An email from Rhian Sheehan pondering an upcoming collaboration is the type of email you look forward to… knowing that you’re about to embark on an incredible musical journey and have the pleasure of exploring his masterpieces from within. In short, the guy is a bloody legend. The way he evokes emotion and explores texture and colour within music is something I greatly admire.
It was a year ago, September 2017, when we started working on the first track. Co-arranging and orchestrating the strings for what is now is latest album, ‘A Quiet Divide’. Over a few months we tweaked the arrangements, added layers, subtracted layers, lengthened, shortened, rewrote endings over and over until they hit the mark. Finally comes February 27th this year when we recorded in Wellington with some of NZ’s finest string players as part of Stroma FilmWorks.
Later Rhian recorded pianos in Auckland with his wife Raashi and the wonderful Justin Bird.
Depth of colour, textural clarity and control of phrasing were themes in these charts. Here’s two examples of how this was achieved:
This type of arranging/orchestration work is so rewarding. Working with such talented musicians and, with the strings, bringing out the magic that lies within their creations.
Fast forward to today, October 5th, and the album is released. And it’s pretty stunning. This is music for the soul. There’s been some good write ups on the album already. This from Drifting, Almost Falling I particularly enjoyed, which gives thoughtful insight on the inner musical elements:
Take a listen below and then buy a copy for yourself! Our string collaborations are tracks: 3. Lost Letters, 4. Soma Dreams, 5. Between Us and the Dying Starlight, 6. We Danced Under a Broken Sky, 10. Someplace and 12. April.
And if that wasn’t enough, Rhian is performing live shows around the country to celebrate. Dunedin was last week. But coming up there is:
12 October, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington - TICKETS
20-21 October, Nelson Theatre Royal (Nelson Arts Festival) - TICKETS
…and in Auckland you might just find a special guest in the viola section.
Synthony is done and dusted for another year after two massive sold out shows last weekend.
The lineup featured P Digsss (Shapeshifter), Ria Hall, Helen Corry, Omega Levine, sax legend Lewis McCallum, backing singers Cherie Mathieson and Iri Aumatangi, the 90-piece Auckland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Thomas and all hosted on the night by General Lee.
For those who are late to this party, Synthony is one big music, dance, lighting and visual extravaganza in the Auckland Town Hall. Basically, 20 of the biggest dance hits orchestrated and produced on a massive scale. The two shows sold out in a matter of hours.
I’m hugely proud to be a part of the creative team, working closely with Erika Amoore (one of the event creators) to produce the orchestral realisations of these tracks. As an arranger it really is such a treat to be able to work on an entire show of such forces. The scale is huge. Here are some stats on what we produced: 236 pages of conductor’s score, 720 individual orchestra parts, all adding up to 2531 pages of printed music being played on the night.
Here are my favourite pics:
This year every department upped their game and knocked last year’s triumphs out of the park. Musically, the arrangements are bigger and better, the orchestra itself is bigger too… and we unleashed the Town Hall organ! There were 15 brand new tracks, and the 5 repeat tracks from last year were all refreshed.
The response was overwhelming. Orchestras aren’t used to quite that degree of ‘audience interaction’. Here was the view from up in the percussion section…
Reviews were great as well:
Immense thanks to Peter Thomas and the Auckland Symphony Orchestra who did an amazing job bringing this music together… with click track pumping in one ear… deafening audience in the other… with lights in all directions… while beads of sweat gather on the forehead… and yet they still smile and deliver yet another top level musical event for Auckland.
Finally, huge kudos to Erika Amoore and David Elmsly for their incredible vision and direction of this event. It really is quite something, and I’m already looking forward to the next one!
Robin S. - Show Me Love
Inner City - Good Life
The Chemical Brothers - Star Guitar
Robert Miles - Children
Laurent Garnier - Man With The Red Face
Roger Sanchez - Another Chance
Paul van Dyk - For An Angel
ATB - Till I Come
Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams
Moloko - Sing It Back
Eric Prydz - Pjanoo
Avicii - Levels
Faithless - Insomnia
The Chemical Brothers - Galvanize
Disclosure - Latch
Underworld - Born Slippy
Tiesto - Adagio For Strings
Delerium - Silence
Solitare - You Got The Love
Shapeshifter - Electric Dream
Saturday night is going to be a totally epic night as Synthony kicks off in Auckland. DJ + vocalists + choir + symphony orchestra + an incredible visual feast which I'm not sure the Town Hall has ever seen before.
