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New Commission for Somerset: Letters to the Frontline

2 October 2014

Musician and composer Greg Harradine has just created a new commission for Somerset. Based on the expereinces of Somerset Women, this composition forms part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Project War and Peace: Commemorating the Centenary Through Dance run by TMAC and TYDC to explore the experiences of Somerset women .

Musician and composer Greg Harradine has just created a new commission for Somerset. Based on the expereinces of Somerset Women, this composition forms part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Project War and Peace: Commemorating the Centenary Through Dance run by TMAC and TYDC to explore the experiences of Somerset women .

This composition along with a detailed education pack has been sent to every secondary school and college in Somerset.

Find out more about Greg, his development process and research below...plus listen to his fabulous new compositions for Somerset! 

WAR & PEACE

Greg Harradine: Composer War & Peace Project

Greg Harradine graduated from Kingston University in 2010 with an MMus in Composing for Film and TV, having previously completed a BMus (Hons) in Music Technology, First Class.  He composes in a variety of styles, from folk to orchestral to electronic, and has written for theatre productions, short films, animations and other projects.  He often perform live in the theatre productions that he composes for and also accompanies choirs and singers at performances in London and beyond.

 

Since graduating Greg has composed and performed music in London and around the UK.  He is currently Resident Composer at Soho Theatre (after winning the Cameron Mackintosh Resident Composer Award 2013) and Musical Director for By Moonlight Theatre. He also recently composed music for Blackshaw Theatre, Never Heard of It Productions and See It In Your Head.  He is accompanist for South London Military Wives Choir and British Humanist Association Choir.

 

Recent credits include: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, Never Heard of It Productions; The Taming of the Shrew, By Moonlight Theatre; East by Steven Berkoff, By Moonlight Theatre; Gormenghast: Titus Groan, Blackshaw Theatre; An Anthology of Images, See It In Your Head; Serendipity Cottage, M.A.D.E Theatre Company; None But Friends, International Youth Arts Festival; Rent, Cygnet Players; The Tempest, Gap Rep Theatre Company.

 

Letters to the Frontline­: The Compositional Process

 

Research

My work on Letters to the Frontline began in a rather quiet and scholarly way – with research. I visited Somerset Heritage Centre to unearth letters written by local women to their husbands and relatives fighting on the front line. Sadly, it turns out that few of these survive and the helpful staff found only one such letter. However, there were plenty of letters from the frontline sent back home, along with diaries from local women. With these documents I had more than enough text to draw upon for the composition, and so I set to work.

 

I decided to craft stories of two local women and their husbands, following their contrasting journeys through the wartime period. I assembled the lyrics from phrases found in the letters and diaries, which – I hope – gives the stories a sense of authenticity.

 

Composition

I settled on an instrumentation of two female voices, strings, piano and drums. I aimed to create a piece that mirrored the strange paradoxes of war – how it could seem to progress steadily on with no real sense of an end in sight, while at the same time rising and falling with periods of great upheaval alongside quieter breaks in the violence. Musically, I reflected this by creating a verse with a solid, steady drum pattern that keeps returning throughout, alongside a short aggressive chorus and a reflective bridge that occurs firstly as a quiet and modest display of courage and secondly as a more powerful conclusion to the piece. The short, stuttering chorus contains a rhythmic homage to the war-years themselves. The years of 1914-1918 are counted out in ‘stabs’ throughout each successive chorus, played by the drums and strings behind the vocal melody.

 

The text of the composition tells of two women, both desperately hoping that their husbands will remain safe during the war. Unfortunately, for one man, this was not the case. The vocalists initially take it in turns to perform successive verses, but later they sing together, voices and words interweaving and occasionally joining for a moment of homophony. This joining up of voices represents the mingling thoughts of all women during wartime, waiting for news of their menfolk on the frontline.

 

Recording

I was very lucky to have the talented Katy Thorn and Sophie Cook providing vocals on the recording. Sophie came to my studio in SW London and Katy recorded remotely from her studio in Devon. I performed and programmed all the other instruments using Logic Pro X.

 

 

Two Versions

The process of choreographing for dance requires giving breathing space to both the vocals but also offering variation for the performers on stage. Once the initial version of Letters to the Frontline was completed I discussed the piece with Jenny Copping (Artistic Director of TYDC). I then began the redrafting process following her comments. To make the piece work for a large company Jenny requested fewer vocal sections (so that the piece was more open to interpretation, rather than being driven by a narrative), more instrumental sections and fewer of the short choruses. I always find it quite tricky to redraft a piece, structurally speaking, but I took a deep breath and began to reshape it. The resulting composition has lost some of the narrative development it had in the first draft but has gained some breathing room and greater variety in the different sections of the song, giving the choreography more chance for expression.

 

Conclusions

I found the composition of Letters to the Frontline both challenging and inspiring. Finding the right balance between vocals and instrumental sections within the work was tricky, and redrafting and curtailing the narrative was something that was particularly hard. But writing a piece commemorating the wartime experiences of Somerset women has been an honour. The most important part of the composition process was the initial research – it is this which inspired not only the words but also the feeling and atmosphere of the piece.

 

Greg Harradine, August 2014

 

Download the full education pack here:

Cover Letter to Schools and Colleges

Somerset Women in WW1 Education Pack

Creating Choreography from a historical stimulus

Apply for your school, dance or community group to perform at the dance platform on the 15th November