WASO’s flagship Young and Emerging Artists Program - Composition Project has seen a COVID-19 friendly overhaul in 2020. We spoke to this year’s participants about their experience ahead of Wednesday’s final showing.

This year’s Composition Project participants Victor Arul, Charles Barblett, Reuben Christman, Lydia Gardiner, Aaron Stulcbauer, Daniel Watts and Hanae Wilding were given the opportunity to write a short solo work for a WASO musician. Unlike previous years, workshop sessions were delivered digitally, allowing the program to continue to run during times of restrictions.

So who are these up and coming composers and what have they been up to as part of this year’s Composition Project?

Victor Arul

Victor began playing the clarinet in 2011. In 2018, he started studying music at the University of WA and began composing. 

What made you apply for Composition Project?

I had attended some of the final showcases of previous iterations of the Composition Project, and was impressed by the output of the project.  Additionally, the opportunity to compose for an ensemble of WASO musicians, to work with them over a significant amount of time, and to gain insight from James Ledger, is a great one. This kind of opportunity is also the best way for a young composer to understand the ways in which the rehearsal process works. Though the project has been changed from its usual form, the primary values that attracted me have been preserved. 

What have you learnt from the project?

The intimacy of composing for a solo performer allows for a range of expression and compositional specificity that is quite unique to other musical genres. Composing five minutes of music is great as it allows for a wide range of expression and development, but the brevity allows the piece to be quite focused.

Charles Barblett

Charles’s voyage into music commenced in Year 6 where he began trumpet lessons through a school initiative and took up bagpipes in Year 8. Since then he has actively participated in ensembles and began his degree in Music Composition at the University of WA.

What made you apply for the composition project?

The project is well known to those studying composition in Western Australia as a unique opportunity to enhance one's orchestration capacity, contributing significantly to the personal development of compositional participants. The project offers a unique platform for participants to engage with both local professional musicians that are eager to impart crucial idiomatic knowledge concerning their respective instruments, and key members of the orchestra's administrative team who provide essential guidance in score layout, communication with professional musicians, and the development of one's musical image within the local scene.

How does the process compare to your expectations?

While the nature of the project has had to shift given the current global situation, the learning outcomes of the project remain equally as valuable. The opportunity to work closely with a WASO musician to develop a solo work is as rare as writing for an ensemble, and the unique experience that the circumstances have presented this year's participants facilitates the generation of deep compositional understanding and appreciation for instruments and musicians allocated to composers. Working with principal Trombonist Joshua Davis has opened my eyes to the true potential of the instrument, through the exploration of recommended listening material, and comprehensive workshopping opportunities.

What have you enjoyed most about the process?

Working with Josh has proved to be the most enjoyable part of the composition project for myself, with his incredibly expansive knowledge of the instrument, interesting repertoire, and compositional processes, proving invaluable in the formation of the piece that I have produced, and in the expansion of my capacity as a composer. His clear passion and great technical capacity were invaluable during the compositional process, and coupled with the advice of James Ledger, ensured the creation of a work that I am proud of and look forward to hearing in a performance setting.

Reuben Christman

Reuben has a Bachelor of Music and a Diploma of Music Education from UWA. He has worked in contemporary bands since 2006 beginning with Funk/Soul, Hip Hop, Reggae, Motown and currently Jazz.

Why did you apply for the Composition Project?

I have been writing music since 2013 and this is a fantastic outlet to work from. I have no formal composition background and so have really just written guided by my own taste and instincts.  It's been really good to get into the composition project and get some guidance from the Artistic Director James Ledger and Nick Metcalfe the cellist playing my piece. I got into this project for the challenge but the feedback I'm getting is invaluable. 

What have you learnt through the project?

I can really push myself. I've been working full time (with large commutes), performing jazz and writing, rehearsing and meeting for the composition project.  It's been busy but never once too much and I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm not a string player but I chose to write for one (the cello). So I've learnt a lot about what they like to do, can do, don't like to do and can't do. It's been very enlightening. 

Charles Barblett, Victor Arul, Lydia Gardiner, Daniel Watts, Hanae Wilding and Aaron Stulcbauer.

Lydia Gardiner

A Violin player since age six, Lydia also learnt electric guitar and voice in high school. Since graduating school, she has been involved in Perth choirs such as Voyces, the Giovanni Consort, The St George’s Cathedral Consort and the St George’s College Consort, as well as the national choir Gondwana Chorale. Lydia is currently studying composition at UWA.

