My photo was taken paces away from Oxford Circus, London’s 50% Off Luggage Mecca. Flying above the scene is the crimson Salvation Army flag. Underneath this lies Regent Hall, a welcoming venue with a sizeable auditorium, in which a concert series, often featuring London’s music students, is graciously curated.
I was there for a concert with composers from the RAM, who have been working with me, conductor Hilary Campbell and the vocal ensemble Blossom Street over the last four months. All the workshop teaching I do elsewhere features very short stretches of time, typically 30 minutes of rehearsal per student, while the musicians rush through as much of the new music as they can. I’m sure there is a better metaphor for this rehearsal process than a ‘drive-by shooting’ but I can’t think of it at present. By contrast, over the months at the RAM we build up the compositions, returning to them, discussing and reframing. There is often a horror moment three-quarters through the course when it turns out the students have all suddenly lengthened their compositions and added new stuff which is much more difficult than it was before. But on the whole it’s pleasant for me as a visiting teacher to get to know the new pieces quite well – I usually find several of them have become earworms by the time concert day is over.
It especially struck me this year that the choice of text completely colours the composition. This year's was a very good crop, including words by Rimbaud, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson (set by Euchar Gravina, Davide Fensi and Maya Hishida, composers from Malta, Italy, Japan respectively) together with some intriguing English language contributions. William Marsey set a poem by Sam Riviere – a devastatingly sardonic critique of England's self-reverential literary culture. And Laurence Morgan himself fashioned a text out of today’s interchangeable football chants, an act of social record which particularly interested me as a would-be folk music collector. I told Laurence he should write a new version every 15 years to see how this branch of philosophy was developing. For instance, when did visiting supporters start to remark (en masse) at quiet moments, “just like the library”? Will anyone remember libraries in the future? Our local ones are being turned into gyms.