In this week's NMC Archive blog composer Colin Riley tells us about his compositional process. His first album on NMC, Shenanigans, was released in 2017.
Wry, Fond, Understated and Slightly Bonkers
The primary drive to create, at least for me, is to put some bit of myself out into the world. This might be into the air of a concert space, into the fingers or breath of a performer, or into the ear and brain of a listener.
The music that I create therefore partly takes into account these spaces, fingers, breaths, ears and brains during its formation. But my compositional process is also fired by something else. It is cajoled along out of a desire to make something for me; music that is constructed and sounds the way I wish it to be. This is probably what I would describe as the inward (perhaps almost selfish) drive, where your own fascinations are explored.
As a composer it is very important to keep hold of these guiding fascinations (because they are after all, what is pumping the creativity), but we must also listen to the outward (listener-facing) drive at the same time. So, I find myself balancing fundamental technical questions about forming ‘the music I want to hear’ with pragmatic ones; is this passage appropriate for the instrument? Will this particular approach excite or deflate the performer? What will the listener specifically get from this musical moment on a single listen? Does the overall piece create the impact I intend? In the heat of creative battle, when you are pulling together lots of bits of paper, lists of ideas, drawings, audio recordings on the phone, half-remembered ideas in your head, and clumsy fumbles on the piano, keeping the balance is sometimes difficult.
So a piece of music gets completed. If we’re lucky it gets rehearsed and there is a performance in front of an audience.
All creators are interested in some kind of reaction to their work and this takes many forms. At a performance, the level of applause is obviously a direct indicator. Equally it is always lovely to have feedback from your performers. If you’re fortunate enough to get a review, this takes reaction to an even higher and more dangerous level. Potentially people will read a review and base their assumptions about you not on music they have actually heard, but on what has been filtered by a single person. If it goes badly (and a reviewer has an axe to grind) then your personal feelings can be severely damaged. If it goes well, it creates a slightly unreal sense of hype; something which, after the struggles of composing, seems bizarre and potentially out of place. Either way, as composers we have to take the rough with the smooth and use the good reviews as some kind of official validation of worth, however selective we may be in this. The review that all composers prize most is one that is intelligent, addresses the musical content and understands where you’re coming from. I was lucky enough to receive such a review in the Guardian. Thank you Kate Molleson!
It’s hard to describe your own music, but I thank Kate for making a very good stab at this on my behalf. The music of my latest release Shenanigans was described as ‘taut’, ‘wonky’ and ‘endearing’ and this is, of course, very complimentary. What I was most warmed by was a clear recognition of the contradictions between seriousness and play (something I value similarly in my favourite comedy) and between the collisions of musical aesthetics in my music. These two things have probably driven my composing more than any other over the last twenty years.
As well as my thanks to Kate Molleson for understanding me, and to NMC for trusting me, my thanks also goes to all the spaces the music was conceived and recorded in, the fingers and breaths of the wonderful performers on Shenanigans, and to the ears and brains of all those out there who might come across my music.
NMC Archive blogs are all articles written for our Friends Newsletter over the years. If you'd like to receive our quarterly Friends Newsletter, you can become a Friend here (memberships start from £50). If you'd like to support our work with composers as well as our expanding Learning Programme, you can make a donation to our 30th Appeal here. Thank you!
As we reach the end of our anniversary year, we look to the future. Our pledge is to continue to support new music, build a catalogue that celebrates and fully reflects talent across modern Britain, and develop our education programmes. Find out more below ...
Where we are now:
Our complete catalogue
|In the last 5 years|
We pledge to take steps to ensure our future recording programme is more representative across gender and race. Recent analysis highlighted that 90% of proposals we were receiving were from men, so we have taken steps to redress the balance by promoting our opportunities more broadly, and have set a target that at least 50% of new releases from 2020 will feature composers who identify as women. Alongside this we have made a commitment to double the number of BAME composers in the catalogue (currently 19) by 2022.
In 2017, we launched a series of education resources to assist the development of emerging talent and to inspire an interest in, and appreciation of, new music in younger audiences. These resources include: r:strng, our free app featuring Kate Whitley's music and allowing students from KS3 & KS4 to create their own remixes; GCSE Dance, a free teaching resource developed in partnership with Rambert Dance Company and including guidance notes for teachers as well as a free download album; the NMC Music Map, our free interactive tool to explore, see, and hear the connections between composers; and GCSE Composition, which takes works from the NMC catalogue as a starting point for practical lessons and student exercises in Rhinegold Education's innovative Online Music Classroom.
In 2019, we were delighted to partner with London Music Masters, to deliver Many Voices, a set of ten new violin pieces for children for those currently learning at around ABRSM Grades 2 – 5, which was distributed to LMM’s learning programme of over 1,000 children, as part of their 10th anniversary celebrations and NMC’s 30th anniversary.
