Award-winning composer Andrew Ford shares insights into the creative process of composing, exploring the relationship between music and memory, reflecting on the role that music plays in our lives.
Andrew Ford is a composer, writer and broadcaster who has won awards in each of those capacities, including the 2004 Paul Lowin Prize for his song cycle Learning to Howl, a 2009 Green Room Award for his opera Rembrandt's Wife and the 2012 Albert H Maggs Prize for his large ensemble piece, Rauha.
Andrew is ANU Coombs Creative Arts Fellow and this lecture is one event in a program featuring his writing and music.
In association with the ANU School of Music.
Speakers: Kevin Bradley (K), Paul McMahon (P), Andrew Ford (A)
Location: National Library of Australia
Date: 23 April 2018
K: Good evening, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman, welcome to the National Library of Australia. I’m Kevin Bradley, Assistant Director General at the Library responsible for Australian Collection and Reader Services. As we begin today I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, I acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region. I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land that we are now privileged to call home.
Now it should come as no surprise to this audience, being the audience that you are, that the – but just in case you’re unaware the National Library of Australia holds an extraordinary collection of music. Our music collection contains over 300,000 musical scores and is the largest collection of music research resources in Australia. Almost all of the out of copyright published Australian music has been digitised and is available online through Trove or discoverable through Trove, and taking composers for example, our Manuscript Collection holds the papers and recordings of many significant Australian composers. Pictures Collection holds images, our Oral History Collection holds interviews. Even our Folklore Collection includes many recordings of the vernacular music of pioneer and multicultural Australia.
Now all of this comes as no surprise to our guest speaker tonight, Andrew Ford, the ANU’s 2018 H C Coombes Creative Arts Fellow. When we were approached by the ANU School of Music to partner with them in this Fellowship presentation we were delighted to be able to say yes to such an event with such strong and obvious links to our collection. Andrew is strongly represented in the National Library’s collection and well over 200 of his compositions and books appearing in the catalogue.
Now to tell us more about the Coombes Creative Art Fellowship I’d like to introduce Dr Paul McMahon. Paul is one of the country’s leading tenors and early music specialists with a broad-ranging performing career and an extensive discography of over 30 commercial studio recordings. Previously on the academic staff of the University of Newcastle Paul has been with us here at the ANU for the past six years and is an experienced and respected teacher and a researcher in historical performance practice, vocal pedagogy and music performance research. Tonight Paul is here in his capacity as Deputy Head of the ANU School of Music on behalf of the head of school, Professor Kenneth Lampl who could not be here with us this evening. So please join me in welcoming Dr Paul McMahon.
P: Thanks very much, Kevin, for those very kind words and good evening distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the Australian National University and the School of Music it’s a great pleasure to welcome you to the National Library this evening. It’s also my agreeable task to introduce tonight’s speaker. Active as a composer, ABC Radio National broadcaster and writer on wide-ranging music topics Andrew Ford adds to an extensive and distinguished list of honours a 2018 H C Coombes Creative Arts Fellowship. Established in 1964 through the impetus of then ANU Pro Chancellor H C Coombes the Fellowship is filled by invitation in support of eminent artists to embark upon a period of creative work in residence at the ANU to cultivate new ideas and to nurture creative practice within the University through an interface with the academic and broader communities.
As a H C Coombes Creative Fellow Andrew Ford joins the ranks of musical luminaries including amongst others George Dreyfuss, Don Banks, Malcolm Williamson, Don Burrows, George Golla, Graeme Kernot, Geoffrey Lancaster, Nigel Westlake, Paul Grabowsky, Roland Peelman and The Song Company and recently songwriter, Andrew Farriss from the pop music group, INXS.
Before he takes the podium I should also give a quick plug for a lunchtime concert that is happening at the ANU School of Music tomorrow at 1pm in the Larry Sitsky Recital Room featuring the music of and compered by Andrew Ford. Performed by instrumental staff of the School including Sally Walker, flute, Tor Fromio, violin, David Perreira, cello and Dr Edward Nemin, piano. Please join us if you can. Please consider yourself invited, 1pm tomorrow at the Larry Sitsky Recital Room of the School of Music. Without further ado for tonight’s lecture, Music and Memory, please make welcome Andrew Ford.
