Not quite so old as the last post; again under the cut. I would have submitted it to Erato, if there were any hope of it being published again in the near future: so instead, here it is. Contact your local AICSA choir to look at the full ROCS newsletter (“What's the SCOR?”), which should have been mailed to your society's address sometime recently.
As choirs go (and having sung with many, I’m in a position to speak with some authority), ROCS is extremely unusual, not merely because of its several resident composers: scratch under the surface of many choirs, and you will find some hardy (or foolhardy?) individuals tempted from time to time to take up quill and parchment to scratch out a melody. In fact, in an Australian context, ROCS is undoubtedly rare for maintaining since its inception an on-going tradition of encouraging composers from its ranks to write new pieces, and also to provide an opportunity for that music to be performed in concert. The very first concert ROCS gave was in this exact vein, being the world premiére performance of a new mass setting written by ROCS’ founder and current president, Sandra Uitdenbogerd. (Ed.: now immediate past president!)
In fact the first opportunity I had to conduct ROCS arose in exactly this way. Having sung in a ROCS concert in late 2003, I was encouraged (by the very same person, in Sandra) to offer up a composition which would be performed by ROCS in the first concert of 2004. I should also confess that I am an incredibly lazy composer, and up to that point had started about 20 or more pieces, but owing to my own indifference hadn’t ever bothered to properly finish any of them – though I suppose there was a complete Kyrie from a proposed Missa brevis that I could have dredged out. The most recent and suitable piece I had to hand was an incomplete setting of Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan that I'd started in 2001, and which after much effort I did manage to finish – just in time for the concert!
This concert, entitled “Young Melbourne Composers”, unusually consisted of a dozen entirely new works never before heard. The audience was offered a challenging and eclectic mix of pieces from short ballads all the way to a ten-movement vocal-instrumental song cycle, and by and large their response was extremely positive. The choir had fielded no less than seven composers, representing both current and former ROCS singers and accompanists; in one case the performance score of one piece still bore the number of the fax machine in Germany, from whence it had been sent in. As one of the composers, I vividly recall the excitement and enthusiastic reaction that we received from presenting our work to an appreciative audience, and so it was never far from my mind as a possible idea for a concert when I came to be ROCS’ conductor a couple of years later.
Jumping ahead now to the end of 2006, and I proposed the second concert of the following year should be a sequel concert, perhaps “Young Melbourne Composers II”. Rather than repeat the 2004 concert exactly, however, I wanted to offer a potential performance to choristers of any of the other University choral societies around Australia who might have an aptitude to compose a piece for choir. I concluded that a positive incentive to attract interest would be to run a friendly competition with a small cache of prize money to be allocated to the composer of the best work. And thus, the ROCS Occasional Choral Composition Competition was born!
Little did I appreciate, at the beginning, exactly how much organisation and administration this would end up taking! At first, a brief blaze of publicity e-mails went out at the end of 2006, to the usual destinations, giving potential composers six months to create their masterpieces. The odd dog barked. Over the first few months of 2007 the compositions began to trickle in, the first one from a long-time singer in MUCS and MonUCS who had no prior association with ROCS; a couple of submissions came from a singer in QUMS; and the remainder came from the “usual suspects”, five of whom had written pieces back in 2004. All in all, come June 2007 there were eleven or twelve new pieces ready for ROCS to begin working on from seven composers.
In the interests of complete fairness I wished to keep the identity of the composers cloaked beneath some layers of obscurity, so that their music would be rehearsed and performed impartially: all the better, so that objective judging of the pieces could take place at the final rehearsal before the concert, to which I had invited a judging panel consisting of Gloriana’s conductor Andrew Raiskums, the singer of renown and music historian Dr Peter Campbell, and composer Natalia Vagner: in fact all three of the panel are composers, and so were suitable adjudicators. We probably went slightly overboard ensuring “fairness”: submissions from members of the ROCS committee and conductor were automatically ruled ineligible. Not all of the pieces were completely “new” or “unseen”, so that three pieces by Sandra, Michael Winikoff and myself were presented “as is”, while all of the remaining nine works were attributed to psedonymous composers such as “Luna Lovegood”, “Nick Orff”, or “Hieronymous Botsch”. To my considerable relief however, upon hearing all of the pieces rehearsed, the judging panel unanimously agreed on a winning entry!
The winning entry was “This is Australia”, composed by “Ukelele Paterson“, aka long-time ROCS accompanist and stairwell singer Michael Winikoff, and to his further credit the judging panel also looked favourably on the ineligible setting of “Three madrigals”. The piece was also generally regarded as a well-deserved winner by the singers, if not perhaps greeted with huge acclaim by the tenors and basses, who don't have such a large share of the “action” in the piece, as do the sopranos and altos.
