There was time to think and reflect on life in general, and composing in particular; hence this blog.

Reflections at the DAR residency in Lithuania

The most wonderful thing about this residency (and there are several) is having the luxury of unfettered time and a free space. Living alone in a two floor cottage looking out over trees, unworried by having to have rehearsals or meetings in my work space, I am free to leave my notes and jottings lying around as they occur. I am here for one reason only – to compose, and I have been left alone for hours at a time to do just that.

It also means there is time to think about life in general, and my own in particular, in relation to the making and composing of music. This is special. Talking to others here, we are able to process a bit together and find our similarities and differences. For one, there has always been pressure to earn money to support a family and that has dictated to some degree the work taken. For another, having an alternative way to earn money means complete freedom regarding composing and creative plans, but limitations on time. And so on.

For myself, it has been different again. A training in Western classical music, a rejection of that music because it seemed to bolster an outdated, unacceptable status quo, then getting to know what I would call ‘true’ folk music played and sung by people who did work in fields and factories; an enduring involvement with the feminist peace movement, the heady days of Greenham Common when we thought even our presence was changing the world – all these experiences led me to put a very high value on inclusion which at times included writing myself out of the picture, musically speaking.

So it took a long time and a lot of experimenting to find ways in which one could compose – in the sense of having a creative musical idea and setting it down – and both use one’s own creativity to the full, and include others, as performers and/or audience, who would rarely if ever visit a concert hall.

Times have changed, and inclusion and participation now feature on most grant applications for the arts. I have changed too, and no longer feel that composing notated music (whether in note form or graphic score/instructions) is an act of oppression or unacceptable hierarchical thinking. Writing a piece for a group of trained singers possessed of excellent ears and voices, prepared to experiment, is a treat. I admire the choir’s conductor in Vilnius, his commitment to music in general, and his courage and generosity in taking on four new compositions – only one of which requires no improvising by the singers (and incidentally is the most difficult piece). So although there is always for me some tension between creativity and context, I have come to an accommodation with it, and accept it as part of my journey.

DAR is supported by the Lithuanian government; otherwise it would not be possible. There is also a Lithuanian composers’ union and an entire composers’ village. This was all set up under communist rule. The Soviets are vilified now here, because of the terrible suffering endured under Stalinist rule, when many people were murdered or deported and the Lithuanian language banned. Yet the curious anomaly is that even Stalin, who jailed dissident artists, realised the need to support them as well. If you believe society needs culture, even your own dictatorial version of it, its creators need to survive.

How about we suggest that instead of taking a pay rise, UK MP’s put that money towards supporting struggling musicians and artists because every society needs them?

Students here still regard the UK, especially London, as a kind of Mecca for here is too easy, society too small. But I wonder, in the hurly burly of funding applications, justifying your creativity because of involving x number of school choirs or equipping people for jobs, or having to be a big name that will attract audiences or trying to do several jobs at once…is any of that really conducive to the kind of creativity we need now as all over the world political and social structures crumble, eco-systems are under threat and the millennium which was meant to usher in a century of peace has seen more war and more sophisticated technologies with which to wage it?

What exactly are we meant to be doing with our creativity? What can we learn from history? What are our visions for the future? Could we create anything like DAR in the UK?

I look across to the trees and they move gently in the wind..

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