Words & Music
Narration, Public Speaking, Adjudication and Mentoring
Having always been interested in the relationship between the spoken word and music, I have returned to professional performance in recent years as a narrator in various concert programmes. ‘Melodrama’ (or, in German, Melodram) was an important musical genre throughout the Romantic period: narrated text underpinned by music has continued to be adopted in the 20th and 21st Centuries by composers such as Walton (Façade), Stravinsky (The Soldier’s Tale) and Judith Bingham (Byron, Violent Progress). The form is perfectly complementary to the art of song but will never seek to be its substitute. One of Schubert’s last works – indeed the very final ‘song’ published in the comprehensive Peters Edition volumes of his Lieder – is one of the most beautiful numbers which he wrote, Abschied von der Erde, and his only Melodram.
I have developed two programmes for narration accompanied by music:
The Year Without a Summer
Piano / Narrator 1 (or 2, optional) / Video
Duration: 60-70 minutes
The programme retraces the steps of Lord Byron in 1816, when he left London under a cloud, spent creative weeks indoors with the Shelleys in Switzerland and moved on to the Jungfrau mountain where he wrote his soul-searching Manfred. Extracts from his diaries and poetry are presented alongside complementary piano music and a specially commissioned melodrama by Judith Bingham, which describes Byron’s progress in words, music and vision. These events took place under a somewhat different ‘cloud’ during the non-existent summer of 1816, when the northern hemisphere was plunged into rainfall and darkness, the crops failed and Romanticism began to thrive.
Soprano Saxophone or Oboe / Narrator 1 (or 2, optional)
Duration: 60 minutes
The central elements of this programme are Six Metamorphoses after Ovid by Benjamin Britten interspersed with corresponding extracts from Ted Hughes’ Tales from Ovid. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, written two thousand years ago around the time of the birth of Christ, drew upon myths and legends from ancient Greece and have inspired great writers throughout history, especially William Shakespeare. The tales are timeless and universal, telling us so much about the natural world through supernatural transformations which were brought upon humankind as a result of frailty, misfortune or deliberate behaviour.
Readings of prose or poetry can illuminate many musical programmes in both secular and sacred settings. In a recent project featuring the Lamentations of both Byrd and Tallis, I read complementary texts drawn from the Bible, 20th Century war poets and other sources. The opportunities for such artistic juxtapositions are endless and, when successful, are mutually enhancing for both the music and the words.
Please contact me for discussion about the curating and presentation of tailor-made programmes of this nature.
My regular speaking engagements range across a number of topics which are connected in some way to the arts, especially to music. Some of the subjects are discussed elsewhere on this website in the context of my other work. The following list is not exhaustive but gives an indication of the areas which I have addressed in the past and continue to concern me.
In Quest of Beauty - a philosophical and inclusive view of the artist's creative journey.
The Art of Programming
Music and Conflict Resolution
Music and Disability - a philosophical and practical discussion of the creative case for inclusion.
Music Festivals and Social Inclusion
Arts and Business - the case for cultural investment by individuals and companies: social and not only financial dividends; new economic measures and values.
Arts and Climate Change - merging creative and economic arguments for sustainability.
Birds - music, birdsong and migration.
Bees - making honey and not just money: the beehive and the workplace.
Flowers - the seeds and blossoms of talent from around the world.
Trees - symbols of creation, wisdom, peace and life itself.
Adjudicating and Mentoring
Throughout my career in music I have sat on numerous juries for competitions, scholarships or awards, including chairing the Scottish panels for the BBC Young Musician and Choir of the Year competitions and, since 2013, The City Music Foundation awards for young performing artists. Other organisations for which I have sat on juries or panels include Help Musicians, Royal College of Music, Royal Over-seas League, the Worshipful Company of Musicians and YCAT.
My commitment to supporting young creative and performing artists has led to my regular engagement as a mentor for composers, singers and instrumentalists at the early stages of their careers. Working for NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), I have been involved as an Assessor of applications for Fellowships, the Supervisor of a ground-breaking project to develop a new musical instrument and a Mentor for composers. For the City Music Foundation I am mentor for between five and ten young artists at any one time.
Please contact me to discuss your needs, possible programmes, topics and projects, and my availability to perform as narrator, public speaker, adjudicator or mentor.
Articles & essays
Documentaries, talks & interviews
Festivals & conferences