‘keyboard’ sounds through an additional set of patches designed by the composer.
live electronics. We aim to establish an open-minded approach, which allows students to explore further.
Since Autumn 2009, I have been managing our partnership with Sound Festival on our ‘Keyboard Collective’ project and have particularly enjoyed this long-term development, working with students across four schools in quite remote parts of Aberdeenshire and the Highlands. All the workshops led to a public performance of student pieces in April 2010, performed by students and ourselves en masse in a multiple keyboard ensemble, where the audience was invited to walk around the performers. The very nature of a long-term project
has very particular issues associated with it, such as: how do you keep students motivated in creating pieces through the down-time between workshop visits and
performances? Building good relationships with teachers is really important, but we’ve also created a forum area on our website for debate and blogging, somewhere to load audio and scores of ‘work in progress’ and generally to help us keep in contact remotely between sessions. We’ll be producing published guidelines for this project, which has 10 partners, including Scottish Arts Council and Sound and Music and we hope to work in this way again. Another way we access new music directly is through our Touring Workshop project for postgraduate composers and performers, which we launched in 2008. With the help of composer Augustin Fernandez, we worked with composition students from Newcastle University and the University of Durham, where we played newly written compositions and discussed them with the composers: how their material might develop; the very specific difficulties of writing for a multiple keyboard ensemble; and making the most of this particular sound world. It’s both exciting and challenging for any composer but being able to work with composers directly in this way is very fruitful.
Piano Circus often performs on its
Yamaha CP33 stage pianos. This isn’t simply because we aren’t able to perform on acoustic pianos at venues but because the technology offers us other options and access to other sound worlds. Some composers will choose to write very specifically for us on electronic keyboard. Most recently we’ve incorporated repertoire by composer Duncan MacLeod which detunes each pair of keyboards across the circle of six, creating a very exotic sound. This can be done manually by each pianist by pre-setting the keyboards. Another composer, Colin Riley, has developed a series of pieces with us that integrates laptops at each keyboard, directly through the USB port and so we can expand the
Bottom left: Kate Halsall, one of the six members of Piano Circus
Middle: the iconic Piano Circus hexagon viewed at a rehearsal at London's Hoxton Hall, before one of their 20in09 concerts, March 2010
Above: Piano Circus performing for the first time with their new Yamaha CP33 stage pianos at King's Place,
London, in July 2009
SOME WAYS TO
Presenting the future
Events within the 20in09 festival have also been driven by an interest in discussion about the 21st-century piano, its repertoire and recent innovations, as well as providing opportunities for younger pianists to hear other student pianists performing new music. At our ‘Event 4’ at Brunel University, where we are associate artists, we invited pianist Errollyn Wallen to give a workshop with student ensemble Jazzbridge. This led to a public performance for our residency school in Hackney, where students were able to hear music that’s innovative and diverse, requires a huge variety of skills and which we hope may inspire them to consider music as a career. Later this year we’re looking
forward to beginning our artist-in- residence role with the Young Composer of Dyfed competition, with a series of workshops and concerts in schools and venues in Wales.
Further information and contact details for Piano Circus can be found at: www.pianocircus.com www.myspace.com/pianocircus
ENGAGE WITH NEW MUSIC
1. Enjoy being an explorer! New music is the R&D centre for tomorrow’s classical music. The music you’ll discover could be exciting, dangerous, humorous, extreme, frightening or beautiful.
2. Suspend judgement while you work out, eg, what the key elements in the music are, what patterns does it use (if any), does it draw from music of the past or is it totally original?
3. Take time to understand it – this is essential with unfamiliar music. 4. Listen widely to radio programmes such as Late Junction and Resonance FM as they play music from all corners of the new music scene. Subscribe to a new music podcast. Use the free Spotify service.
5. Play new music: it’s the best way to deepen your understanding. Start with something technically less challenging. A good source point is the Spectrum Series – a series of pieces by living composers for different instruments.
6. Form a new music ensemble – a key way to develop your listening skills, learn from other players and also tackle new repertoire together.
7. Compose at a keyboard: experiment to find sounds and textures. Select different voices to create a blend of keyboard sounds, or a wider palette of instruments. You could record on the keyboard and integrate this pre-recorded layer into your music.
8. Start by improvising: experiment with unusual and interesting musical ideas and textures. There’s no such thing as a bad idea, just a better place to use it! So keep a composer’s idea pad, using a Pocketrak recorder.
9. If what you’ve written is unplayable – why? How can you adapt it but without losing the sound you wanted to create?
10. Go to concerts: you can often find free events at local arts centres, and programmes of new music from orchestral to chamber to solo. Experiment away from what you might normally choose. You don’t have to like it but try to think about why not, if you don’t!
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