"Leave your Nan at home, THIS IS NOT AN ORCHESTRA AS YOU KNOW IT or a sit down affair... this an event you will lose your sh*t at."
And yes, the rumours are true, I'll be up the back thrashing the tambourine and caressing the thunder sheet as part of our impressive percussion section.
But, it's been quite a journey leading up to this, and I haven't actually posted much about it, so here's a run down.
July 2016, the journey begins. Peter Thomas calls me and says he’s got a great gig on the horizon. He always does, but this time I knew it was special. He explains the concept and sends me off to watch the Ibiza Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. Online, not in person! I watch it. I’m sold. I’m in.
My first real taste of the project was in March when the first two arrangements were done and recorded for the promotional video. Wow, got the feels.
Two arrangements down. Eighteen to go.
For a few years, Peter Thomas and I have pondered doing a project where we could get young secondary school arrangers involved. There is always opportunities for composers, but there are some hugely talented young arrangers looking for experience. We knew this project was perfect, and so we recruited: Tom Lawton, Ki Hoon Sung, Matthew Beardsworth, Sarah Rathbun, Vivien Whyte, Lauren Tantrum, Angeline Xiao and Weihong Yi. Legends. I briefed them and mentored them along the way, sending countless emails of feedback and reassurance.
I also got to work on the rest of the show. Transcribing, arranging, and editing the electronic tracks with DJ Erika Amoore (who along with David Elmsly are the two behind the event). Here's a bit about what I was doing (and yes, this was shot before they knew how to spell my name correctly):
The show launches, and... it sells out. Fast. The absolute boost I needed as I was working day and night to complete the arrangements. Everyone starts getting really excited. Erika and I get interviewed on Radio NZ. What a blast. Have a listen:
The tracks mentioned in the interview were Robert Miles by Children, Right Here, Right Now by Fatboy Slim and Silence by Delerium. Want to know what the other tracks are? No, not likely, come to the show.
So early September arrives and I'm done. The 20 orchestra scores and 580 instrumental parts (who's counting?) are proofread and it's all off to the printer.
Massive shout out to Erika, David and Peter who dreamt up this event, brought me onboard and have all been absolutely wonderful to work with. Special thanks to the Auckland Symphony Orchestra for doing an almighty job playing all the notes.
Three rehearsals down, two to go. If you've got a ticket, you're in for a treat. Bring your best dance shoes. Carb load. You know the deal.
It's not often you score a nationwide tour with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, but that's just what the Modern Maori Quartet have done and they're going all out commissioning arrangements from several fantastic New Zealand composers: Claire Cowan, Chris Gendall, Anonymouz, Gareth Farr, Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper, Robbie Ellis and Mark Dennison, I have thoroughly enjoyed preparing five of these new arrangements - those by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper and Anonymouz, along with some additional orchestration.
They're touring to 12 centres in February and March. It will be impressive, get a ticket here.
I would never give up an opportunity to travel. So when it looked like I could take a week to make it to London (to meet my wife before our Spanish adventure...!), I went for it. First stop, Los Angeles. There I met with some very fine people in the music biz that until now I've never been able to meet in person. The aim of course to keep strong connections and talk possible future work.
There's things to love about LA, and things to drive you completely loopy, but what you gotta admire is the vibe that anything is possible. Most people are there to make their dreams come true, not surprisingly mostly as actors, but what's awesome is that there is so much opportunity for that to happen. And for the bulk of whom are still waiting, they're still friendly, still optimistic and still driving Ubers - and they're okay with that.
Also while there I managed to catch the LA Phil in concert. Sadly I missed Gustavo Dudamel, but instead I saw Santtu-Matias Rouvali conduct Mosolov 'Iron Foundry', Dvorak 'Cello Concerto in B minor' with Johannes Moser, and Sibelius 'Symphony No. 1 in E minor'. Amazing.
I then travelled to London and hung out with the legendary (and delightful!) music copyists Jill Streater and Ann Barnard at London's Air Studios. There they worked me hard collating parts (or 'running around the table' as we called it!) for the Kong: Skull Island score being recorded there. Being a music copyist in New Zealand is rather solitary most of the time so to meet and hang out with such legends is wonderful, and reassuring too to know that how I do things is pretty much how they do things.
