Joseph Gooddy (JG): What made you want to write this one?
Brett Allen (BA): I was trying to capture something from my childhood. I belonged to a church and they would put on a living Nativity scene every December. We would stand out there in the cold. They'd construct a shed and bring in farm animals, sheep and donkeys. Each church member would take a part. I was always the shepherd boy. If you were an adult you got to be a wise man, but if you were 8 years old the only possibility was shepherd boy. But there was a lot of sincerity in the experience and I tried to capture in the music the joy that I felt and the wonder. That would explain the first three movements. The last two movements take on more of an adult perspective on the Christmas story. That it didn't come without cost. And the last movement tries to capture some of the unusual energy of the first Century Christian church as described in the Book of Acts.
JG: It's certainly a challenge to rehearse, we're having good fun I think, yeah, it's been hard.
BA: It's sophisticated music.
JG: Have you got any advice, there's a section of about twenty bars in Silent Night that we've cut.
BA: The middle section?
JG: Yes, where the violins are doing all sorts of funny arpeggiation things.
BA: That section makes high demands especially on the violas and cellos. Colyton is described as a Grammar School. What is the range of ages?
JG: Year 7 starts at 11 I think it is, and by grade 13 they're all 18 and they leave…
BA: Oh, I see, because a grammar school in the United States would be grades 1 thru 6, or ages 5 thru 10.
JG: The players we've got, it's mostly students, and we've got five adult professionals helping.
JG: It's sounding quite good at the moment.
BA: Good, excellent. Can you show me the orchestra? Can you turn the camera?
JG: It's actually going to be an orchestra of 15, but five of them couldn't make rehearsal this evening. I'll try and show you. That's them. We've got one viola at the moment. We've got another violist coming.
BA: That's good.
JG: We haven't played all together yet, but our dress rehearsal is tomorrow, that will be the first time we have all played together.
BA: I see, okay.
JG: Well, thank for your loaning us of the scores. As I said, we'll be recording it and I'll send a recording to you when it's done. As soon as I can after tomorrow.
BA. Okay, very good. What is your background? Where did you study music?
JG: I'm only 16 at the moment…
JG: I'm at the penultimate year of being at the school.
JG: I'm only a student.
BA: Oh, I see, I see, okay, well that's great, and when did the students there begin playing? When they were…
JG: Just generally on this piece…
BA: No, I meant when did they begin playing their instruments?
JG: Quite early, I'm a violinist, I've been playing for 11 years.
BA: Yeah, and I started playing when I was eight years old. That's what they say, you have to start instruments early, before you realize it can't be done...
JG: Especially with string instruments that…
BA: Right, right…
JG: You're a violist yourself…
BA: I am, that's how I make my living, not as a composer but as a violist. I play with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in the state of Ohio, and also with Pro Musica, the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra. That's how I make a living.
JG: I see a lot of your compositions are arranged for two violas and piano or something.
BA: Yes, yes, I have a number of them.
JG: Do you have any advice or anything, I mean, it's the day before the performance. Any advice for us? It's quite a challenge. Hard work.
BA: Well, there's one typo in the the cello part. In the fourth movement, measure 55. Maybe that's the part that was cut.
JG: Yes, measure 55…
BA: The 16th rest is a typo.
BA: The 16th rest in the solo cello - that's a mistake.
JG: Okay (laughter)
BA: The first movement seems to be a bit of a challenge, I like to say measure 58 in the first movement is the high point…
JG: Yes, we're going to tackle that…
BA: I could have written tremolo in the violins there, but I wrote 16ths. I think it works best if the violins kind of play in the lower part of the bow so it's kind of spiky and ugly, rather than in the upper half of the bow where it's all refined and easy, you know. Make kind of a rough sound there.
JG: So, the bit at 58, we'll play it a bit slower I think. If that's alright.
BA: Well, you know, actually, It can move ahead - prior to that it can move ahead - so at 58 it can actually be at a faster tempo, temporarily. Just to kind of build to that point. And the cellos, the cellos, divided in three, they should dominate the world, or try to dominate the world.
JG: Yeah, okay. The only bit we're not playing is that section in Silent Night where the arpeggiated bits in the violins...
BA: I understand, okay…
JG: The rest of it is not too difficult I don't think (orchestra members giggling). At the agitato in the final movement, where the first violins are playing a half beat apart from each other...
JG: I don't know, we haven't really worked at that bit yet. I don't know what to say about it. Have you got any [advice] practicing that bit, or…
BA: Well, it's a complex cannon. So, each pizz in the 2nd violins is answered by the same pitch bowed in the first violins. But it should be just like a big cloud of misquitos, really (giggles). Because the melody is in the bass obviously, the melody is in the lower instruments. So, violins should just be like a big cloud of sound.
JG: Sounds like a ____. Measure number 108 in the final one, do you think it is not particularly important for them to be following my beat. It says, "As if falling away," so is that...
BA: Yeah, it's not real important that they be together, they can kind of go out of phase with each other and just kind of fade out. And that's true of the cellos also. It should just kind of come unglued, just go out of phase.
JG: Okay. It should be okay when we all come back in at the presto?
BA: Yes, then it's all together again, right.
JG: That's fine. Okay. We're just going to finish practicing, Good Christian Men, Rejoice, the last one, we're just going to finish that one this evening.
BA: Okay, alright.
JG: That should be interesting. It's been good fun actually. When I first saw the score I was quite scared by it, I think.
JG: Lot's of very dense black notes on the page. It actually sounds really good with the set-up you've got. It's very nice.
BA: Yeah, I would say 15 instruments is about the right number to have an effective performance.
JG: Yeah, and we're slightly bass heavy, but I don't think that…we've got strong firsts and seconds, so that shouldn't be a problem.
JG: Have you got anything else to say?
BA: No. Thank you for finding the work and thank you for doing it.
JG: I'm very happy to be performing it. It's quite exciting that it is not being performed anywhere else in the world.
JG: And you say you'll mention it on your blog?
BA: Yes, yes I will. So that's a plug for Colyton.
JG: How lovely. Thank you very much. Thank you for your time.
BA: You are most welcome.
JG: We look forward to finishing rehearsing it and performing it tomorrow evening.
BA: Very good.
JG: I'll be in touch to let you know how it goes.
BA: Alright. Thanks. Thanks so much.
JG: Thanks very much. (Byes from orchestra members).
Recording to be posted soon...
About Joseph Gooddy
Joseph Gooddy is a student at Colyton Grammer School. He is the equivalent of a Junior in high school, as it would be defined in the US. This was much to my surprise as I had assumed from our email exchanges that was a professor of music at the school. He is a violinist, having played the instrument from the age of five. He organized this concert of his own initiative, bringing together friends and other student musicians plus five adult professionals who he says, "didn't mind playing for me!" He goes on to say:
"Last year I wanted to try to arrange a charity concert but I started the organising far too late and so that idea dissolved. Earlier this year, I took up the idea again and started arranging things much sooner. I have so far arranged everything myself, but directing the music has been the most fun! My training only really consists of advice from my music teacher (when I did things wrong), and because I am in several orchestras, observations of those conductors. It hasn’t been too hard, actually, because I’ve spent so much time in rehearsals and concerts but the technicalities of my conducting have been corrected as rehearsals have progressed, by my music teacher, Mrs Lester.
As for a career in music, I’m not sure, but I want to keep it up even if as a hobby. I’ve had too much fun with this to stop!"
Many thanks to the young maestro Gooddy!