What made you apply for Composition Project?

Originally, the project was to write for a chamber orchestra which is something I have very little experience in, so I thought that would be an interesting challenge. When the project changed to being for individual instruments, I was excited to write for an instrument I had very little knowledge about to expand my compositional toolbox.

What have you learnt through the process?

The Cor Anglais is such a wonderfully expressive instrument that should definitely have more solo repertoire. I enjoyed talking to Leanne Puttick about score presentation and problems she comes across as the librarian at WASO, and that as a composer there are times when you need to relinquish a bit of control and let the musician make their own choices about your music.

What have you enjoyed most?

I have loved getting to know Leanne Glover; she is so knowledgeable about the Cor Anglais, gives wonderful, honest feedback and is willing to give anything a go.

Aaron Stulcbauer

Currently studying composition at WAAPA, Aaron’s interest in music started with listening to film scores and broadened to listening to just about anything.

What have you learnt through the process?

One thing I learnt is how to write for a solo instrument. Learning how to write with only one note being played at once and with no other instruments whose timbres I could use is very different and difficult to writing for any other number of instruments. But it’s fun and has its own set of possibilities. Another thing I learnt is how to better collaborate with musicians. With this project, I was able to talk to and work with the performer (Brent Grapes) on my piece while I was writing. This kind of through-line of collaboration allowed me to really tailor the music to the Trumpet and to Brent as a player. I also learnt that it can be really hard to come up with a good title. The title of my piece is A Lone Astronaut Drifts Helplessly into the Void but there were some 30 other ideas that I tossed up. Sometimes, it’s really easy to come up with a great title, but with this one, every idea seemed not to reflect the mood I was going for or was too clunky.

What have you enjoyed most?

To be honest, the most enjoyable part of the process was working with Brent. I had a great time learning about the Trumpet and writing for it and meeting with him was always very informative and interesting.

Daniel Watts

Daniel began learning piano and music theory at the age of six. He was awarded a music scholarship in high school that enabled him to extend his musicianship to also study clarinet and composition. Daniel is currently completing his second year in Music Specialist Studies at the University of Western Australia, he is also collaborating with students at Curtin University, composing a film score for a short film premiering later this year in Perth.

What made you apply for Composition Project?

I always look for opportunities to write music and work with musicians to build upon my musical knowledge. Although the scope of this project switched from a group of musicians to being a solo performance project due to COVID, I saw this as an opportunity to develop my knowledge of a different instrument family whilst working with an expert.

How does the process compare to your expectations?

I had no pre conceptions going into the program, but I’ve been very lucky to be paired with a great musician. Whilst we encountered difficulties due to social distancing rules, the process of composing, and working through material has been very insightful. This live interaction exposed weaknesses in my composition process I had not previously considered, and enabled me to strengthen them.

What have you enjoyed most about the process?

I found the most enjoyable aspect of the process was working together with the musician to find new and interesting ways of manipulating their instrument. For me, the majority of the one on one time was spent discussing different ways we could produce an interesting sound out of what we had available to us. The knowledge I’ve gained from this process I feel will strongly benefit my compositional skillset.

Hanae Wilding

Hanae began to learn piano at five years old and after attending a few student recitals was inspired to learn violin. She has played in the WA Youth Orchestra and received a scholarship to learn the viola. Hanae is now studying a Bachelor of Classical Music: Instrumental at WAAPA.

What made you apply for Composition Project?

I am passionate about composition and want the rest of the world to hear my pieces. I applied for this composition project, because I felt that it would be amazing for a WASO musician to play a piece that I wrote. Also, this year I challenged myself to apply for a few different composition programs, last year I was the recipient of a project that gave me the opportunity to work with James Ledger and I learnt so much from him. This composition project also gave me the opportunity to work with Alex Brogan, a fantastic WASO viola player, who also taught me a lot when writing for individual instruments.

How does the process compare to your expectations?

Before COVID, I was expecting to write a piece for a small orchestra, but after the lockdown I was unsure if this composition project was even going to take place this year. However WASO worked hard to come up with a solution to still give the composers a project to work on. Personally, I hadn’t written a solo work before, so this was a new challenge for me.

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