I first worked with Jill in 2012 when she was the Supervising Music Copyist for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. A year or so later I visited and observed her work at Abbey Road Studios. What fun.
Finally, I met up with several friends in London to catch up on times gone by and to round off my time there... oh, and I saw the musical Aladdin.
As much as I'm a great fan of working remotely, basing myself online and sending music all over the place, there's still nothing like a face-to-face meeting to strengthen relationships and to get inspired by others' passion for what they do. For this reason, I hope it isn't long until I next head away to catch up with some of the amazing people I get to work with.
I had the great pleasure of working on the Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper and Tama Waipara score for Mahana - a new feature film opening in cinemas on March 3. It's directed by Lee Tamahori and based on the Bulibasha book by Witi Ihimaera. The best place to read more about it is probably the movie Facebook page, so check that out. I was doing the music preparation, some orchestration and also flew to Wellington for the main day of recording to ensure everything worked a treat.
The score is really stunning, has a unique New Zealand flavour and it's so great to see new voices coming through in New Zealand film scoring. It was my first time working with Mahuia and I definitely hope not the last.
Each new project brings new challenges and things to be learnt, and it's always a great sense of achievement to be a part of such projects, even when in the scheme of things my contribution is only a small one.
Do ensure you get along to the film, I've seen most of it and it really is a goodie and of course quality New Zealand filmmaking needs to be supported.
Here's the trailer:
And here's some images from the recording:
I was delighted to recently orchestrate Rhian Sheehan's score for 'Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses' - a new film premiering at this year's NZ International Film Festival. The film is about the 2007 Wainuiomata mākutu lifting of Janet Moses. I haven't seen the film myself yet but everything I've heard is that it is an impressive production.
There were seventeen cues of varying lengths to work on and all for strings. The feel we were after meant there was a lot of experimenting with extended techniques, bow pressures, textures and so on - such fun! I flew to Wellington to conduct the session comprising of a very fine group of NZSO musicians.
Can't wait to hear how it all came together. There are two screenings as part of the NZ International Film Festival. Auckland's SKYCITY Theatre, Tuesday 28th July, 6:30pm and Wednesday 29th July 1:45pm. Full details here.
While conducting the wind band at the recent Bay of Plenty Music School I finally had the chance to test using digital scores. I’ve always been intrigued - have already blogged about it twice - but only with a new iPad have I had the chance of taking the full digital leap. Here are my thoughts... GETTING UNDERWAY
An iPad Air 2 sits, charged, ready for action. I already had some of the scores as PDFs which was a great start. Then I scanned the rest using Scanner Pro which kindly then drops the file into my Dropbox. Then in comes forScore - a sheet music reader app and the absolute hero of the equation - I import the files straight from Dropbox and then it’s all ready to go.
WHAT I LOVED
Magnetic to stand - my iPad lives in an Apple Smart Case and to my surprise it latches itself to a metal stand so you can place it nice and high and it won’t fall off if knocked.
Markings and highlights - I had loads of fun marking up my score, highlighting and bringing out the important info (see photo).
Linking - okay, so we’ve got repeats and codas and so on - I set up links so you just click on the spot and it will take you there immediately. Fantastic.
Metronome markings - not so much during the rehearsal, but while I was looking at a score in downtime, I really appreciated having the built-in metronome set on the tempos for each score.
Setlist - once I knew the concert order I made a setlist and everything was there ready to go and flows from one score to the next. You can even remove title pages from each score so it’s just what you need.
Plenty more features to explore in the future - you can bring up an onscreen piano to perhaps play a passage, you can click to record your ensemble playing, and much more.
WHAT I LEARNED
No auto contrast - we rehearsed in a room with loads of natural light. During a massive climax in a piece the sun went behind a cloud, the room went dark and so did the screen on the iPad... couldn't see a thing. Lucky I knew the score, and I turned off the auto contrast after that.
Battery life - to be honest, if the iPad isn’t on WIFI then that battery will last for ages. But, I took this for granted and late afternoon I needed an emergency trip back to the motel to pick up the charger.
The screen size - I understand this will be an issue for some, but it really didn’t bother me. While it is obviously a little smaller than an A4 page, the clarity of the retina display made everything so clear and with the annotation, you can easily highlight what is important or write on the score in any colour of the rainbow. And of course with a quick gesture you can easily zoom in to more closely analyse a chord, rhythm or whatever.