“In a time where we are seeing cuts to both music education and our relations with other cultures, the creation of Many Voices seems more admirable and important than ever.” – Joanna Lee
In March 2019, NMC worked with Chineke! Foundation and Tower Hamlets Arts and Music Education Service to devise and deliver 3 days of creative music-making workshops for 40 pupils aged 11-14 from Swanlea School in Whitechapel.
The project was linked to a forthcoming album of works by Black and Minority Ethnic composers performed by Chineke! Orchestra on NMC, and we were thrilled to have composer Errollyn Wallen lead the project along with five musicians from the orchestra. The participants were introduced to the working life of an orchestra by Chineke! Learning Manager Ishani O’Connor, as well as learning about what it is like to be a professional musician and what being a composer means.
“My favourite part was when everyone was gathering together to put all their pieces together. It made a really shocking and wonderful performance, [it was] very creative for all of us.” – Swanlea School Participant
For our Anniversary year, we pledge to continue to develop our education programme, with projects in partnership with Chineke! Foundation as well as schools across London already in preparation for 2020.
In October we celebrate Will Month. It's not always an easy subject to talk about but it is an important one and something we should feel more comfortable discussing. Wills ensure you can continue supporting the causes that matter to you for many years to come and Alex, our Development and Partnerships Manager, talks about the importance such gifts have on small organisations like ours.
There are many ways of supporting NMC’s work as a charity. We rely on a mixture of funding sources each year, which include grants from charitable trusts and foundations; a small amount of regular public funding from Arts Council England; earned income from the sale and licensing of recordings; and of course the generous support of individual donors and supporters.
One form of fundraising we haven’t mentioned is Legacy Giving. This is a topic which is often overlooked, and sometimes deemed too difficult to talk about openly with donors. Yet it can bring many benefits to smaller charities like NMC, and it is a very special way for our closest supporters to continue giving to a cause they love for many more years to come.
Leaving a gift in your Will really does make a difference, and no amount is too small. A legacy can go a long way to preserve and promote new music for future generations.
As a lean and nimble organisation, which has thrived on maximising its impact with modest resources for 30 years, NMC’s key strength is adaptability. This means we can react quickly when new opportunities arise, and make the most of any extra income which comes our way to further our charitable purpose by supporting new recording projects or education work.
There are many inspirational moments which can lead to deciding to support a charity: it could be hearing a recording of a piece you saw live in concert and loved; wishing to inspire the next generation of music creators and musicians through our Learning and Participation work; or wanting to aid and develop the professional lives of early-career composers through our Debut Discs series.
Choosing to support NMC with a legacy costs nothing in your lifetime, and after providing for family and loved ones first we would be delighted if you felt moved to consider writing us into your Will.
One of the trickiest things with Legacies from a fundraising perspective is not knowing when or how much money is likely to be received in any given period. Even so, it remains a vital source of income, and one which NMC is looking to embrace as a means of diversifying our income steams further in the future.
Making a decision to leave a legacy to NMC is an individual’s choice alone, and there is no obligation to tell us that you’ve left a gift. However we would love to hear from you should you feel comfortable telling us, so we could discuss in confidence how we might recognise your support in your lifetime.
In NMC’s 30th year, we seek a new Chair to succeed Andrew Ward in helping us build on past successes and secure our future. The ideal candidate will have energy and vision alongside experience in the world of new music and its funding.
NMC Recordings is an award-winning new music charity. Founded in 1989 by composer Colin Matthews OBE, we are devoted to enriching cultural life by connecting listeners with exceptional contemporary classical music from across the British Isles.
We believe that new music is a dynamic and engaging art-form, and we seek to inspire and challenge audiences through the release and promotion of recordings, innovative artistic partnerships, commissioning new repertoire, and delivering education work.
We fulfil our charitable aims by:
- collaborating with leading composers, artists, orchestras, and ensembles
- producing high quality recordings of outstanding works
- promoting recordings and other resources to expand worldwide audiences for new music
- preserving this creativity for future generations
To apply for this voluntary position, please complete the attached equalities monitoring form and email it with a covering letter outlining why you are interested in NMC and feel you would be right to lead us. Applications and requests for any further information or for an informal discussion should be sent to:
NMC Recordings, the leading charity record label devoted to the promotion of British contemporary classical music, seeks to appoint a part time Office Assistant to provide temporary extra assistance in our Bethnal Green office.
NMC RECORDINGS OFFICE ASSISTANT
Part time fixed position, 2 days per week (16 hours incl lunch break)
1 August – 30 November 2019
We require some temporary extra assistance in the office, supporting our small team with a range of tasks including:
- fulfilling orders
- general office administration
- social media activity
- updating website content
- sales and marketing administration
The successful candidate will have excellent communication skills, both written and spoken, be enthusiastic about music and have experience of using social media platforms. To apply please email your CV along with a short statement (in the form of a tweet) as to why you would be a valuable addition to our team to: Anne Rushton email@example.com by midday on Wednesday 17 July.
Interviews to be held in our Bethnal Green office on Monday 22 July.
NMC is an equal opportunities employer and welcomes applications from all members of the community although we regret that our offices are not wheelchair accessible. Please contact Anne if you have any queries.