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All the Blues I See    
Diary (transcription)

11th September 2003

Contract is being sorted out between Andrew Kurowski, Commissioning Editor at the BBC and Fiona Flower and Volker Schirp at Peters Edition, my publishers. It’s always difficult to gauge precisely how long a piece will take to write but the fee’s hardly ever commensurate with the amount of time and effort involved. One hopes that a work will go on to have a good concert and recording life – and accrue royalties.

A commission with a deadline really fixes one’s intent. I would most certainly write music with or without a commission but probably not for the wide (and sometimes strange) range of forces that I have done. It would not have occurred to me in early 2003 that I would spend the winter of 2003/4 composing a flute quintet, so one gets steered in the direction dictated by the requirements of performance – which is a good thing and which is how it should be for the healthy flow and interchange of ideas between composers, performers, commissioners, venues and the media. The music I have written without commission has resulted in the luxurious, free landscape of my songwriting. However, I have to live and there’s the decoration of my bathroom to consider next…

22nd September 2003

I've been thinking of titles for my flute quintet and am in the process of re-vitalising my flat. I've decided that I'd like to feel as if I'm in a ship, set sail on the water which is outside. Different blues in each room is what I'm thinking about. With Ben and Jan yesterday in Blackheath I came up with All the Blues I See. I was talking about paint but I like this as a title and perhaps I can explore the colours blue...

24th September 2003

Looking for textures everywhere.
Staring out of trains at shapes. Looking.

25th September 2003

"Humanity, courage & ambition"
(Radio 4)

26th September 2003

It feels great to let go.

27th September 2003

Letting ideas bubble up as I finish orchestrate Another America: (opera which goes on at Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House. November 9th)
Curiously, whenever Im nearing the end of a work I feel compelled to start another one. Try to use that drive to put energy into the completion of the task at hand. Finishing is the hardest thing.

I run towards the new...

6th October 2003

Am in my "tunnel" mood where I need to hole up and work. Just before I go into the tunnel I get fretful and feel incredibly lonely. Then, as I see progress being made and near the end of a work, I feel fine and optimistic. I just must always remember this and especially for January ... am completing orchestration for Another America.

"This, too, will pass" is what I keep saying to myself when the drudge and tedium become unbearable. Who would willingly choose to be a composer and go through this time and time again?

It is at the point near finishing when I most vividly face up to all the things I am, all the things I'm not, and every fear and insecurity I have ever felt.

10th October 2003

When I met Lord Moser the other day on the Today programme he told me a good quote. Nietzche: "A life without music is a mistake"

20th October 2003

I am lost.
One hundred more hours to go on Another America.
Nothing can save me but to finish. Strange how I go through a "dying" process as I near completion of a work. Everything goes from me and I feel so alone. No-one can help me. But, somewhere is the glimmer of an actual performance.
From dream to nightmare to a new and glorious reality.
To LIVING music.

21st October 2003

In the midst of my walls being sanded down, Another America got finished.

17th November 2003

Monday. Well, here I am in Belize.
Flew in via New York on Saturday.
I 'm here to give concerts, workshops - and to compose All The Blues I See. Still in jet-lag mode but I am staying in a place where I will have sufficient solitude, but what is All The Blues I See about? I think about texture, colour and space... how do I convert these ideas into notes?
I want to write as much of this score whilst I'm here in Belize, away from everything. It was only a week ago that Another America: Earth was brilliantly premiered and now I need to propel myself along another completely different, possibly more abstract path. Will start now.
Writing straight into my computer i.e. no fiddling around at the piano first. Will use both processes in
this piece. By working onto computer I will get straight into' texture' mode and straight into laying notes out onto each instrument without process of transferring them from piano score. Want which a shimmering beginning and I see that this piece begins where Daedalus (the song for Brodsky) left off...

Looked at Ravel's string quartet, whilst on the plane. What perfection!
If I could get as much transparent in richness and vibrancy out of All the Blues.... I'd be most happy.

20th November 2003

Thursday. Missed composing yesterday as I was in Dangriga for the yearly Re-enactment celebration of the Garifuna. Went to a concert and only early morning mass. Didn't go to bed

Flew to Dangriga and saw how the sea was like a textured living silver carpet. On way back saw how green moved into blue then into grey and white. Sky and sea conjoined.
Today on the television is an American programme about decorating and today's room – blue.

