First Stones provide a foundation for emerging composers

Alison Morgan is a freelance soprano based in Sydney who along with mezzo-soprano Jenny Duck-Chong co-directs acclaimed ensemble Halcyon, Australia’s leading exponent of new chamber music for voice. ‘First Stones’ is Halcyon’s inaugural chamber song project for emerging composers.  This is her account of  the early stages of this project.

 The First Stones 2011 Emerging Composers Project is now well underway, with all ten composers recently submitting their first drafts. In May, Halcyon and composer Elliott Gyger presented two public seminars on vocal writing followed by a one-day workshop with the First Stones participants. An overnight composition task was set for the composers for discussion and rehearsal the next day.

 We were hoping that our newly selected composers were clever enough to produce something in the wee small hours of the night before the workshop and we weren’t disappointed. I was secretly relieved that they were still talking to us! The day began with a discussion about copyright issues, convened by young composer Cameron Lam who is currently achieving great things with Halcyon under their mentoring program. While that was going on Jenny and myself were madly perusing the 20 new pieces ready for a run-through and chat about each work.

We started the workshop by talking about performance anxiety which seemed like a good idea given that we were about to courageously sight read so many works with at least some degree of accuracy and conviction. It’s quite confronting for even the most brazen singer to do this and involves a fair amount of plate juggling. First the intervals with no help from a string or a key, just your faithful little tuning fork, then simultaneously, one hopes, the words, although they occasionally get left behind, or recreated. Finally, any expressive devices you can muster along the way. Dynamics, time and key signatures and various markings are all good things to get right too. I think we were mostly convincing and occasionally quite entertaining. One of the participants, Owen Salome reflected, “watching Jenny perform some of the sillier aspects of my piece, (for instance: bubbling her lips while ululating, and rolling her R’s whilst heavily breathing in and out), was one of the more ridiculous and enjoyable ‘classical’ music experiences I have yet had”.

Elliott had given a brilliant lecture the preceding day around the topic of text, demonstrating the myriad ways he had deconstructed it over his years of composing for voice. Inspired by this, the composers let fly with all sorts of treatment of text, exploring to a degree they perhaps hadn’t dared before. It was clearly a liberating and satisfying exercise for them and a very stimulating day for all.  And if they could produce this variety and quality of work overnight, what would they do with more time to delve deeper into their creative ideas?

Now we’ve just received the composers’ first serious drafts. We look forward to workshopping this brand new music in a couple of weeks, when Halcyon will bring together our composers and artists under the direction of Elliott for four intensive days of rehearsal and discussion. On board for this project is Diana Springford (clarinets), Geoffrey Gartner (cello), Jo Allan (piano) and Genevieve Lang (harp) so it will be a fantastic four days of music-making and a great opportunity for the composers to hear their works honed and polished, ready for performance in November.

For more information on the project go to

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *