I had the honour to be invited to the home of Canadian composer John Beckwith in autumn last year. He came to see Tandem in concert at Toronto and I took the opportunity to sit down with him later on and have his thoughts on the art of musical composition.
Topics varied from writing music to text; hymn-tune and nursery-rhyme rhythms; operas; acting and performance in theatres, as well as electroacoustic composition. He even put questions to me about my improvisation projects – how we prepare an improvisation and the importance of human connections between improvisers.
Various names pop up, such as John’s long-time collaborator, poet, and friend James Reaney, and my ever-present late father, two problematic quotes of whose we chew over: “Various species of experimental music not made of notes might give pleasant listening experiences, but I don’t see why every pleasurable listening experience has to be called ‘music'”; and “Most music is a conversation with itself”.
The music you hear throughout the episode comes from various pieces of John’s repertory. The orchestral extracts featuring at the beginning, middle and end of the conversation all come from John’s 2016 piece, ‘Calling’, performed by the New Music Concerts Ensemble. You can also hear the first movement from ‘Pages’, for solo piano and performed by Barbara Pritchard, and the enigmatic second movement from the set of six fantasies for guitar, ‘Ut re mi fa sol’, performed by Peter Higham.
PS Don’t adjust your sound system! There’s an intermittent buzz in the right-hand channel of these recordings, due to my faulty Zoom microphone. Sorry.