about it, and move onto the next piece. In the case of both pieces …sonata… (Vl & Pn) and …miniatures… (orch.) I wrote the piece some time beforehand, submitted them, and kind of forgot about them. So it was a great experience to hear my own work, in a somewhat unfamiliar way! This kind of composition allows the rediscovery of the parts that you like, or even love, about your craft, and the parts of your technique that you need to address (this was what was so good and beneficial about the 4 days rehearsal I was so privileged to experience with the Composers’ Orchestra – I could change, add and remove elements that I thought were needed, or not expressed clearly enough etc.).

Being at a Conservatoire allows for a continual working relationship with other musicians, and it is always a delight to receive feedback on writing because it means that I’ll only keep getting better on writing for particular instruments. There are a number of composers who have expressed a disinterest with working with players, and this just baffles me: THE PLAYERS ARE THE BEST BIT! Without them a composer isn’t very much (unless s/he works in an electronic medium)!

I’m still energised from last nights’ performance, so thank you everyone who was involved! It was a delight!


Catch you later!

Bzzzt Bzzt Bzzt: E-L-E-C-T-R-O-N-I-C!

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m writing, and have realised that a lot of my current works are actually for Instrument & Electronics – which is not a medium I’ve not really explored. I’ve explored Instruments, and I’ve explored Electronics, but I have never combined the two until recently.

I’m looking forward to the many pieces that I am about to release on the world that are for instruments with electronics! I hope you are too!

Catch you later!


The last moments of time of my first time in Asia…

So now I’ve gallivanted from one side of the world to the other I have very little time to do anything! So I shall write up the blog of my last two weeks in Asia.  

On the following Monday (from our last day in Thailand) we travelled back from the ‘Land of a Thousand Smiles’ to Singapore. Our tour guide gave us a lovely farewell (despite sending us to the wrong place for departure! Haha!). 
Whilst at the Airport I bought a book called ‘Quiet’ which is about Introverts in a society dominated by Extroverts. It is a highly interesting book and I have now finished it; I would recommend it to everyone. 

We landed around 10pm and after customs, baggage and travel we got back to NUS at around 11:30pm. 

The Tuesday was mostly a day of recovery for most people, as everyone was worn out. I spent the day writing up postcards as well as buying some memorabilia from the Bookstore at NUS UTown. On the evening I had dinner with Kareem! 

On Wednesday I finally got my Canadian Study Permit application sent off, at the expense of not going out! Other than that there were two dreary lectures. I then had a fantastic chat with Adanna, a Kings College (London) undergraduate, who’s studying International Politics. we both discussed introvertism quite extensively. 

Thursday was a very good day, despite having little in it. I gained confirmation from the University of Western Ontario, that I would most likely be able to do the composition courses that I enrolled onto. This was an amazing feeling as I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to composition there. I sent off the postcards that I wrote on the Tuesday and edited photos from the field trip (which I’m still doing!). On the evening I met up with Duy, a guy from Vietnam who I quickly became friends with. 

On Friday we had a presentation day. MERGH! Actually it went quite well. Our powerpoint and presentation included various aspects of Singapore’s culture and diversity. After the presentation Victor, Trent, David, Maggie, Rahavie and I packed and went to Bintan, a resort Island in Indonesia. The Ferry was OK, but David fell ill. When we arrived we went through the most stupid system I’ve ever encountered for visas. We then found our rooms, went to a restaurant (that was bloody expensive!) and then went to the Beach (in the dead of night, where we sat and chatted). After this we returned to bed, where I slept very badly. 


On Saturday David and I spent some time after breakfast on the Beach.


We then met up with Maggie and went for some archery and shooting.


Our party then went on to get lunch, after which David needed to nap, so Maggie and I went to the beach! We returned to David after 50 minutes and went on one of the best experiences so far – we rode Elephants! 

On the resort, however, were a few things that really upset me, one was that there was a horse that was being used to entertain people, yet its condition of living was disgusting, as was its treatment. The people there glorified Elephants, yet neglected an equally magnificent animal. 

To our delight some people from NUS decided to join us. We all went for dinner, then the group decided to get merry off drink. 

On the morning we had breakfast, and I returned to Singapore, ahead of the rest of the group. I met with Duy and we walked and chatted for a while. On the evening I met up with Jing, a friend on the Main campus of NUS. 

On Monday I had a few lectures which were the last lectures of my time at NUS. On the afternoon I met up with Duy and we went to the cinema to see ‘White House Down’, which was a fantastic movie. 

