My Composition Story
Part 1: Early Promise and Rejection
My first piece that I ever composed was on the Ffestiniog Steam Railway in North Wales with my father on holiday. The train was pulling out of Bleanau Ffestiniog and it made a clattering sound and suddenly the words "It's the Ffestiniog Railway, tsch puff puff tsch puff puff carr'ing slate from the caverns all the way tsch puff puff, tsch puff puff" came into my head the onamatopia encorporated into the music impressed my father he latched onto the fact that I'd composed it and held me for a compostional talent instantly. My mother's family destroyed my confidence with it at first takign the Michael out of further vocal improvisations. In 1992 I got my only ever disticntion in a music exam at Grade 1 Theory again no one took any notice and said it must be a one off. Indeed I jumped straight to Grade 5 then which I got first time at school with a straight pass.
Jumping back a little we were taught to improvise on keyboards and that's just about all we did in music lessons until GCSE. I couldn't play very well but was more musical than my partner on the keyboard my best friend at school Tim Hands whom I worked with. Tim and I were quite competitive but music was my forte. We both passed all 10 of our GCSEs but he got better grades. Anyway, it came to GCSE and I had no harmony lessons whatsoever and was trying to write my first reqiuem mass for four part choir and chamber organ with no help. We were basically pushed in and told to swim 10m with no help. I also wrote a Waltz on the final day becuase my requiem sketch took 2 years to write and a song for my first love Sarah. The Waltz and the song are here with The Ffestiniog Railway which came back into my head last year and I wrote out harmonized and finished of as my first song Op.1 (1986). The first page of the requiem sketch is reproduced here as well. I passed with 60% in the compostion part of GCSE which was marked by Mrs Inge a piano graduate of RNCM. Again I was underrated at A level when I started harmony and counterpoint for the first time and could imagine it all in my head I jsut couldnt' play it on the keyboard to piano much to Andrew Leach the head of music's frustration and my teacher of A Level Harmony I scraped through with a mere D. He was a great first harmony teacher though and lit a fire in me for the subject especially Bach and his chorales. I made one very astute observation at that stage. The rules for harmonizing in Bach style were total rubbish and lead to unmusical forms of his music. A point which I later learned from someone else Kernberger and Bach though counterpoint not harmony was the basis for great music. I am still a firm believer in that. Lully was an essentialist, the inventor of harmony he saw everything in terms of three chords and Bach and I are much more advanced musical thinkers. I agonised over every passing note I wrote at A level becasue I firmly believed each and every one had meaning adn was not dependent on intermittant repetitions of chords I, IV and V I think this is true of German tradioinal classical music right the way through to Schönberg. It's like their football every pass has a purpose it's not just luck it finds it man in Bach. A double passing note often forms a consonant passing chord and isn't dissonant. A passing chord is formed on the second qauver of the beat with a double passing not or passing not and changing note together. I noticed that myself and from reading the advanced harmony books from AB later.