Guest Column with Dr Elliott Gyger

October 12 / 96

Every musical performance is a collaboration between the performers and the score (representing the intentions of the composer), but the earlier performer and composer are in contact, the richer the collaborative relationship.  
An ideal situation is reached when composer and performer have the chance to work together throughout the compositional process, and even beyond that across several pieces. Having the score a long way in advance allows the performer to master any challenges and develop their own creative response more fully, as well as offering directly collaborative feedback to the composer on any possible changes.
I have known mezzo-soprano Jenny Duck-Chong for more than 20 years, and we have worked together on several projects. Such a long-term artistic relationship is particularly valuable where singers are involved: while all violins are essentially similar in technique and colouristic range, every human voice has a unique personality, with its own strengths and capabilities. Recently I enjoyed the opportunity to feature her for the first time in an extended solo work.
giving voice is a cycle of eight songs for mezzo-soprano accompanied by an instrumental quintet. In casting around for texts, I came across a collection of wonderful poetry by Australian women entitled Motherlode, from which I chose poems concerned with early childhood and the conflicting emotions of parenthood. I was drawn to the words not only for their intrinsic beauty and power, but also because I could immediately imagine them sung by Jenny's voice, which called forth very specific ideas about each musical setting.
A recurrent idea across the cycle, reflected in my chosen title, is that of voice and speech:  from the wordless cry of the newborn, through the acquisition of language, to the voice as a symbol of emerging identity. While the singer for the most part takes the parental role, there are times when various instruments (especially the flute and oboe) represent the voice of the child.  
Putting music to poetry is another form of virtual collaboration. Although my direct contact with the poets was limited to requesting permission to use their work, my interaction with each text in the compositional process was deeply collaborative - investigating its formal and sonic qualities as well as subtle shifts of tone, and then creating a musical structure which would neither replicate nor contradict the verbal structure, but complement it.

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