On Tuesday I had the wonderful opportunity to meet up with Pei, a friend of mine who was studying at UoB on a Ministry of Education Scholarship from Singapore. Pei took me to the zoo, after which we had a wonderful lunch.



Whilst at Lunch Pei discovered that she had won another year of the MoE Scholarship to study for a Masters at Oxford, I was so happy for her! After the exciting news headed to the Gardens at the Bay, a magnificent park, that reminded me a lot of the Eden Project. Whilst there we bumped into Ngiam and his friend, which was fun! 




After exploring this fantastic place we went on to meet up with Steven, another Singaporean who is studying at Birmingham. The two of them took me around various places, such as the Esplanade, Marina Bay, Bayfront, and the Merlion (All fantastic picture opportunities).

ImageImageWe then went for Bean Curd, which was an interesting experience, but wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. I cannot remember whether it was before, or after but we also had dinner at a Chinese restaurant. I drank copious amounts of Chinese tea that was infinite in supply and ate a wonderful array of dishes, including a soup dumpling thing that is exactly what it says – a dumpling filled with various things (Crab, fish, pork) and soup! It was wonderful. After our wonderful day we departed, and I hope to see them both some point this year. 

On Wednesday and Friday, instead of lectures we visited several museums; the Maritime Museum on Sentosa Island, the National Museum of Singapore and the Asian Civilisation Museum.



I then had the most wonderful shock to find that Anna, a friend of mine who’s originally from Italy, but has had a lot of her education in the UK, was also in Singapore on an Internship at the Nanyang Polytechnic. I immediately contacted her, then an hour or two later we met up at Bishan for a coffee! We then parted ways, then I later met up with Jing. 

Thursday morning was spent gathering thoughts and items to take home together. I then met up with Duy where we went and got food at a Vietnamese Restaurant, whilst here I had Vietnamese Pork Pho, which was a really tasty, and interesting dish (a few elements weren’t to my taste, such as the heart and intestines, but I gave it all a try!).

Friday was primarily spent exploring the Museums. I returned back to start packing everything up as I had a very early morning flight. On the evening was the Farewell Dinner, which was a sad and happy time. We all ate and were jovial! I received a wonderful gift of Eileen with an even more wonderful note, both of which I shall forever treasure. The professors then requested that I play the piano to them, as they had not yet heard me play, so I did, and they, along with the rest of the students (to my terrified delight) seemed to really enjoy it! 

I bade many people farewell, some I assumed I would meet again, others I assumed I wouldn’t. Being the type of person I am, I don’t get particularly emotional (I’ve been called heartless numerous times this year). I was, however, very sad to leave some people, so I’m not as heartless as I might seem. 

I decided that to make sure I wasn’t ridiculously tired when I arrived in England that I would stay up all night (it sounds contradictory, I know), then sleep on the plane, so when I arrived in England it would have been as if I slept in the UK, rather than in Singapore (there is a 7 hour time difference!). 

The time to leave eventually came, so I said farewell to Trent, who was the last person in the suite. I then met up with my friend Duy who so kindly said he would accompany me to the airport, which I am still grateful for. I then said farewell to Ngiam who gave me a small, but amazing note, in return I gave him my room key and a promised dedication. 

Duy and I then got the Taxi to Changi where he also gave me a card. I checked in my luggage which was incredibly overweight, but due to the airline I was charged no extra fee. I had a wonderful last drink in Singapore with Duy in the airport. Duy and I joked a lot about this, and it was eventually time to say farewell, which is always difficult. 

Both Ngiam and Duy had requested that I wasn’t to read their messages until I had parted from them. Along with Eileen’s note, the wonderful words found on paper brought me to tears. It was a very emotional flight home. 

The flight itself was uneventful; weirdly enough, like on my flight to Singapore I was sat next to an English person, and an Australian was next to him, but instead of Right to left, it was left to right. I tried the famous Singapore Sling on the way back, which was OK… To my despair there were two babies on board. One was excellent, but her father was highly irritating whilst the other baby cried a lot, but he was too cute to be irritating. 

I slept for around 5 hours, making up for my lack of sleep the entire evening before. Once I landed I knew what my immediate reaction would be: I HATE BRITAIN! And it’s safe to say, I guessed correctly! London Heathrow is a vile and disgusting place. 

My memories of Southeast Asia will always remain with me. I am so blessed to have been given the opportunity to study there and meet all of the amazing and wonderful people that I did, both on the Summer school as students and staff, and outside the summer school. My experience there was one of wonder, awe, excitement, thrills and above all it was fulfilling to gain an understanding of some of the cultures in the gem of the world that is Southeast Asia.

