100 Days – Day 100

Well well well!

Well well well well well!


100 days are up. I haven’t finished my PhD yet, or even Amra Choluim Chille, but it’s been an interesting experience documenting it all, and the end is definitely in sight. ACC1 still needs a bit of polishing off, but I’ll definitely be well able to finish my first draft this weekend and in Berlin, to a fairly high level of ‘finished’.

At the moment, it comes to 50 minutes, and about 200 pages of music for Choir, Strings, Harp and Percussion. There were times when it felt like an insurmountable task, and times when it felt like I’d finish it in days. Times when what felt like extremely busy and productive days resulted – on closer examination – in fruitless labour that had to be discarded. I’ve learned a lot about composition, and about my process, and about time management – in fact, how to manage lost time. In addition to my PhD, I’ve managed to complete a Christmas Carol, start 3 more Christmas Carols, complete a little prayer for Notre Dame that was downloaded over 4,000 times around the world. There have been times (and are still times) when I feel on the verge of tears, simply because I can’t quite believe that it’s all coming to a close. When I look back at where I was when I decided to start this thing 3 years ago, I can’t understand where all that time has gone. It feels like it’s been only a few short months, and yet I have so much work to show for it – next big thing is to submit it all to the CMC, which I’ve been shockingly lax in doing, only because I’ve been loathe to submit anything to them that might be considered un-finished or in development.

I’ll be taking Sunday evening, Monday and Tuesday off composition entirely, for Dominica’s birthday, and to travel to Berlin, so Saturday’s set aside as my day to try to get as much of this final movement to a place you’d call finished. All the ideas are there, I just need to refine them, re-order some of them, and stick some of them together in a better way. Easy work on one hand, boring work on the other. But I might risk buying my ritual half bottle of Marks and Spencer Pink Champagne that I’ve been having at significant points in the work since the beginning of July. One bottle marked the completion of ACC2, which was the first movement I completed since I completed ACC4 at the beginning of last year. Another marked the completion of 5, 6 and 7 over the course of 3 short but hectic days. The completion of 1 is taking longer than I thought it would, but the music I’ve written is also significantly better than I ever thought it would be.

To those of you who’ve followed me on this journey, thank you for reading. There’ll be more of this kind of thing in the very near future, with 100 Days Redux – Berlin Nights 1-6* next week but after that I’d imagine the blog will go quite for a short while.


The climax of  ACC1 , which took longer than I thought it would, but is better than I thought it could be.

The climax of ACC1, which took longer than I thought it would, but is better than I thought it could be.

100 Days – Day 99

Wow. It feels like the last 99 days have absolutely flown.

After my post yesterday, I stayed up quite late and wrote a lot of music – 9 part string polyphony, under a monophonic “pillar” inspired SATB texture. More music than I thought I needed to! The problem now is that that music is a bit raw, and needs a bit more work than I have time left to do within the confines of the 100 days. It also necessitates a bit of a revision of the middle of ACC1 (the connection between the 2nd bit and the new 3rd bit) and a lengthening and development of the very ending, which at the moment is, I think, excellent, but just doesn’t quite fit onto the end. After the big slow build up of the 1st section, the little fugal passage of the 2nd, and the quite monumental 3rd section, the original 4th section just feels underdeveloped.

I’m going to compose sans blog this weekend, and try to get those bits done, and then when I go to Berlin next week, I’m going to begin a 7 days type thing. I might try a Japanese Video Game-style naming convention and call it 100 Days Redux – The Berlin Chronicles – Day (1-7)

Either way, I won’t finish within the parameters of the 100 days, but I’ll still finish before the end of August, which is still on time in terms of the meta-schedule. And the reason I won’t finish tomorrow is because I came up with an excellent idea which just needs a little more time.

100 Days – Day 98

Well well well, the time is nearly up!

The good news is that the piece is nearly finished. Not in its entirety (I will still need to go through it with my red pen and make sure everything is where it should be) but all the notes are very nearly there. I still have a little bit of the first movement to complete but that’s tomorrow’s work.

