Thanks to the mighty Calne Music and Arts Festival, I have been visiting this Wiltshire town over a period of 42 years, the first visit being in 1977, when I resided here for a short time as Southern Arts’ associate composer. I’m now President of the Festival, which is in very good shape, always resolutely local, but with a remarkable variety of things happening during the Festival period in October.
Another place I’ve often visited is the local secondary school, previously known as John Bentley School. It has just this term been re-academised (is this a word?) into a MAT with two other local schools, and is now known as Kingsbury Green Academy. The previous buildings have been given a bright overhaul – a painter was still at work in a practice room while I was there – and it was good to see some nifty additions to the already quite extensive performing arts facilities. Music teacher Fran Roach does a great job with a wide range of performing abilities, and we worked on a quick afternoon composition project with a healthy-sized group of Year 10 and 11s.
Sending the students off in groups of three – and occasionally corralling them back again – we couldn’t have predicted that we’d end the day listening to a set of newly-made miniature trio sonatas. But that’s how it turned out, with each version of the ‘formula’ (basically “compose the middle line using a three note set/add a tune on top/put some notes in the bass”) sounding completely different. As ever, after the workshop was over, I longed to hear some of the pieces once more, in reflective calm. Particularly the one by three boys who needed quite some persuasion in the plenary session, but were later discovered in the practice room hammering out a brilliant stretch of Nancarrow-like piano textures.