Composing is so much about fiddling with notes, one by one, until everything slots into place. My first 4 bars have a lot of notes in each part, each part moving into a different rhythm with different melodic lines in order to create my own textured carpet...

22nd November 2003

(Belize) Saturday. Day of my concert. Woke early and made some satisfying patterns (overlapping semiquavers triplets) onto my computer which should work really well texturally.
I want to finish this piece in good time ó ahead of the deadline. There is so much else to sort out in my life at the moment that I just don't have the time for un-confidence and anxiety. Somehow the notes are flowing and I will let them.
I do observe how difficult I find it to sit still for long. Thank goodness that something decent can be achieved in 1/2 an hour slots...

26h November 2003

(Belize) Wednesday. Think I have accidentally torn out the pages in my manuscript book which had my earliest sketches for All the Blues...
When I was giving manuscript pages to my composition class here.

27th November 2003

(Belize) Thursday. Found this book while packing, the blank ms was another one...

Am dedicating All The Blues I See to Gina Scott who is a like-mind.
Through her I've learned so much about the political, social and cultural situation here. Have spent a lot of time with her and her family – and her music students, with whom we performed in the concert last Saturday.

Was thinking of dividing the piece into '20 postcards' but I think that I might keep a rather traditional 4 movements, the overall shape is not exactly clear but will emerge through the actual material.

Yesterday while waiting for Gina to pick me up I stood at the grass verge and watched the blades move in the breeze. The multiplicity of rhythms to see is astounding. A couple of years ago, at Dartington, I set my students the task of notating the rhythms of leaves moving on the trees. Good exercise, if I say so myself and, in a way, I am investigating the similar moving texture in this movement I'm writing now.

30th November 2003

Sunday. Back in England (arrived yesterday) was studying in my kitchen (one of the few spaces to stand as my flat is in decorating disarray) and felt the urge to write this slow movement of All the Blues I See. I knew that it would start with rising chords in the strings. I instinctively went to the piano and it's turning out to be a lullaby/reverie with the harmony centered round D major with oscillating of major + minor 3rd giving a blues slant.
Feels so good to be back at my piano. After 12 hours sleep last night sat at my piano again freely improvising round the material.
When I'm composing I can improvise for ages and then I look at the day's work and it's just a few hours bars. However, during improvising, I'm amassing a lot of material and sifting through all the possibilities. Things that really catch my ear and light me up get scribbled down hastily for later retrieval. They don't all get retrieved though.
Feeling re-vitalised and un-blocked by my trip to Belize. Am dedicating work to Gina Scott.

Cobwebs of Another America: Earth are brushed away and it feels good to be moving on with a brand new piece.

This work is using many different processes and techniques – the movement I began in Belize written straight into full score on the computer and now this slow movement being written in the easiest way I have ever wrote. – short score at the piano, then fleshed out more in a second stage.
Exploring textures, textures, textures.

Back home by my beloved river.

8th December 2003

Monday. Finished slow movement. How do I know when I'm finished? It's to do with threads and the tying up to them. I had thought that I would have gone back to the opening statement but the ending alluded to the melodic shape of the opening but we're in a different key and in a different emotional space.

Been a hell of a week. Adjusting to new weather (colder) and some life decisions. Living room being painted – as I write – the same blue as the hall. Delicious.

1st January 2004

Thursday. So relieved that the new year's is in at last.
Some old stuff chucked out so that I can make room for the new. SO very much to do this year; I not least a stackful of commissions.
My only resolution this year is to have a good attitude.
My living room is a delight to be in; the blue is calming and I'm enjoying the space and lying on my wood floor.

12th January 2004

Monday. Was sick all day yesterday
Oh no... too much to do.

