A celebration

What’s the most difficult commission a composer can receive?

An alphorn concerto?

A duet for contrabassoon and tambourine (must last 20 minutes)?

A multimedia project on a building site exploring issues in contemporary feminism?

Well, I’d tackle all three. But when I was asked to write a piece for my fellow composer-in-crime Jenny Jackson to walk up the aisle to on her wedding day, my mind went blank.

And stayed blank.

How to start?

Atmosphere was the first consideration. What ambience would the bride like to achieve in the ceremony? No clues were given – “do what you like” was the brief.

So I created a resonant, atmospheric soundscape, quite glowing and bright, a bit lydian mode, a bit drone-y and gentle. Then I was told the acoustic in the venue (Whitley Hall, just north of Sheffield) was as dry as a bone and just not suitable for creating any resonance. Attempt no.1 discarded.

OK, what else did I have to go on? Jenny had a string quartet playing after the ceremony so I could use that as a basis. There was also a list of music she wanted them to play, as well as pieces to avoid.

As any good artist should do, I went immediately to the “banned” list… and it turns out Jenny really doesn’t like Pachelbel’s canon.

Now, I know from her own extraordinary works that she enjoys experimenting with spacialisation (Sanctum) and a certain amount of theatricality, so I formed a plan which involved taking apart the Pachelbel, and using the guests to create some unexpected spacial effects. And the atmosphere should not be negative, even through a famous piece was being utterly ruined.

I present “Pachelbird’s Canoon”, possibly the riskiest compositional venture I’ve had to do. It could have bombed.

Birdwhistle and instructions given to guests

The laughter you can hear about halfway through is Jenny’s. Mission accomplished.

Download the  Score of Pachelbird’s Canoon.