In second place came Leanne Daharja Veitch (who was appropriately given a Harry Potter nickname of “Luna Lovegood”) with “Crescent Moon”, and again this was well-deserved as the piece had been offered to MonUCS in 2006 as a new work for performance, however they had declined the opportunity, whereas in ROCS’ rehearsals it was perhaps the most popular and enjoyable composition of the set. In third place, “Head On” was one of two pieces written by Lynette Reville from Queensland, who had previously composed solo songs, but whose submissions to the competition represented her first attempts at composing for a choir. Once again there was marked variety of style and subject matter in all of the pieces which boded well for an unusual and interesting concert.
Despite the applause, two major aspects of the concert were not entirely satisfactory: the choir was not really strong enough to tackle the most difficult of the pieces as writ by their composers; one of the pieces (by me, as it happens) was badly under-rehearsed and dropped from the concert, while numerous others needed piano accompaniment to give solidity to the singing. The recording is sadly representative of the under-strength choir, and so I am keen at some stage to re-record the pieces (though as time slowly slips away, so does the opportunity). The other unsatisfying aspect was that, perhaps owing to the preferred concert date being unavailable, only a small audience was in attendance to hear the first performances of these new works. At the end of the concert the various composers were invited to take their place on stage for plaudits to be given, and Michael Winikoff as winner of the competition gave a short but telling speech in response.
As it turns out the competition, or the pieces composed for it, have had some life after the concert date itself had passed by. Immediately afterwards ROCS performed in the RMIT Music showcase, and so both of Michael Winikoff’s pieces were given a repeat performance, this time suitably augmented by a brass and saxophone quartet in place of piano accompaniment. And later still, the Sydney/Newcastle Intervarsity Choral Festival obtained Michael’s prize-winning “This is Australia” to present in their concert at the University of Newcastle Great Hall, in a concert solely of Australian music on 25 January of this year. Most of the pieces will gradually make their way to the Choral Public Domain Library website to be made available for a larger public.
Despite the success of the competition as a concept, it’s clearly not the sort of concert that ROCS could, or should, run every year. Back in the 1970s a similar annual composition competition ran nationally, but soon exhausted itself for several reasons, including the fact that there was no guarantee of any performance of the pieces by the various University choirs: that at least, with only one exception, wasn’t a problem for ROCS. There probably isn't enough composing of choir music happening to be able to stage a full-length concert of this kind, every single year, so the handy word “Occasional” was inserted into the name of the competition; I would imagine another three years before the next would be a sufficient interval for the purpose of novelty. So you may expect more to come in 2010, if the conductor at the time (it might still be me) decides to run with it...
Carmina Lesbiæ by David Greagg (“Nick Orff”)
* a five-movement Latin cantata with alto solo, as a counterblast to Catullus' slandering of the eponymous Lesbia, words by the composer
In the Morning Sun by Lynette Reville (“Constance Lambeth”)
* a short rhythmically-catchy evocation of dreams at dawn, the song-writer again being the composer
I wandered lonely as a cloud by Sandra Uitdenbogerd (“Gabriel Purcell”)
* a delicate and pleasingly varied setting of Wordsworth's well known poem with alto solo and piano accompaniment
Three madrigals by Michael Winikoff
* alternative revisionings of the well-known pieces “Since first I saw your face”, “Weep O mine eyes”, and “Pastime with good company”
I hear the land by Philip Legge (“Hieronymous Botsch”)
* a difficult piece with a textual nod to First Australians as well as quoting a song by They Might Be Giants, this was dropped from the concert; words by the composer
This is Australia by Michael Winikoff (“Ukelele Paterson” - being a smaller relative of “Banjo”)
* a depiction of various aspects of modern Australia and a worthy competition winner, again the text being supplied by the composer
Who’s in the Next Room? by Sandra Uitdenbogerd
* a spooky, atmospheric setting for choir and a pointillistic piano accompaniment, of a dialogue by Thomas Hardy
Three sacred motets by David Greagg (“Giovanni Pierluigi da Crints”)
* two latin settings of Ave verum corpus, Psalm 122, and an attractive setting of a short excerpt from the Songs of Solomon in English
Journey of Happiness by Theresa Wallner (“Blaise Pottery”)
* a lengthy rondo for choir and piano, poem by Josef Wallner
Head On by Lynette Reville (“Paul Rêverie”)
* an extrovert anthem-like song for enthusiastic singers, even featuring hand claps to the last repeat of the chorus, with words by the composer
Crescent Moon by Leanne Daharja Veitch (“Luna Lovegood”)
* a pagan paean to the moon, the poem again provided by the composer
Ave atque vale by Philip Legge
* a brief but elegaic setting of Catullus’ famous funereal motto in tribute of his deceased brother
Copyright © 2008 Philip Legge [Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Australia]
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