Time travels fast. I’m about halfway through my composer residency here with the RSC, and it’s time I shared some more of my experiences.

Creating Mischief

If you read my earlier blog posts or caught either Myth or The Earthworks at the Mischief festival, you will be aware how ensconced I was in those shows during my first two months here.

Starting my residency writing for such exciting new plays was exhilarating. Weeks of furious composition, recording and post-production were followed by long and stimulating days in plotting and tech, consolidating and integrating the music into the plays.

Steve Atkinson did an impressive job of designing the studio space to complement both scores. We were able to play with isolating and bringing out specific elements of the music, channelling material into the surround speakers at the back of the audience, delicately placing segments in the speakers above, cranking up the bass in the subwoofers below, and exploiting the overall sound through the house speakers.

There were many ‘golden moments’ during these shows: when things ‘clicked’ with the director; when I felt I had found the right tone and emotion for an intimate scene; when I finally got the right mix after painstakingly tweaking over and over; when the lights and music synced perfectly together; when friends and colleagues made the trip to Stratford to see the work and loved it.

The list goes on. I was particularly thrilled that the exceptional musicians who helped realise the music – percussionist Jim Jones, cellist Mathew Forbes, and recording and mixing engineer Tom Ford – were all proud and happy with the final results. It’s those moments that make you feel that all the hours and care you have put in are truly worth it.

Sarah at a rehearsal for Three Tales from Ovid.

So now it’s on to new projects – and plenty of them!

Ovid

I’ve started creating music and songs in collaboration with Amber Hsu, who is adapting Three Tales from Ovid for staged readings at the Swan in October.

We have already enjoyed an inspiring week of research and development, where we played with the work-in-progress scripts and engaged with local schools through workshop and performance, testing the material. Now, we are expanding on what we learned to hone the plays.

After the staged readings in October, these scripts will be published and circulated to schools as a creative resource for teachers at Key Stage 2 (8-11 year olds) to further introduce these fantastic tales, which are woven into so many of Shakespeare’s plays.

I’m also at the beginning of creating a brand new work for the Musical Transformations concert in October, a concert of music and text inspired by Ovid – part of the RSC’s The Wondrous Imagination of Ovid events. The more I discover of his Metamorphoses, the luckier I feel. I have so many musical possibilities running through my head right now... How to experiment with the orchestra of the Swan? How to incorporate the actor and soprano and possible sound design? How to play with the theme of transformation in the music? Mutating chords and rhythms, reshaping melody, exploring how texture, tempo and range can change a musical landscape.

Coriolanus

This past week I’ve been digging out and collating Italian/Roman folk songs to be used for the Coriolanus libretto.

I’m assisting on this production, working with composer Mira Calix and director Angus Jackson. Mira is particularly interested in using the text from harvest and workers’ songs, and finding authentic text not sourced from famous poets or composers from that period is tricky. Historically the words of the ‘common man’ would have been passed on through the oral tradition and are thus harder to pin down today.

This has been a great voyage of discovery, and both the British Library and Royal College of Music have been of terrific help. Through them I have found some fabulous material, including a collection of Italian folk and popular songs collated by Eduardo Marzo and some ‘Fescennine verses (ancient humorous harvest songs). The poems by Catullus are well worth a look – it’s pretty coarse stuff!

Rehearsals begin on 17 July and I can’t wait!

 

Sarah Llewellyn

Sarah Llewellyn

Sarah Llewellyn is a composer, sound designer and music director who writes for theatre, film and circus throughout the UK and internationally. She is currently the RSC’s composer in residence, from April to October 2017. Throughout this time Sarah will share her experiences, challenges and inspirations.

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