A: Thank you, Paul, and he’s right, you should come to the concert. The music’s much better than the talk.
It’s a great pleasure to be here, it’s a great honour to be the H C Coombes Fellow and I’m very aware of the distinguished people who’ve gone before me. But when we were trying to plan what I might do this year and this idea of giving a talk about memory and music came up. It was – I said it would be really good to do that in the National Library because you know if there’s one place that you can point to and say there is our national memory, that’s where it’s kept then it’s this building. The National Library is a storehouse of Australia’s memory and the archives are the part of the building where life turns into memory. The first time I set foot in the archives I actually saw this happening. I was with Robyn Holmes and Larry Sitsky and we were walking around and Robyn was showing us around and she proudly showed me the shelf with the boxes that contained all of Larry’s documents, his manuscripts, his letters and so on.
Well not quite all of them in actual fact because when we then walked out of that room into the Reading Room there were people sitting at desks and they had boxes in front of them and they were all doing their own private research and there was this schoolboy sitting there and he had a box of Larry’s stuff. And he looked up and he saw his research project walking towards him. And Larry looked at the boy and saw - well many things, I suppose, I mean he – I hope he saw the esteem in which he was already held. I’m sure he must have seen his future you know what will remain of him, all those boxes of documents and manuscripts, all that music, all that memory and perhaps he also saw or sensed the significance of his life and his art that this boy already busily studying it, weighing it, coming to terms with it. I should of course not be speaking in the past tense about a composer who only last month completed a new opera but there you are, he is already turning into memory as indeed are we all.
The first time I was in this building was actually in the 1980s and it was for music. In fact I think the first two times I came into this building it was for music, it was for Concerts in the Foyer and on both occasions pieces of mine were being performed and on the first occasion it was a song cycle to words by Elizabeth Smart, the writer of By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept which some of you will have read though possibly you haven’t read her poems. And Elizabeth Campbell sang and Tony Faulk played the piano. That would have been maybe 1986 and then the following year Lisa Moore played my piece, A Kumquat for John Keats. And I think they were both first performances so I’ve always had a fondness for this building.
But – and I think of it as a musical place for that reason. And music and memory are intertwined intimately because of all of the arts music works most in memory, we understand it with our memories. It works in time, you see, and it must be understood in time and therefore memory plays an important role. And I’ll talk a little bit later about how I think that works but music is also a repository of memory. And I think if the national memory is here in this building it’s worth asking where is music? With classical music that’s a fairly simple one to answer, the music is in the score. And I don’t mean to suggest for a moment that the music is the score or the score is the music, that’s not what I’m saying but the score houses the music in the same way that this building houses our memories.
And just as the national memory needs someone to come in like that schoolboy and dig through it and bring it to life so does the music in a score. I’m very fond of a quote from the great Beethoven pianist, Artur Schnabel, who said there is no performance of a Beethoven sonata as great as the sonata itself. And it’s a really interesting distinction to make, I think, that there is – the sonata exists and then there are all of these attempts, and they can only ever be provisional attempts, to bring it to life, to make music of it, to bring the music out of the score. But it’s always going to be sitting there, that score, anew when people come back to it, when they look at it, when they read it through, when they prop it on the piano and try to play it. Or when they perform it for an audience. It’s never going to be the same.
But of course music also lives on in people’s memories and when you hear a recording of Schnabel playing you may compare it in your head to another recording you’ve heard or to the time that you attempted to play this particular sonata or to the performance that you heard. Or to the last time you heard the recording by Schnabel because it’s not going to be exactly the same you know they change because we change.
Now of course with an oral tradition memory plays an even more important role because that’s where the music is, it’s not in a score with a folk song or an Indian raga. That’s a remarkable thing but that rich and complex musical system and tradition should exist in people’s heads. I mean I guess there’s things written down but the music isn’t written down and it has to be passed on in a master and apprentice way and learnt, taught and learnt and remembered. And made new each time somebody sits down with their sarod or sitar or whatever instrument they have or their voice for that matter to pass it on from their memory to our memory.
