Our Associate Composer, Christopher Bond, talks about his summer project with fireworks, a BAFTA-winning actress and one of Britain’s most iconic landmarks.
2015 has been an incredibly busy year for me so far, not least with composing work, and I thought I’d share with you one of the highlights; a project I completed last year that has just finished its second year being played at iconic British landmark, Land’s End in Cornwall.
I was fortunate enough last year to form a partnership with the company which owns Land’s End, working alongside them in providing a tailor-made soundtrack for their summer season of firework displays. Each year there are ten displays throughout July and August, and previously these had been without music – something that I strongly felt could add a new dimension to the displays and take the audience on a real journey.
My intention was to create not just a soundtrack of music, but a soundtrack unique to Land’s End; something which told a story that people would talk about, something local to Cornwall, and something which would make families want to come back to watch it again and again.
And so I researched the legend of the Lost Land of Lyonesse – supposedly sunk beneath the waves between Land’s End and the Isles of Scilly hundreds of years ago. Hours of internet research went alongside trips to Cardiff library and other libraries to get as much information as I could about the different versions of this tale. I wanted the story to be as authentic as possible. When I had my story pieced together, I re-wrote it as a script with three characters – a grandmother telling it to her two grandchildren as a bed-time story. To have this story so unique to Land’s End spoken alongside a dazzling soundtrack and a pyrotechnical display weaving in and out of the story was, I felt, perfect.
I began searching for actors and actresses to record the spoken elements of the track, and after much deliberation, decided to email the incredible Miriam Margolyes to see if it were something she’d be interested in. It turned out that she was very interested, and much to my surprise agreed to take the train to Cardiff from her home in London to record with me at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama. We had a terrific recording session with two talented Welsh youngsters Morgan Baulch and Kia Roberts, with Miriam being ‘Grandma’, telling the story of the lost land of Lyonesse to her two grandchildren. The results were perfect!
A couple of months later, after I’d orchestrated all of the music and finely edited the music, I rehearsed the orchestra and booked a three-hour recording session to cover the soundtrack. As it happens, Tom Hutchinson was our 1st Trumpet, and he sounds incredible on the finished track!
Piecing the music and the spoken story together was a relatively easy task, although one which would not have been possible without the ingenious skills of my recording engineer and good friend Sam Barnes. We spent many hours in the studio, piecing together the clips of audio we had like a jig-saw puzzle, until the final piece was in place and we had our track completed.
The soundtrack was used for the first time last year, accompanying all of the firework displays at Land’s End, and used for a second season this year, where I’ve just spent a terrific six weeks in Cornwall, enabling me to once again see the finished product and my vision become a reality.
There’s a link below to the promotion video for the 2015 displays. They’re all over now, but what a great experience it’s been.
Advice for the Emerging Composer
One of the things I get asked ever more frequently is how, aged 22, I’ve managed to find myself in a position where I can make a living as a self-employed musician straight after leaving higher education. The answer is, I think, very simple and can be achieved by doing three things that I’m going to expand on; working hard, being professional and successfully communicating with people! From the age of 12 until the age of 18 I immersed myself in creativity, writing pieces at home, going on a couple more summer schools, and entering competitions – the majority of which I was unsuccessful in! It is fair to say that with the exception of the three summer schools I participated in, I had no formal training in composition until the age of 18.
Let’s take my first important factor in being a successful freelance musician; working hard. Unfortunately, it is what it says on the tin, and whilst there are exceptions to the rule, huge amounts of time and effort go into achieving success. For me, my degree was the hardest I’ve ever worked and found myself never saying no to opportunities or projects. Not just brass-based projects but anything that came up. I did huge orchestral transcriptions for concert orchestra, I arranged music for concerts with Prince Charles, I worked as a copyist for international harpist Catrin Finch, and probably the most random – I did huge amounts of transcription work for the Swedish Production of Shrek the Musical. None of this was part of my course, or things anyone made me do, and some of the time it wasn’t paid, but for me I found it hugely valuable to take opportunities where they came up and work hard at them. You never know what may come from them, or who might call you next.
Secondly, communication. You can be the best composer or musician in the world, but if you don’t successfully communicate with people, it’s safe to say finding work could be difficult. Get yourself a proper email address; for some time my email address was ‘bondalicious’ which I soon put a stop to! People’s perception of who you are is increasingly important in the industry, and consistency is key. I have two main social network sites where I promote my composing activities – facebook and twitter. For me, I know that without these tools, I wouldn’t have had the success I’ve been fortunate enough to experience over the last few years. If you’re serious about starting out as a composer and find yourself doing a project here and there, get a professional facebook page as an artist which people can like and keep up to date with what you’re doing. If people know that you’re taking it seriously, they will take you seriously.
Finally, be professional. Look at printed scores from recognised publishers and notice the level of detail that goes into presenting the music. Not just the notes, but everything from the title page to the programme note, sometimes a list of required percussion instruments, a stage plan if it’s not standard brass band formation. Get into the habit of doing all of these things for your music, so that when you give a score for someone to look at or play, it looks as professional as possible. I always print my music on 100g paper, or if it’s for my published pieces 120g, as it’s higher quality paper. The danger with using standard paper is that players can see through it, especially if the music is printed on both sides! Take your work seriously, and others will take it seriously.
Unfortunately, musicians judge with their eyes as much as their ears, so presentation and professionalism is key. This alongside a lot of hard work and someone willing to successfully communicate in an effective way is surely a recipe for success! I worked selling pasties on minimum wage at a Cornish tourist attraction, and the following year had done a deal to write an original fifteen-minute orchestral score, working with a BAFTA-winning actress for a series of twelve firework displays – proof that you never know where things may lead.