WITH OTHER HATS ON
As a composer/arranger and general creator of many (many!) scores, I used to print them constantly just to take to rehearsals for reference and to write on. I’d then look at the comments at home before putting it straight into the recycling. Not anymore… used digital scores at a recent rehearsal with the Auckland Philharmonia and it works a treat.
As a teacher, having a variety of material available to students is important as well as having reference scores and so on. The close integration forScore has with Dropbox (or Google Drive or iCloud Drive) makes this usage even more trippy.
I thought there would be issues, but that the connivence of it would outweigh them. But, apart from those obvious things to consider with any digital device, it’s a dream. It's fast, effective, a little flash, and I think the best thing is that, as I briefly mentioned, I once printed excessive amounts of music at home - but now I print barely anything. Yay, save the planet! I'm a complete convert.
Over the last few weeks I have been orchestrating and arranging the music of the Polkadots and writing some new material for their show, Magic Carpet Ride, with the Auckland Philharmonia in March. There are eight pieces in total for my contribution, each varies greatly in style from Caribbean, salsa, lullaby, Maori, ballad, storytelling, blues, and more - making it loads of fun to bring to life with the orchestra.
After transcribing each track into a piano/vocal reduction the fun began - unleashing the orchestra! Being a show for little people, the songs are often short, bold and simply structured so the challenge is to keep this while bringing in the massive presence of the orchestra, giving them some moments of their own, and giving the players material to get their teeth into.
I am in the closing days now, which is mainly just final touches to the orchestrations and part preparation to be done. Home straight!
I'm really looking forward to seeing the project come together and I hope to be at the rehearsals to see the magic carpet take off and the fine work of my friends Robert Dill (director) and David Kay (conductor).
MAGIC CARPET RIDE (event link here)
- Saturday 29th March 2014
- 10am and 11.30am
- Auckland Town Hall
- Adults/Senior: $15
- Child/Student: $15
Ok well Iâm working on this film score at the moment, orchestrating it and a bit of arranging. Lol it is veryÂ ...Â interesting. Iâve seen different scenes, heard stuff from the composer and seen the teaser website (www.chickencargo.com) â and after all of that Iâm completely confused other than knowing itâs a sci-fi comedy. lol Anyway it's going great and deadline now is January 2008 so things are going to step up a bit. Stay tuned.
Â Iâve just confirmed the premiere of âMei Speroâ? in Brazil early next year by the Sphera Ensemble. A specific date and venue is still being finalised but it should be a fantastic event. Iâm adjusting the instrumentation slightly to suit the ensemble a little better. The original instrumentation of cor anglais, clarinet, horn, trombone, percussion, harp, viola, cello and double bass will now include some violins. Anyway, will post more details as soon as they are available.
Okay so over the last two months have had so much work coming in, I haven't had a chance to post any blogs or in fact to much else at all. So what have I been doing? Rakaia is a new piece I just finished last week for the Auckland Symphony Orchestra. It is for their "Rivers" concerts in August. For the dates and venues check out the news. The Rakaia river heads east from the Southern Alps here in New Zealand and reaches the sea just south of Christchurch. Thanks to my friend Wikipedia you can check out more details here. Anyway it was an interesting piece to write as the orchestra's audience is not my usual type of audience. But anyway I ran through it all with the conductor Gary Daverne and he is happy so that's good. Rehearsals start Monday night so will keep you posted. If you're in Auckland on the concert dates, come along and I'd be so keen to get your post concert thoughts.
Chicken Cargo is an independent film based in Chicago. Scott Hunt is composing the score and I am orchestrating. The film is kind of a sci-fi comedy and the bits I've been seeing are quite good. We're just finishing the opening scene at the moment and the whole "living on the other side of the world" thing is proving no problem at all. Anyway this is a long term project (film released mid '08) and so will I'm sure be posting regular updates on how everything is going.
North Shore Junior Orchestra is a second orchestra I have picked up. It is a junior orchestra and so will be heaps of fun. Have got our programme all sorted and am about to do a mailout which will kick us off for term 3. I've just updated their website here.
Have also had a heap of engraving work which isn't too strenuous but is time consuming. So its good to have work flocking in, and with very little sleep I'm managing to get through it all. Woohoo.