On compiling a text
The wonderful Caitlin Rowley wrote a few months ago about writing her own text for her piece Breadcrumbs. At the time I thought the concept of crafting my own text was very far off and difficult, and thought she was being very daring and creative. I’ve always played it rather safe when it comes to texts, taking a while to choose them before normally using it in its entirety. I’ve worked with poets both in and out of copyright (obviously with permission, where required) but the concept of writing my own text has been something I’ve always steered clear of. Finding a suitable text for my Adopt a Composer piece has been a completely different kettle of fish. For one, the piece is 8-10 minutes long, which is longer than I’ve tackled in a single choral piece before. However, as the piece will be learnt by ear (and memorised) by the Quangle Wangle choir, the text needs to be catchy, memorable, and not too long. Quite quickly I realised that I wouldn’t find just one text that would suit all my needs, but I wasn’t prepared to attempt writing a text from scratch. The best plan, therefore, seemed to be to compile my own, using poetry, text and the choir members as my sources.
The first stage was to decide upon a theme for the piece. Although we discussed ideas at the initial meeting, it was eventually decided to poll the choir for ideas. A couple of themes soon emerged, at which point we asked the Quangles to suggest poems, words or phrases to combine for the text. I also conducted my own research at this point, taking note of relevant sections of poetry and key phrases. The result was a collection of random words, phrases, lines and stanzas! At this point I felt a little stranded. How does one go about compiling a text, even when they have plenty of source material to work with?
The way I’m planning on structuring the piece came into play here. I was able to split the piece, decide on themes for various sections, and then the stories running through them. Handily, this meant the only substantial section of text I then needed to compile was for the central section of the piece. I then spent some time working on the structure of this section. As the Quangles will be memorising it, a catchy chorus seemed a good idea, so I jotted down some content ideas for a repeating section of text, alongside the story for the rest of the section. The next big question to tackle was that of rhyming schema. I know some poets love rhymes, others shun them, and the same can be said of composers writing, compiling or setting texts. In this case, as the text has to be memorised, I decided rhymes would be of use. Each verse ended up being eight lines long, and after playing about with rhymes I made the decision not to stick with a strict rhyming schema, but instead let them flow individually in each section of text.
Even though I now had a vague framework in place, I still had a huge collection of material and no idea where to really begin! I started typing phrases randomly into OneNote (always a weapon of choice!), and scribbling them onto spider diagrams with pen and pencil in a desperate attempt to make some sense of them. Below you can see an example of some of the OneNote screens superimposed – one of my many attempts to play with all the material to see what emerged.
Slowly, over the period of a week or so, things started to make sense, and while shuffling some phrases a rough chorus ‘appeared’. This seemed to be a combination of snippets of poetry (including some Edward Lear) and phrases from the Quangles themselves, with very little of ‘me’ – which is just how I wanted it! The verses took a few days longer, but after a lot of word shuffling they eventually emerged too!
I’m now at the stage where I have three rough verses, a rough chorus, and two ‘extra bits’ – bits that seemed to fall together, but that have no home as of yet. I should point out that when I say “chorus” I mean in the way of a section of text that will return and repeat – it won’t be the same each time, nor will the final result be a popular song of some type – but the terminology seemed more appropriate than a principle theme. I’ve now internalised sections of the text and am working on the process of sketching some music – refining the text as I go. I’m keeping specifics of the theme under wraps for the moment, but I’m sure the OneNote text amalgamation above gives away more than a hint of what the piece will be about. How successful my text compilation is will remain to be seen, but it seems to be fulfilling its intended purpose for the moment!