Thailand: Sex, Drugs and Cults

Now please do not expect such an enthusiastic report of Thailand as it was for Cambodia. Thailand did not impress anything onto me, other than disdain for the ‘Land of a Thousand Smiles’. 

On the Thursday we drove from Siem Reap to the Cambodia-Thai border, which we crossed. The day was perhaps the hottest day I experienced in Southeast Asia, so it wasn’t all that nice! 

The border was busier than I thought it would be. It was filthier too, I was expecting it to be more stately, or to have an element of grandeur, it had neither! 

Once we crossed the border we met with our Thai Guide, who was very welcoming, but seemingly false. 

We travelled to luncheon where it turned out we had to pay for our water; something that in Cambodia was free (for us at least). Ironically I didn’t order a water, I got coffee, which was free with the free meal. 

Now Thai food has a reputation for being spicy, but nothing compares to what many of us experienced at this restaurant. Ning, Kareem, Maggie, Ngiam, and I all participated in a game where we had to guess what number another person was thinking; the person who guessed had to eat a chilli. Peoples reactions were highly comical! As I didn’t guess a number I still tried one…O.M.F.G. THE BURN! My mouth burnt for 20 minutes straight! And the more I breathed the worse it got! Never again! We checked into an OK hotel (Nothing like Lin Ratanak). 

The following day we had a lecture at Kohn Kaen university, and I eventually fell asleep as it was just so dull. (I hadn’t yet recovered from Bayon…that’s my excuse…) We then had lunch and went on to do the best thing of my time in Thailand. 

First off we visited a school at the Ban Don Han village where a large number of people played football with the young children of the school. (I took lots of photos instead!). 



Others played community games and volleyball. The children were so lovely and were all bundles of joy! Communicating was rather difficult but it wasn’t impossible! 


It was here that I met Emmi, a wonderful girl who had studied English at University and was working in the Village school. 

We then onto the activity I was dreading most, but turned out to be the best part of our Thai trip. Rice Planting! It doesn’t need much description, we had bundles of rice plants, took our shoes and socks off, got down and dirty knee deep in mud into the paddy and planted rice in the entire field. It was so much fun!




We then travelled back for dinner, then went to bed! 

The following morning we set off to Ayutthaya to visit, wait for it…TEMPLES! The joy. We then visited the Thai Studies Museum at Suranaree University where we learnt more about village life. There we let our our childish sides loose and played with the variety of pre-electronic toys that appear to be similar all over the world, such as spinning tops.



After we finished being 8 year olds we travelled to the Krung Sri River Hotel, where we had dinner on a boat that took us around what used to be the Ancient Kingdom of Ayutthaya. On the Sunday we checked out of Krungsri and visited what can only be described as…more temples.

After leaving the many many many many many many many many many (got it?!) temples we departed for Bangkok, but on the way we stopped at another Temple: but this time a modern one!!! Wat Phra Dhammakaya: that famous one that looks like UFO. 

I have never felt so uncomfortable from the aura of a place. The people, the architecture, the entire infrastructure of Wat Dhammakaya gave me the heebie-jeebies.


ImageThere were signs saying ‘If you pass beyond this point you will not return’. It was surreal, it was a cult. The followers of the religion (Buddhism) were all residents on the premises (It’s incredibly big…) and they all wore white and simultaneously bowed as we passed, as if they were automated robots. We were then taught how to meditate, in which I was afraid he was going to brainwash us all, like his other victims in white. After visiting the many weird parts of this business (all the guide did was talk about money) we departed to Hell’s Asshole, Bangkok. 

We checked into the nicest hotel of our time in Thailand. The food at this place was AMAZING, there was so much variety, and there was also a beautifully excessive amount of Sushi. 

As the food was so exceptional Adanna and I were the last people of our group who were still eating; we were just on our Ice Cream when we realised all of the group had gone to the meeting with Archen, whom was giving a talk on his life-story. We lapped p the ice-cream and joined them for the meeting, which hadn’t started as they were waiting for us! How embarrassing! My stomach, however, was content! We listened to the wonderful Thai gentleman talk of his life which was incredibly interesting and it was an honour that he shared it with us all. 

The following day we were to depart homeward bound to Singapore, but we first visited the Royal Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha Temple. They supposedly had regulations for wearing trousers as to cover all skin, but I sauntered in with shorts! =D! 


After getting lost, a few…thousand times with Maggie and Olga, we eventually returned to the entrance (meeting with Ning on the way!) to find that we were the last people to arrive back (I was always part of the last group, what does that say about me eh?). 

We then got to the airport and flew to Changi Airport, Singapore. I shall blog my last two weeks in Singapore when I next have time!