And those songs, those folk songs are passed on like that as well, faithfully, reverently, trying to get it right, failing to get it right. There’s a – you forget a line. In fact I talked once to Bob Copper about this. Bob Copper was one of the great figures of English traditional music. He wasn’t exactly a folk singer. Martin Carthy is a folk singer, somebody who has learnt these songs and sings them. Bob Copper lived these songs, he was a traditional singer and his family had sung these folk songs for generations, I mean lots of generations. They went back to the 16th century in the local parish registry and as far as anybody knew they’d been singing these songs the whole time and passing them on.
And learning songs along the way, new songs and Bob’s theory about the oral tradition and how you end up with these different versions of folk songs in different parts of the world was that it all came down to beer. He said you go to the local pub and there's a shepherd from a neighbouring village there and he’s got this really good song and he sings it and you say could you sing it again? And you sing it with him and then on the way home after you’ve had too much to drink you try to remember it and you – and there are lines you can’t remember and you don’t want to lose a very good song just because you can’t remember a line or two so you make up new ones and that’s how the oral tradition works. That was his theory and he did drink a lot of beer.
But what of pop music? I think pop music resides in – well both text and memory and very strongly in both places. But when I say text of course I’m not talking about scores. With pop music the recording is the text. And the memory is – works in two different ways, we don’t just remember the music with pop music, more than any other sort of music it attaches itself to our other memories, we remember the boyfriend or the girlfriend or the summer holiday that we were on or the school or university we were at or the job that we had. And it’s because I think that pop music tends to be – I’m generalising wildly here and I will try to undo some of these generalisations as I go but pop music tends to be short. The average pop song is two, three, four minutes. And tends to be repetitious. I mean it’s meant to be catchy, that’s how it’s going to be successful, that’s how it’s going to sell a lot of records if people remember it and recognise it the second time they hear it having heard it just the once.
And also there’s the manner of delivery because it gate-crashes our lives, pop music. It comes to us, we do not go to it. It plays in shops and taxis and it comes through the neighbour’s wall and we hear it coming out of cars at traffic lights. You can’t avoid it. Obviously you know you can encounter Brahms in the same way but it’s going to be a very long taxi ride to hear a whole of a Brahms symphony and – here’s the first of my disclaimers – of course this – what I’m saying can also be true of a Chopin waltz or an aria from an opera, Nessun dorma for instance, they work like pop music because they’re short and repetitious and catchy and they gate-crash our lives, particularly Nessun dorma. And we associate them with other things, don’t we? I mean most people I think now associate Nessun dorma with football.
So these are not necessarily the associations that the creators of the music intended, in fact very seldom. They are rather random and I think pop music works on our memory a bit like smells do you know you – they’re like little time bombs waiting just to go off and when you hear that bit of music or you smell that particular floor polish or whatever, perfume, it sets off these – this memory that you had put away, quite forgotten about and there it is sort of exploding. And it can be a very emotional memory or it be a very happy memory or a very sad memory, it can be all sorts of things but it’s not necessarily in any way related to the music except that you heard the music at the time you had that girlfriend or on that holiday but when you hear that music again you’ve still got the girlfriend, you're still on the holiday. And there’s something about pop music which I think is also germane to this which is the way it tends to fade. Most pop songs don’t have endings.
I remember when I was a child my parents saying to me oh these aren’t real songs ‘cause they don’t have endings. I listened to that. I mean obviously they have no idea how to finish but that – they were missing the point because the thing about a two or three-minute pop song is that as it fades away in a sense it’s still going. And that is exactly what it does in our memories, they may disappear underground to be replaced by other things but they are still going and when you hear it again it’s like it never went away, there it is. And particularly pop songs from one’s childhood. You recognise in astonishing detail when you hear them again. Because I was a vinyl age child as I suspect everybody else – or nearly everybody else here was and so when I hear a particular pop song that I haven’t heard for a long time but which I knew very well and possibly owned as a child I wait for certain scratches to come and they don’t come of course now but that was part of it. And again it had nothing to do with the music.
