A fan of mine sent me this picture of his daughter’s toy piano. Apparently she only plays it if my album is on the stand for inspiration. Cute!! Bless…
Piano Quintet in F# minor op 67 by Amy Beach.
Yes, a woman composer. Read about her here
I’m so very tired of all the talk about women in classical music and misogyny. Instead, being the cockeyed optimist I am, I have decided to do something about it with my concert series In Her Shoes. The third instalment of the series is happening this Sunday with Acacia Quartet. Can’t wait :D
Also world premieres of works by UK based composer Alison Wrenn and… yours truly! Confronting for a composer, but if I don’t play my own music, who will? Haha.
I am loving rehearsing this piece with Acacia Quartet. I can’t understand why it’s not totally famous! Oh yeah… it’s by a woman composer.
On April 13, I’ll be mounting my hobby horse. I’m putting on a very special concert In Her Shoes - music by women composers with my lovely friends, Acacia Quartet. I chatted with one of their violinists, Myee Clohessy (she’s the crazy upside down one on the far right!) about the project and about Acacia’s unique approach. They’re a real 21st century ensemble!
Five minutes with Myee…
Sally: I’m thrilled that you have agreed to be a part of my little In Her Shoes project. Have you any particular favourite women composers?
Myee: I must say Sally your In Her Shoes project is just so vital for giving a platform to women composers of the past and present. It is quite shocking just how few female composers are known at all! My personal favourites are Sofia Gubaidulina and Elena Kats-Chernin and I am very proud Australia’s own Elena is receiving such world recognition and support.
Sally: You have worked very closely with a number of Australian composers including Lyle Chan and Elena Kats Chernin. Do you enjoy the process of working with composers on new music?
Myee: Oh yes, it was such an incredible gift for Acacia to be able to work with Lyle and Elena and share our interpretation on their music. You receive feedback immediately and can discuss different options to really make the music on the page come alive. We shared so much laughter and tears doing both CD recordings and feel eternally connected by this amazing journey. Over the last few months, we have been working intensely with Moya Henderson on her chamber music output and once again a lovely bond is forming as we discover her passions and style.
Sally: As string quartets go, Acacia Quartet is one of the more adventurous ones on the scene at the moment. What is it about performing some of the lesser known works that attracts you?
Myee: Personally, I just love discovering new things and not going down the mainstream path all the time. I do adore the classics and will always aspire to perform these great works but I love tossing in something new and fresh or forgotten and neglected. The other members of Acacia feel the same way too so we are lucky!
Sally: You are very happy to perform in a great variety of styles (I remember that we met playing songs by The Beatles!). Is it important for musicians to be versatile in this way?
Myee: I would say absolutely, for the same reasons as above - it keeps you fresh and able to express a greater variety of styles, colours and moods. You also get to met other interesting and inspiring musicians this way. I have always loved mixing different arts mediums - dance, photography, singing, art and music.
Sally: What’s next for Acacia Quartet?
Myee: Acacia just flew back from Melbourne after opening the Woodend Winter Arts Festival and started rehearsals the very next day for our upcoming concert with you! It is going to be so great to finally put our Amy Beach string parts together with your wild virtuosic piano part. I think the audience are going to be amazed with the depth of Beach’s music.
I am also keeping my fingers crossed you will share one of the toys from your very cool Downsized arrangement of your Toy Concerto with me Sally! Most importantly though, we are about to perform your first ever work for piano quintet called Winter Love. People take note!
Prelude in C Major BWV 846 by Johann Sebastian Bach performed by pianist Sally Whitwell (that’s me, y’all) on the album The Good, the Bad and the Awkward
Happy Birthday Mr. Bach!
Branding. Who am I anyway?
For a musician in this day and age, a career is a kind of hodgepodge, a cobbling together, a patchwork quilt (a crazy one, not a neat American log cabin design!). There is little regularity and occasional confusion. It’s quite an adventure trying to keep track of all the elements and prioritising as necessary.
My life is this kind of life. In any given day I might finish an arrangement of a pop song, rehearse an avant garde work with a chamber music ensemble, meet with a piano student, rehearse a choir of 45 keen amateurs and much more besides. It’s tiring and wonderful, challenging and inspiring, sometimes busy, other times uncertain. The separation of work and play can be tricky to negotiate because when work is so enjoyable it IS play. However, one thing is for sure; I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Although I have always known that I would be a musician, I have not always been certain in what capacity. When I meet people at a party and they ask me what I do, I always say musician. Thereafter, it’s a bit of a game of twenty questions. They hear that word “musician” and feel compelled to totally grill me about it.
What style do you play?
Do have a band?
Um, kind of. Several. I’d say “various ensembles” rather than “band”.
Do you sing?
In a manner of speaking.
What’s your favourite song?
Can you sing/play us something now?
Um, no, but do come along to my next concert.