Day 100, by sheer coincidence, will be a day of rehearsal with CCI so there’s unlikely to be a celebratory day 100 post, but my plan is to go back and count how many of the 100 days couldn’t be composition days, and do a sort of “100 days redux” series, detailing my editing process, my write-up and submission process, and the completion of the remaining 3 CCI carols. I’ll also set a post aside to discuss administrative bullshit that we all have to put up with as part of the PhD process… I’m very fortunate in that any time administrative bullshit rears its ugly head, I get an almost instantaneous email from my extremely supportive supervisor, saying simply “leave this with me…”

100 Days – Day 92

Very slow day today. I still have basically 2 lines to set of ACC1. I spent today mostly tweaking the fugal passage I wrote yesterday. The temptation to try to develop it is very real, but I don’t think it would fit in the place where it is if I did so.

The lines I have remaining are as follows:

Go saoraidh Dia ar an múr tine mé,
Ar bhuanpholl na ndeor!

Which translates as

The great God is my protection from the fiery wall,
The everlasting pit of tears

I think I’ve been focussing on the fiery wall too much. I want to make the strings a bit fiery, but if the poet is being protected from said fire, then the singers need to be doing something more tranquil. But maybe something a bit more on edge too? I had a very clear idea for it at the beginning, but I just don’t think it works well enough.

I’m going to Belfast on Saturday so I’ll have 2 days off. Something might come to me then. Or it might come to me tomorrow. Who knows?

100 Days – Day 91

Another fugue, this time in the first movement.

To be honest I always knew it was going to be there. I’ve just been resisting. This time though, it’s got quite a long, meandering subject, so I’m only having one exposition before moving on to the next bit of text – no episodes or anything. Although it does have a tiny bit of stretto between the alto and bass just before the end.

When all this is over, I think I’ll sit down and arrange the 3 fugues from ACC into an organ piece called “Three Fugues on Columba”. It would mean developing this first one, and writing proper endings for all of them (at the moment they just segue straight into the next bit of music) but that would be ok. Could be an interesting companion.

I’m also intending to apply for a commission opportunity that would see me writing for string quartet and one other instrument. I’m thinking celtic harp, and taking some of the principal themes from ACC and arranging them into a sort of 10 minute tone poem type thing, based on the famous Fil Súil nglas fégas Érinn dar a hais poem. It would be appropriate for ACC to produce these kinds of ‘children’ , as the High King of Ireland himself decreed when Columba copied a book out without permission – in what may have been the earliest judgement on copyright – that “Each cow has her calf'; Each book, its copy.”

100 Days – Day 90

Wow. Only 10 days left!

I took the weekend and bank holiday off both composition and blogging, as I realised on Saturday morning that I was once again starting to bark up the wrong tree a bit with my first movement. I came up with some great material last week, which I’ll definitely use again (there’s a potential string quartet movement in there for sure – once this is all over I might even write a companion string quartet to go with Amra Choluim Chille!) but for now I need to get back to my original idea of the first movement being a simple invocation. There’s going to be more unaccompanied choral writing in it, and more of an establishing of the bi-tonal characteristics of the piece, rather than too much introduction of one off material.

10 days to go. I’ll definitely have this done in time! Then I’m going to go back and look at how many days I skipped and took off, and insert them at a later date. Talk about economical!

100 Days – Day 86

Some big changes to the middle of ACC1. I’m glad I decided to leave it to the end, as the middle two sections are now going to be based on new material from ACC5 and ACC7 that I generated over the last few weeks, which should tie the whole work together.

100 Days – Day 85

A slow day today in terms of real composition, other than the slightly surreal short story I wrote in the wee hours. More on that later.

I’ve been sketching out my plans for the final work on the opening movement of ACC, and then I sat down and listened to the 2nd to 7th movements all one after the other. This was a good idea because I hadn’t done so before, and it’s a good 40 minutes or so of music. Obviously I planned it this way, but the 6 movements flow very nicely one into another, and I feel like the 7th movement is really quite cathartic. I now also know how the opening movement needs to be proportioned, which means there’ll be a small amount of re-writing to do, and I’m also going to change the music for the 5th and 6th lines of the movement, to foreshadow the new material I came up with for the 5th movement. I’ll probably do that tomorrow, as I’m definitely already happy with the ending, except I need to add some strings and harp.