I said that pop music comes to us. And on the whole with classical music or with say jazz something like a long jazz piece, ‘cause again you can divide jazz into pop and classic, I mean there’s Louis Armstrong’s Potato Head Blues which is what, two minutes and then there’s In A Silent Way of Miles Davis which is the equivalent of classical music. So that works rather similarly but with long-form music, and I suppose we could include you know an album of pop music if it’s something which is intended to be listened to from beginning to end but certainly with a Brahms symphony or a Beethoven symphony we go to it, we have to. We have to make an appointment with it because it’s going to take time, it’s going to take half an hour, 45 minutes and so we might encounter a bit of it by accident but we’re not going to get the full experience. And then we have to start using our memories.
Now I’d like us to listen to a piece of music and we’re going to hear the Cavatina from Beethoven’s String Quartet in B Flat, Opus 130.
A: Not yet, not yet, stop, stop. Shh. I haven’t got there yet. I would like us to hear it but not yet but – ‘cause I just want to say something about it first. The end of Beethoven’s life which is when this comes from, he became very interested in lyricism, in song and a lot of his music is instrumental music, contains songlike instructions so in the last two piano sonatas for instance there is Arioso in Opus 11, Arietta in Opus 111. These belong in operas, these words, not in piano sonatas. And in the sonata before that, Opus 109, which is my favourite Beethoven sonata, the last movement is marked [speaks German] which is a really hard thing to translate and almost like a contradiction because [German] means songfully or singingly. And [German] means with the most inner feeling so it’s almost like the opposite of singing a song, it’s sort of like singing a song to yourself.
And in each case these bits of music start [German], very simply and become more elaborate. But the same is true of the Cavatina from Opus 130. A Cavatina is also a word from opera, it means a sort of short aria, often a display piece. There’s a couple of them in the Marriage of Figaro. [Sings]. It’s a Cavatina. That’s Figaro in his imagination standing up to the Count. And the Countess is Porgi amore which I won’t attempt to sing, is also a Cavatina. And they’re short and they don’t have much repetition in them and they’re simple and often showpieces. Well Beethoven’s Cavatina is not a showpiece exactly, it’s certainly got some wonderfully simple, lyrical songlike music in it. And it lasts about eight minutes.
Anyway I’d like us to hear the beginning of it and then I’ll say something more about the music after we’ve done that so could you please now play the beginning of the Cavatina?
So that’s how it begins and it’s really one long lyrical movement which continues like this as we’ll hear, we’ll hear a bit more of it in a moment. We’re not listening to the string quartet version, we’re listening to a version for string orchestra in actual fact. And so it doesn’t have its context of Beethoven’s string quartet, the other five movements around it and the Grosse Fuge to follow. But it has – this particular recording has a different context because this is the Berlin Philharmonic playing in October 1940 with Wilhelm Furtwangler conducting. It’s one of the most beautiful recordings of this piece I know.
And October 1940 is the year that they set up the Warsaw Ghetto, the month in which they set up the Warsaw Ghetto. Beginning of that month the Jews of Warsaw were told to go and live there and at the end of that month those who hadn’t done so were forced to live there, 400,000 in an area of about three-and-a-half square kilometres, seven to a room. And some of the people playing this music so beautifully would have thought that was a very good idea and some of them would have come to work to this recording session with Nazi armbands on and yet they play like this.
So what can we take away from that? First of all I think don’t let anybody tell you that classical music makes people somehow morally superior ‘cause it obviously doesn’t. But I think also we should think about the other cliché associated with Nazis, that they were monsters. They weren’t monsters, they were people and some of them who did terrible things or supported the doing of terrible things were capable of appreciating Beethoven and playing Beethoven like that so beautifully. But of course you know when we say they’re monsters it’s almost as if we’re really letting them off the hook and we’re letting ourselves off the hook too, aren’t we? Because it’s so much worse, that they were human beings who could also do that.
But does our knowledge of the circumstances under which that radio recording was made in October 1940 change our perception of Beethoven? This is Beethoven, this is [German], you know? This is the great composer of freedom. Well of course it doesn’t and it doesn’t change our interpretation of that piece either. And I don’t think it even affects our memory of that piece even though it of course affects our memory of that recording. I don’t think it’s possible to listen to that recording and know what you know and not think about the circumstances in which it was made. But the music as Schnabel suggested is separate here to the performance, to the attempt to realise the notes, the dots and stems of the Cavatina.
