C.79 - "Adventures in Wonderland - Chapter 1 (Partial)"

Composed: 8th to 11th May 2015

     Following on from "C.77", this was the new piece I wrote. And boy, there is a lot to talk about here!

     My earliest interest in setting Carroll’s classic novel to music came from a concert I attended on the 21st of March earlier that year at St. Mary’s church itself (where Carroll once preached), commemorating the 150th anniversary of the novel's publication. The concert consisted of 12 chapters of music, each written by a different composer, and set to a narrator reading the text. It was... rather obscure contemporary music that didn’t much reflect the innocent quirkiness of the text, but I was already wholly intrigued.

      In the wake of the circumstances I found myself in, I had to compose a new piece and fast. Thus, on Friday the 8th of May I decided to shut myself away in a practice room at Surrey ("PA10") and waffled away on a piano to create material for a new orchestral composition. At the time, I had not yet decided this new piece would be "Adventures in Wonderland", as I was also considering another orchestral piece inspired by the title "In/On the Mists". Here is the new material I wrote in the practice room, which turned out to be the very first material I would ever write for the "Wonderland" compositions:

FIgure 1: The material I wrote in PA10 on Friday 8th May 2015

     Only two of those slivers actually made it into the final composition (highlighted), but it was enough to tip the scale of curiosity in "Wonderland's" favour. Thus, it was decided – the piece I would write would be "Adventures in Wonderland". So over the weekend, I locked myself in my room at the Manor Park accommodation campus and wrote three minutes of the first chapter (the coursework only required 3 minutes of music).

     I have never had such an intense weekend of composition, not before, and not since (although "Film Score #2" comes close!), but I would be damned if I said I didn’t enjoy it. It was about a minute a day: Saturday saw the completion of ‘The Sighting of the White Rabbit’, Sunday was all about ‘Down the Rabbit-Hole’, and Monday saw the completion of ‘Wonderland’.

     Of course, the concert was due for the 22nd May, so I had no time to waste – I had to rush this composition out and get it to my performers – the 4 singers I had found for "C.77". I tried my best to write the music as close as possible to Carroll's text, but ultimately it was impossible to convey everything through music, especially in only three days. Nevertheless, I tried to not exclude any important material that occurred.

    I suppose there isn’t really much to talk about with regards to analysing the piece; the structure is quite clear and the narrative more so. The piece uses leitmotifs and instrumentation to convey characters through the music: for this chapter there are two "Alice" motifs, a "White Rabbit" motif, and an "Alice in Wonderland" motif. The composition ends just as Alice has lost sight of the White Rabbit after falling down the rabbit-hole.

Figure 2: The motifs I constructed for "C.79 - Adventures in Wonderland - Chapter 1 (Partial)"

    I sent a choir reduction score to the four people that were interested in singing one of my pieces, and I organized two rehearsals with them beforehand. They found it very jolly and whimsical, almost wanting to comically bob their heads alongside it. Of course, I had never tried conducting before, so I was rather pathetic at teaching the parts to them – hence two rehearsals.

     Nevertheless, the concert day came and I had created a digital recording of the orchestral parts using the EastWest samples I had recently purchased. The concert was very rushed and disorganized as it was student-led, and I regret not recording it as this was likely to be the sole "performance" of this piece (if it can truly be deemed a performance). Anyway, when the time came to perform the piece, I connected my laptop to the speakers, got four chairs ready for the singers and directed them.

     I don’t really remember how the performance went – there was far too much on my mind – but I think it was satisfactory, well, at least the audience applauded afterwards. I let the singers keep the choir scores to use as coasters, or something else should they find a use for it. I did keep a few of the programmes of the concert, where there are spelling errors all over the place.

Figure 3: The programme of the event

    As the piece was so rushed (ironic, being for a "rush hour" concert), I had not realized I was deterring from the 'Composition 1' requirements quite substantially (everything was supposed to be performed by live performers), and this was the main reason the piece only merited 60% - disappointing, but for the circumstances surrounding it, perfectly fine by me. There was no requirement to write a commentary for this coursework.

      Ultimately, there is a sad sort of irony that I would not have written this piece had the terrible "operational review" not come into effect. So, as much as I hate the university chairmen for following through with such a review, there would have been no Wonderland without it.

Reminiscence written on 19th and 20th July 2016

Last updated: 20th October 2018

© 2019 Jonathan Shaw