17th January 2004

Saturday. Yesterday late afternoon / early evening suddenly had good idea for a movement. Am more or less reconciled to scrapping the first movement that I was working at on in Belize. Anyhow started working on this movement last night.
It opens with part of Come Away, Sweet Love – a madrigal by Thomas Graves (prob. 16th/17th century) which goes into an impassioned blues. Working on it today and really must finish it today. The pressure's on and I haven't been feeling that psychologically strong. I have to really dive into my solitude and make the most productive use of it.
I want strong music and there's no avoidance of facing up to fears, joys or sadnesses to produce what I call authentic statements in music. No way back now.

25th January 2004

Sunday. Trying to stay calm as the deadline gets closer. Don't know that I've got better at coping with this.
Anyhow, spent this morning re-jigging yet again the order of the movements and am now happy with it. The work is coming much more into focus. Putting in dynamic markings and articulation (staccato, legato, rests etc) and I'm working on the 3rd movement (which was originally going to be the last). It's cheering me up as it's vivacious and dance-like. Haven't been out for two days. Life's no longer balanced. The decision-making about every minute detail can be exhausting.

29th January 2004

Thursday evening. My days have boiled down to bed, kitchen, bathroom and room where I work; with a spot of radio and the odd phone call and maybe a two-minute walk to the supermarket. At last, in these final days, I have fallen in love with my music; just as I’m about to lose it.

It’s 2.00am and have just finished 3rd movement — the trickiest technically because it’s fast and has a lot of action in it. Can’t wait to finish All The Blues … there’s so much else piling up…

1st February 2004

Sunday, 11.37pm. Sitting here banging away on my electric piano (with headphones) trying to imagine the notes on the actual instruments. Working on the second movement.Supposed to hand this in tomorrow. Everything’s taking longer than expected and have to keep pushing myself forward. I’m just so keen to get those details right. Still have another movement to look over in depth and want to possibly fine tune the 1st and last movements. It was a good idea to have got the 3rd mvt. out of the away; that was tricky.

2nd February 2004

Monday, 6.35 am. It’s all about the blues… To bed now. Thank God for sugar.

12th February 2004

Thursday. Still haven’t heard from the Brodskys, though they had a rehearsal last Saturday (when I was in Brussels.)

19th February 2004

Thursday. In Glasgow for a performance of my show Jordan Town. Before I left this morning sent off a new piece for 6 brass bands (Gold Saturday) – one day before the deadline! As a composer one lives under a cloud of pressure all the time but it feels great to have ticked that one off the list. Not a fraction of the emotional rollercoaster of All The Blues; anything to do with the fact that the brass piece is for children (albeit 220 of them)?

Can concentrate on my gig, TV, chocolate and seeing my Scots friends.

Next week will work with Emily Beynon. Nearly brought All The Blues up for my flautist friend, Dave Heath, to look at.

Saw Ben and Jan last night – back from Berlin. Told them that I’d titled the work after after our summer lunch chat in Blackheath. Decided to dedicate new piece (Gold Saturday for those 6 brass bands…) to Ben.

In my hotel room. TV!!

26th February 2004

Thursday. Wonderful day. Since the ring that my dear friend, Anda, gave me was mended (got it back from jewellers on Monday) everything's started to go right.

Over the last few days have gone through Emily's list and we had such a great rehearsal. She's probably the best flautist I've ever heard; deeply musical and has a brilliant technique. Wow. I'm  getting excited.

Tonight sang my arrangement of Fly Me To The Moon at Pizza Express Dean Street for launch of Homemade Orchestra's CD launch.

1st March 2004

Monday. Beautiful day.  Ship "Invincible" is parked outside my window. Many tourists this weekend.

Just back from rehearsal at Bermondsey Street. Some bits sound better than I could have imagined and the first movement feels like something different – think that I managed to distil something more precise out of the welter of notes I had originally.

Got up at 5,30am in order to try and get things done before I go to Houston on Friday (car, refunds, loans, letters, emails, dry cleaning.) Might just have a 3 minute snooze now and a chocolate biscuit…

2nd March 2004

Tuesday. This is an exciting time in my life. Very much looking forward to Houston and meeting Robert Avalon, composer and director of the Foundation for Modern Music. We’ve been emailing and speaking for about a year now and in Houston this Sunday my work (interestingly again for string quartet but this time with soprano) Are You Worried About The Rising Cost Of Funerals? Five Simple Songs is being performed by members of the Houston Symphony and soprano Marion Moore in the Foundation of  Modern Music’s concert series. Adventure!