And anyway of course you know it wasn’t – Beethoven had no say in how his music was used, that – the choral symphony’s Ode to Joy was played in death camps by the Nazis. It became the national anthem of Rhodesia. And you have to think that those words, all men should be – will be brothers is themselves capable of many interpretations, Aryan brothers, perhaps.
Of course when you add words to music or music to words you always bring new layers of meaning and therefore memory but – and I’ll come to talk about that in a moment but just before we leave that Cavatina, that’s eight or nine minutes of continuous music and although it is one long lyrical outpouring and essentially one tune it undergoes so many changes that it’s very hard to remember it in the same way that you could remember a two-minute pop song which is you know verse, chorus, verse, chorus, chorus. Or possibly chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, chorus but I mean the pop song is meant to get under our skin and into our memory and stay there. And the thing about even a piece like that of Beethoven which is quite a simple piece in some ways and certainly a very singable piece you know you could sing along with it, even that piece of Beethoven, there’s too much information there to – for us to remember it all. And the precise order in which it happens unless we’ve studied it, of course, and made a point of memorising it if we’re going to play it or if we’re going to conduct it as Furtwangler did there.
Yes – but to come back to when you put words in, those words act in a very arresting series of ways and one of the ways that they can act is providing signposts in the music, that they can tell you what to think at certain points. Walter Pater, you will probably know the quotation from this 19th century scholar. He said that all art constantly aspires to the condition of music by which he meant that music is this abstract thing and other artists would like to be able to do that too but they can’t because people are always saying what does it mean? You know you read a novel and you tell somebody you’ve read it and they say what’s it about? That’s not a question anybody ever asks of a piece of music, what’s it about? What’s that Cavatina about? It’s about Beethoven’s Cavatina from Opus 130. It’s not about anything at all.
People look at a painting and they say what is it, you know? And they do that with poetry as well of course but we know what Elliot said about that or perhaps you don’t. T S Elliot said that the thing – that meaning in a poem is – it’s like the burglar coming into your house with a juicy steak for the dog and the juicy steak – the burglar is the poet, the juicy steak is the meaning and while you chew on this juicy meaning the burglar goes through the drawers of your unconscious. And it’s a wonderful way of thinking about poetry, that the meaning is distraction and the real stuff is happening somewhere else.
Well – but it’s all very well for Walter Pater to say that all other artists envy composers. Yes, perhaps so. Auden, who wrote a poem called The Composer starts with all the others translate you know ‘cause they’re taking an image or a story and they’re telling it to you but only your notes, Auden says, are pure contraption. But the trouble is that often composers would like to be able to say something more precise, you know? ‘Cause you ca – I know people always say that music is an international language but it’s not, it’s neither international nor a language. If it were a language you can say pass the salt in it, you could translate it into another language. You can’t, that’s not how music works. But we wish it could sometimes say pass the salt or we wish we could write a piece of music which would stop a war or – and there’s no way of doing that unless you add words. And so we do. And words then change music.
I wrote a piece a few years ago called Blitz. You can hear it, actually, if you go to my Soundcloud you can hear a performance of it. And this piece was as I suggested earlier, a repository for memory. In this case it was memories of my parents and their friends who lived through the Blitz in Liverpool in 1940 and 1941. And they were childish memories, my parents were children at the time but they were told by people in their 80s these childish memories. And I also – so I interviewed them and edited their interviews and you hear their voices in the piece, it’s almost as though they’re instruments in the orchestra and sometimes they almost function as instruments. There’s a moment in the piece, for instance, where my mother is talking about an incendiary bomb that came through their roof one night and she does it almost like a duo with a trombone in the orchestra, her voice talking and the trombone playing notated music that I’ve put around her voice. I also interviewed some survivors of the fire-bombing of Hamburg and Berlin because it seemed to me that it would be a better piece for that perspective.
