The whole idea of writing a series of works came to me gradually over the past few years, and because I was conscious of a certain need in me to verify why I was writing, per se. It is a loaded question: why am I writing music at all; what is it for; who is it for? Answering those questions seemed important in order to give myself some validity, some credibility, and perhaps some artistry, through this pastime of mine. There are many who write music, for themselves, and like poetry, there are many who pen a set of words because of a need to respond to something. Often this is a deeply personal act, and the resulting artistic artefact has that very personal individuality. But, often, too, the work can lack artistic viability because of that very personal reactive style, so there is a danger of being too personal, and writing just for oneself.
So here is the dilemma: how does one develop artistically, when that development has to be based upon a very personal view of the world, and yet art deals with the universalities of life. How, indeed, does one bring the personal out into the universal realm, for not doing so would simply condemn the creator to narcissistic doodlings. We can all create something that reflects our thoughts, our lives, our interactions with the world, and the majority of us do so happily oblivious of the fractious soul searching that goes on in trying constantly to produce something artistic. I think of that sort of creativity as therapy, in the main, because it is often the result of a person trying to accommodate a problem that infringes upon their lives. To make sense of the infringement there is a need to ‘write it out’, or some such response, and in so doing it is therapeutically beneficial to the creator. Perhaps we all start out this way, but in order to produce work that is understood by others, as art, then the ideas behind the work of art have to have something universal about them, so that it can be understood by all.
It is this element of universality that marks out a true work of art, and, indeed, it’s creator as artist. The characteristic of such universal ideas is that they can be understood by many, and introduces us to an idea that connects with ourselves, our own lives, from that initial personal level. It connects with our own thoughts to produce a further thought, to make more things sensible, to clarify previously held ideas that have somehow not been completely clear to us, and helps us in our understanding of ourselves. Furthermore, these universalities impinge upon us in a personal way, and we take them in for ourselves, but they react with us as individuals, so that we have the feeling that although we have understood something which others also understand, it also feels as if it is solely ours, and this combination of individual and universal seems to affect us in a positive way, making us understand bigger things than ourselves, with the world at large. It makes us perceive.
A series of works
It was in response to these thoughts that I decided, like many others before me, that I should develop those ideas which were important to me, on a personal level, but expose them in such a way that they can be understood by others, at whatever level they wish to understand them. So I asked myself, who am I? What makes me me?
I had to be honest with myself, of course, otherwise the exercise would have been worthless, and I had to delve into my own personality and history. Well, the answers were not surprising to me, of course, but I knew that I had to embrace them proudly and wholeheartedly. There was no excusing things here, no embarrassment possible. I am Welsh; I come from a working class background; I have been socially mobile in that I have risen beyond the social stratum of my parents through my education; I empathise with the arts; I am a mildly spoken character but strong willed; I am …… the list can go on and on. Well, this is partly the way that the idea of a series of works came about, and certainly the series of Welsh works. I like the idea of writing a series of pieces that are relevant to me, because it gives an ongoing picture of what I am, and what I am interested in. I hope that it communicates the ideas that are important to me, and I hope, too, that it might make others think about those ideas.
I think this approach is much more valuable than dipping in to anything and everything that is outside of us, in the hope of finding material for a composition. The latter method is too haphazard for me; it does not integrate the web of my ideas; it is too serendipitous. If one is faced with a choice of having big or small ideas, then I suppose one should choose the former, since the bigger ideas should have more relevance to people than the small ones, although the trend these days is for the general public not to bother themselves with big ideas at all. The choice, in a way, is simple, and a challenge, too. Thus, having an ongoing artistic project, of writing compositions which relate to one another and to oneself, is, to me, a valuable, creative way forward as a composer.
I suspect that the John Clare series is a response that feeds something fundamental in me: an ur response, as the work and life of this early nineteenth century labourer rang a clarion bell in myself that I identified with, and intuitively understood his inner needs, and his outside circumstances.
I first encountered the poetic work of John Clare, through watching a television programme about him – it might even have been in black and white! It was a long time ago! However, I imbibed the poet’s ideas and artistic outlook, and they have been a source of inspiration for me in my compositions. I suppose one of the main points of interest for me is the fascination and admiration for the way that an intuitive artistic outlook was seemingly born with him, despite his social standing, and finds a way out into the world through his poetry. It is as if it stubbornly refuses to be passive in the light of Clare’s circumstances, and persists in dominating his thinking, and leads him to both the heights and depths of artistic endeavour. It is this with which I empathise, and although I do not feel at all his equal I admire the man’s tenacity and perseverance. His work and his life’s adventures have given me ideas for many pieces of my own.
The Welsh series, on the other hand, seems to illuminate a different side of me. I am Welsh, and feel deeply Welsh, though I do not speak the language (I am learning the language now that I live in Pembrokeshire). I do not believe that one has to be a Welsh speaker to be fully Welsh in outlook, but my attempts at learning the language are because I want to try to experience all sides of the nationalist spectrum: I certainly do not want to forget one (the monoglot south-east Wales Cardiffian) and turn into an evangelistic Welsh speaker of the rural eisteddfod. No, I want to infuse my outlook with both veins of rich cultural experience. So it makes sense for me to delve into Welsh culture in order that I understand myself that much better, and to show that I identify with its ideas, both historical, and contemporary, and write works which have that association with Wales in all it’s different guises.
Such are the thoughts that led to the writing of the pieces that constitute the series of works so far. I suspect that this is an on-going project which will take different paths as I progress through it, but that, in itself, is interesting for me: to see where each new work will lead; to see how the whole develops.