At the moment, when pressed to provide the specifics of “what I do”, I tell people that I am a piano soloist, an accompanist, a chamber musician, an educator, an arranger and a composer. I’ve won a few ARIA awards and played some high profile gigs at festivals and in other countries. I’m also equally happy to play clapping games with rooms full of giggly eight year olds on a regular basis. It’s all just music, and music is wonderful. When musician agents and managers have negotiated with me, they will often make the promise that if I sign with them I won’t have to do that working with kids thing any more. None of them ask me whether that’s what I actually want. There were some recent statistics presented by our peak arts funding body, the Australia Council, that stated that musicians in Australia made an average of $7000 per year from making music. Making music with young people didn’t count in that statistic for some reason. I don’t really understand why. Perhaps that’s everything that’s wrong with the industry? Haha. At any rate, I still can’t get a manager. My desire is to to retain my current brand of professional eclecticism and to have a manager that spruiks me for all of it but no such artist manager exists, or if they do they haven’t got in touch with me yet!
I have tried hard in my life to travel down the acceptable pathways, to do auditions and apply for jobs and fellowships and workshops. Practically all of my efforts have been completely fruitless. iFail. Well, either I could sit around all year and tell myself that I am a failure because I don’t seem to fit neatly into the system anywhere, or I could just make it happen on my own somehow. The latter really is the only option. Maybe that’s why I just seem to get magically presented with opportunities completely separate to the things for which I applied? My favourite writer on creativity, Julia Cameron, puts it brilliantly. “So you shook the apple tree and got oranges. What are you going to *do* with them, eh?” Well, I’m not just making orange juice, I’m dipping the segments in chocolate and frying crepes suzette and slicing them up for sangria and drying them for candied peel. I have something to say through my own music and I’m saying it. That is to say, I am a creative.
It is actually only pretty recently that I became this self described creative. I used to be of the opinion that being a performer was creative, but when I sat down and really considered the core meaning of the word “creative” I came to the conclusion that performing is re-creative whilst making is creative. It’s an unpopular opinion amongst so many of my performer colleagues and is met with much defensiveness, especially from singers for some reason. Really though, what brand new thing are they putting into the world? (If they are improvisers then of course, they are something of an exception.) Defensiveness is most often just jealousy and jealousy is a mask for fear. Personally I’d like to see all those people write new music, imagine how much richer our world would be for it? Wow.
It struck me recently that in popular music world, the singer songwriter is held up as a kind of ideal to which others may aspire whilst in classical music world, the contemporary composer has for some time been an oddly marginalised figure. Some exceptions to this are the performer composers. I’m talking about the likes of Philip Glass, Michael Nyman, Ludovico Einaudi, Eric Whitacre. I am now adding my own name to this list. I compose and enlist my mates to help me out by performing them. It’s really the only way to be sure it happens. It’s that old adage “If you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself”.
So I’m doing it. By hook or by crook, I’m doing it.
Things that make me happy - that some of the littlest Sydney Children’s Choir kids are singing my composition this term. Here’s the text by splendid British poet Michael Rosen.
I’m just going out for a moment.
Out to get a cup of tea.
Because I’m thirsty.
Because it’s hot.
Because the sun is shining.
Because it’s summer.
It’s summer ‘cos that’s when it is.
Why don’t you stop saying why?
Tea-time. That’s why. High-time-you-stopped-saying-why-time.
Title Music from the film Delicatessen composed by Carlos d’Alessio. Arranged and performed by me, Sally Whitwell, for piano, toy piano and melodica. From my album The Good, the Bad and the Awkward.
This piece is kinda how my brain feels this morning. Argh.
Dead Things by Philip Glass. A recorded by me (Sally Whitwell) on my 2011 debut album Mad Rush
It was originally composed for the soundtrack to the Stephen Daldry film The Hours which was about the life and work Virginia Woolf…. in a kind of roundabout way. Brilliant performances from Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore, lengthy appearances from Nicole Kidman in a prosthetic nose at which I couldn’t help but giggle just a little. Such a shame cos her co stars and the screenplay were all brilliantly compelling.
Anyway, looking forward to playing this piece in a concert on the weekend. Nothing like a little Philip Glass existential dread on a Sunday afternoon.
Attempting to write anapestic tetrameter.
It’s really quite hard. Dr Seuss was no amateur!
Wichita Vortex Sutra by Philip Glass. Performed by me (Sally Whitwell) on my first album Mad Rush on a splendid Stuart and Sons piano. I’ll be performing this piece amongst other works of living legend Philip Glass in concert on Sunday at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, not on a Stuart and Sons piano, but on a generically nice Steinway or something… ;) (cheeky Sally!)
Video by my friend Andrew of New United Artists
Metamorphosis No. 2 by Philip Glass. Performed by me (Sally Whitwell), video by New United Artists.
I’ll be playing this piece in a concert at the Art Gallery of New South Wales early Sunday afternoon. It rather appeals to me to play Glass’s works in art gallery spaces, when I think about the kinds of spaces in which he performed his music when he was just starting out… all those tales of the artsy crowds lying on the floor in Soho lofts, smoking joints and blissing out to the oscillating quavers of Tetris rain (yes, that’s why my tumblog is called what it’s called!).