Now what’s interesting from my point of view and from the musical point of view and what Walter Pater might have found interesting in all of this is that I wrote another piece three years before Blitz which is called just Symphony and it is a symphony. And actually that’s on the Soundcloud too so you can compare and contrast if you wish. And the thing about the Symphony is it’s got all sorts of things in there that I like to do when I write for orchestra, lots of high notes and lots of low notes, lots of dronings and also I’m fond of percussion so there’s some explosive moments in my symphony. Well these turn up in Blitz as well but now of course when you hear high whistling sounds and these low drones, they sound like bombers. And the explosions sound like the results of these bombers and in fact it’s just the same music in a sense and it’s my music in both cases but once you add the words you as I said provide these signposts. The memories of the people who are speaking in the piece are not just telling us their own memories, they’re also in a way making sense of the music for us, they’re telling us what the music is about just as the music helps them to tell their own stories. And I like the fact that music can do that, that you can put memories into music.
One of the pieces that I’ve done most recently which does this actually uses my own memories, tiny memories, though, they’re memories that I – things that I’ve written down. Composers tend to carry notebooks and I’ve star – and I write down musical ideas of course in the notebooks but I also sometimes write down odd things that I’ve seen. And often I find myself sitting at stations and airports looking at people. I mean there’s nothing else to do or you’re waiting for your train. You look at the people on the other platform and you start – and you see some pretty strange things, actually and I started writing these down in I think 2006 in New York where you see some of the strangest things on the subway but then I found myself in other countries and on Australian stations and noticed that the same sorts of things were happening. Little scenarios. You don’t actually know what they are because you can’t often hear what’s being said but you can see people reacting to each other and somewhere along the line I thought I could make a piece of music out of this. I could actually use the words, have them spoken by a speaker or maybe by the pianist and have - and turn them all into little piano pieces. So I did that and the piece is called In Transit. What’s the time? Oh I haven’t got time to tell you that story. If there are no questions I’ll tell you my Patricia Routledge story.
Anyway – so – and again you can hear that piece also on my Soundcloud. We were going to do it in tomorrow’s concert but for various reasons we can’t. Which is not a good reason for not coming to the concert, though, it’s going to be a very good concert but one of the pictures that you will hear in the concert is called Hearing Voices and this is in a way about memory. As I mentioned you know we hear music differently when we hear it for the second or 12th time but we also use our memories when we listen to something for the first time. And in this case – this is a solo cello piece that I’ve written just this last month and this month for David Perreira, it’s absolutely hot off the press. In fact he’s – we’re still changing a few notes.
But when I decided to write a piece for David as part of this H C Coombes Fellowship I thought of his sound, this gorgeous sound that he makes but of course he doesn’t just make one sound, he’s capable of producing some fantastic colours on his instrument and I thought of these as different voices and there would be for instance that kind of big rich tone that he gets out of his cello but also mellow sound that cellists can get when they bow just over the fingerboard. And especially when they move the bow quite quickly and lightly just over the fingerboard, you get a flutey sound sometimes, it’s actually called flautato or flautando in scores. And then there’s the sound that you get when you bow right by the bridge, that wiry sound. And – so I consciously used these three different sounds to sort of build a kind of counterpoint, I suppose, in the piece, going from one sound to the other and back and so on and this of course depends on your memory to make it work, you have to be able to recognise these sounds when they come back. And that’s how the piece communicates itself, it’s how it makes sense. So David’ll do the first performance of that tomorrow in the concert.
I thought I should play you a tiny piece of mine to finish with and here’s an example of how you can put memory into a piece of music. Quite a lot of the commissions that I undertake these days, and not just me but composers in general, are private commissions. There isn’t so much government money around for the arts but fortunately there are music lovers out there and rather recently I feel they’ve discovered that just as you can go and buy a painting you can also buy a piece of music, you can commission a piece of music and some of the pieces that I’ve done have been quite largescale and some of them have been rather small and this is a small one. And two people came to me and they said they wanted to commission a piece in memory of members of their family who had died recently. The piece was to be dedicated to lost loved ones. And they didn’t have a specific – it was going to be for The Song Company but beyond that they didn’t have an idea what they wanted and they – I suggested this poem by the Canberra poet, David Campbell. I’ll just read you the poem.
Here the bird of day stirs in his blue tree, fumbles for words to say the things a bird may learn from brooding half the night, what’s matter but a hardening of the light? Out of this seed of song discoursing with the dark, now in a clear tongue rises his lonely voice and all the east is bright. What’s matter but a hardening of the light? Mountain and brilliant bird, the ram and the wren, for each there is a word, in every grain of sand stands a singer in white. What’s matter but a hardening of the light?
