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Composing is a magical process. I can never be sure when I start out if a tune or piece of music is going to work or not, or even if I’m going to be able to write something at all. But when a melody or a sequence of notes starts to appear, all I can do is see where it takes me and trust the process. Sometimes it feels as if the music has written itself and I only happened to be there when it chose to appear; when this happens the music feels like a gift. Other times I will write something, not think anymore about it and then rediscover it at a later date and realise how good it is.
But however the music appears, it is usually when I’m playing around on an instrument that it can do this. I very rarely compose music in my head; I need the interaction with the instrument, and that includes the human voice. Also very important for me is peace and quiet so my focus is on the music and nothing else.
I’m very much inspired by the environment around me and find it comes out in the music. For example, a place I visit may have a particular atmosphere or maybe the light is shining through the clouds in a way that casts patches of vivid colours on the land. Later on that experience may appear in a tune and the sensation of feeling that atmosphere, seeing that light, is somehow recreated and translated into music.
I play a variety of instruments, my main ones being clarsach/harp, recorder and smallpipes. Recently this expanded to include conga drums.
The clarsach I play is a 19 string wire-
My smallpipes are a set of Gruar smallpipes by the maker Philip Gruar. They are in the key of D, and while the chanter is in the style of a Scottish smallpipes chanter, abeit with a high E key, the drones are Northumbrian. Northumbrian smallpipes have tuning beads on the drones, meaning the drones can be tuned up one note, effectively changing the base key of the pipes and therefore having a profound effect on the sound. Having played Northumbrian smallpipes in the past I wanted to be able to do this on Scottish smallpipes as it really opens up the compositional possibilities and was lucky to have this set specially made for me.
The descant/soprano recorder I play is a Rottenburgh from Moeck. I also play other sizes of recorder and use them to both compose on or to work on other pieces of music.
I find though that the more I compose, the less relevant the instrument it was composed on matters. What matters is that whatever instrument is used, it is sympathetic to the music, and indeed that opening up the music to a wider range of instruments can take it in new directions.
I frequently work with renowned harpist, teacher and performer Bill Taylor. As well as solo work, he also appears with various groups including Canty, Graindelavoix, Quadrivium and Sinfonye. Together we brought out a book ‘Heartstone-
I also enjoy collaborating with poets and writing music in response to their poetry. One such collaboration has been with Kenneth Steven, a widely published poet and novelist. ‘A Song Among the Stones’ is a performance piece that brings the poetry collection of the same name by Kenneth together with the music I wrote in response to it.
Other projects have included songwriting with poets Donald S. Murray and Aonghas MacNeacail, and writing a collection of music in response to the work of Canadian poet Robert MacLean. There are also plans to bring out a book of smallpipe tunes and to build on the songwriting side of the music.
|A Song Among the Stones|