In these days before the premiere of All The Blues I See I quietly “will” the performance to go well and sit quietly with the music floating in my head.

5th March 2004

Tuesday. Sitting on the plane to Houston; it's a wonder I got here – it's been an extraordinarily hectic week. In the spirit of most of my departures, I decided to cram in an extra undertaking – the decorating of my bathroom whilst I'm away. Involved trips to C. P. Hart, European Heritage and many many phone calls. Also, Kene had her operation on Wednesday so I visited her that evening. There was barely enough time to pack.

Well, what can I say? – the concert went brilliantly; I can truthfully say that it was one of the best concerts I've attended – apart from the fact that my piece went so well. The day involved getting up at 5.30 am, driving to Ian Belton's (2nd violinist) who then drove to Andrew Haveron's (1st violinist) in Dulwich and we began a nightmare trip across London. Didn't arrive at St. George's Bristol until about 10.15 am whereupon Ian went straight into rehearsing the Mozart Flute Quartet which was first on the programme. Then my piece was rehearsed  – went through lots of tucks and joins and, actually, Jackie Thomas (cellist) pointed out that I seem obsessed with joins and transitions. Well, I got this from Beethoven who expended a great deal of anxiety on this too.

Funny how I feel like a vegetable now. After all this output of mental and physical energy I need to drink new stuff into my brain.

I did an interview with Chris de Souza for when the concert is broadcast on Radio 3 in November. He reckoned that I was the most glamorous of any composer he'd met; I replied that, as I spend so much of my time beavering away at home in my nightie, I need something to break the tedium once I'm out…

With the finishing of this piece has come returns – Anda's mended ring restoring harmony to the atmosphere. Composing All The Blues was a struggle and a not altogether enjoyable experience yet the piece in concert sounded flowing and quite emotional. Something is happening – my heart is slowly cranking open once again. I hear the ice cracking. I am walking through new archways.

In the concert I  introduced my piece in an impromptu fashion and forgot what happened in one of the movements. Before the concert started I overheard a man say very loudly "I've never heard of Errollyn Wallen; he must be Australian".

Didn't feel at all nervous sitting in the audience whileAll The Blues was being performed; tense, yes, but this music really did seem to flow out of these wonderful musicians. I am SO lucky, the calibre and fineness of musicianship was awe-inspiring. They weren't just ‘getting through it' even though they had had very little rehearsal. They were constantly asking me questions and we deliberated on matters of dynamics, bowing and articulation right through the rehearsal before the concert. Making music is a shared experience and my composing life is the richer for it.

Julia Winterson from Peters (my publishers) was at the concert. She's great.

A corporate type lunch after the concert. Another snail-like crawl back to London. Didn't get home 'til 9pm. Andrew reckons I could swap the movements around to create a better emotional arc – swap Four and Five around. I'd love to try it.

Don't know when this piece will next be played. It really wants to live and breathe in the world. I am delighted with the 1st and 6th movements – the texture finally distilled from all those amorphous, overblown notes. Emily's whistle tones were absolutely magical.

Next adventure's with another string quartet – Houston and Are You Worried About The Rising Cost Of Funerals? Lucky girl, me.

Then it's back to Belize, where I'll give Gina a copy of All The Blues I See which is dedicated to her.

11th March 2004

Thursday. Spent 3 hours with an astronaut yesterday – Steve MacLean came and talked to Robert [Avalon] and me about the experience of his trips to space. Afterwards we all played the piano and music is what he really loves. I taught him the bass line of my song Guru so that he could improvise over it.

In the evening Jeff (a friend and colleague of Rita’s in the Houston Symphony), Rita, Mike and I went to the rodeo. At the end Amy Grant and Vince sang. A totally great day. Now it’s off to Belize but I’m SO happy here. I feel at home here and adore Rita and Mike with whom I’m staying. Hope I’m back soon. May come to Dallas 20 – 24 April for another concert. Have done no composing but practice for Belize concert. I should start on the opera [Another America:Fire] Well. I have Steve’s experiences to help me.

This trip has changed and enriched me.

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