And I don’t know why that seemed to me to be a good memor – I suppose it’s a memorial piece because it’s about in a way the nature of existence and the impermanence of existence. If matter is simply a hardening of the light then it suggests that we’re all impermanent as indeed we are. But let’s listen to the piece, it’s sung by The Song Company, Hear the Bird of Day.
K: Thank you, Andrew, for a marvellous lecture. There’s time for some questions so if you have questions please raise your hand, wait for the microphone to come to you for the hearing loop and for the recording.
Au: Thank you, Andrew for your love of the music if for nothing else, and for the lecture. Your mentioning of in relation to classical music that there is no performance as great as the music, I was interested in how long it took you to come to jazz and then your division of jazz into pop and classical strands which I found very useful, thank you. And I wonder if that’s true of classical music is it true particularly of the pop strand of jazz, that it is the performance which is greater than the music?
A: Well it’d depend what the piece was really, wouldn’t it? Because I mean the thing about –
Au: West End Blues.
A: Well West – but the thing about West End Blues, it’s what I was saying about pop music, really, isn’t it? That the text is the recording and somebody else can do West End Blues but it’s not going to be Louis Armstrong’s West End Blues, it’s going to be somebody else’s West End Blues. But just as you know A Hard Day’s Night is The Beatles and other people can sing A Hard Day’s Night but then they’re going to make a new text. But it’s not as if – but the song, A Hard Day’s Night doesn’t really exist in the same way that the Cavatina from Beethoven’s Opus 130 exists in a score where there is a blueprint. I mean a piece of classical music, a score it seems to me is like an architectural design and each performance is a kind of realisation of that, the building is built anew. And then it falls down again at the end of the concert and then you’ve just got the designs or maybe you’ve got you know the equivalent – or a recording, the equivalent of a photograph of the building, I suppose, that you can go back to but if you want the building to be built again you’ve got to go to another performance.
And so – and I don’t think pop music works like that. I mean there are – when you go to a concert – when you go to a pop concert and you hear a record – a song that you know very well and it’s sung by the people who recorded it, there’s two approaches. There's the approach which is to try and make it sound as much like the record as possible – I’ve never seen the point of that, really, why don’t you just stay at home and listen to the record? ‘Cause you're just going to hear it – it’s just going to be louder with lots of people. Or there’s the you know the Dillon approach which is to reinvent the song to such an extent that it’s two verses in before you realise he’s singing Blowing in The Wind ‘cause he’s changed the tune completely or turned it into a reggae number or something like that. Which I must say I have endless respect for, the fact that he can keep remaking his material as radically as that. But in both – in neither case is it the same as a Beethoven sonata or string quartet movement or any other classical score, even you know the little piece of mine you just heard there. You could get six other singers in to sing that piece and it would be the same piece and it would be another attempt at the score. But it would definitely be Hear the Bird of Day. I don’t know whether I answered your question or not. Anybody else? Otherwise it’s the Patricia Routledge story. Hello Robyn.
R: Hello. Andrew, so much music is dependent on an audience or a listener recognising elements in music and being able to kind of construct the relationships in a way between their memory of something and the music. To what extent do you play with that in your own music and to what extent do you think that actually holds true across different genres?
A: Oh that’s a huge question. I try not to play with anything very much in my music, I try – this always sounds terribly precious when I say it but I try not to think about what I'm doing very much and I’ll tell you why. If I become aware of how I compose – of what it is I do and I became I think dangerously aware earlier when I was talking about the music of The Symphony and the music of Blitz and how they related. But if I recognise what I'm doing then the next time I sit down to write a piece of music I’ve got two choices, really, one is I either copy myself or I have to come up with a completely new way of doing it so it’s best not to think about that too much. And I did reach a blissful moment some years ago where I suddenly realised I was no longer worrying about style in music, I was just responding to the commission or the idea in the piece and trying to realise it as well as I could you know whether it was a set of words or a purely musical idea, to see it through but not to ask myself that question which I think a lot of young composers have to ask themselves which is you know what sort of music am I going to write? You could end up writing nothing at all if you ask yourself that question or – let alone is this original? You know? That’s a recipe for being paralysed.
But as a music listener of course I'm tremendously aware – ‘cause I listen to more music I think than most composers do, partly because I have to do the radio show and you know you have to listen to what you're talking about and there of course music plays an enormous role and it’s how we contextualise music, it’s how we talk about it in fact you know because you know I said earlier if I say to you I’ve just read this book you might say what’s it about? But if you say to me I’ve just heard this brand new piece by so-and-so I’ll say what was it like? And you will say well it’s a little bit reminiscent of Lake [Nesion] 1:00:20, actually, and that’s how we talk about music, we compare it to other music. That’s how we create the context, isn’t it? And I – that’s not unique to music but it’s certainly – we do it more with music than we would I think with literature or film which is the other art form that you experience in time, I should have said that.
Au: Andy, the music and memory program that’s being set up to support people with dementia has had some startling results at reactivating their memory and for me there seems to be a common link to this and the common link is melody, that everything that I’ve seen and heard these people have been – had their memories reactivated through the process of playing melody of some sort. What do you think melody – is melody the real voice in music that is reactivating their memory?
A: You are begging the question there, really, aren’t you? Because you’re assuming that I agree and I’m not sure I do. I mean I’m not saying that – look, I’m sure you’re right that melody is very, very important but I don’t think it’s only melody. I mean when we recognise a pop song and one of the ways in which pop music works, classic pop music is that the first minute – the first second of the music you go oh I know that. You haven’t heard a melody yet. I mean there’s a – an example I’m very fond of is Marvin Gaye’s Heard It Through the Grapevine. Do you know how that starts? It’s a tambourine flick. As you soon as you hear the – you know what it is. And so I don’t think it’s just melody, no but melody is important I think in terms of memory ‘cause it allows you to get inside a piece of music or inside – at least inside a tune because once it starts going it’s going to continue and it’s going to start here and it’s going to go over there and your memory goes with it. So maybe that’s how – maybe it is particularly useful for dementia patients in that regard. I don’t know, I’m no expert at all in this area so I’m just speculating as I suspect you are.
Au: I want to ask Andrew how you compose songs and my interest in it is because I’ve heard you ask that question so many times. One artist, Phil Low, I think, Nick Low, he said he has the title and the rest of it is a puzzle to try and solve that puzzle given the question. Other - Elton John, when he wrote Song for Guy, he composed that all in his head, I think, while he was in the car, went straight into the studio and wrote it. What do you do?
A: Well you mean specifically songs or do you mean anything?
Au: Oh in anything.
A: Okay well in that case I would say that the title, yeah, I very seldom can start a piece without knowing the title and I – and it’s like a little sort of talisman or something. I don’t know what it is but it’s not unlike writing a student essay, you know? I don’t know about how you did it, I always used to pin the title up in front of me so that I could at a moment’s notice look up and see if I’d gone off the topic. Am I still answering this question or have I rambled off somewhere else? And I think titles for me in pieces of music have a similar sort of function because you have to write the – you have to compose the right piece. When you’re composing a piece of music you might get all sorts of fantastic ideas and – but they don’t necessarily belong in the piece you’re writing. They might be – if they’re really good you can jot them down and put them in the drawer for later but you do need to stay you know on topic in a piece of music and so I find the title very useful for that, I think. But yeah, I – sometimes I get the thing in my head especially when I go for walks, not so much driving.
K: One last question, do we have a microphone there? Or they walked out of the room. Oh I’m sorry, we must have run out of time. Can I look, just say thank you very much, Andrew. I think the talk was something like a piece of music, I had my curiosity piqued, I’ve got a million questions to ask, I’ve got it all in my memory, I can tell you that right now and I look forward to talking about it more.
Now I ask you to join us in the foyer, though. The talk is over, please come join us in the foyer. Andrew’s most recent book, The Memory of Music, is available for purchase at the National Library, 10% off specially for those people here in the room tonight and you can join us for a drink in the foyer. Meanwhile I’d like to thank Andrew so much for a wonderful presentation. Thank you.
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