Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Excerpt from the review of Song of Destiny concert by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra:

"This well-attended concert featured two significant drawcards - the opportunity to hear a live performance by the accomplished Finnish mezzo-soprano Lilli Paasikivi and the chance to experience the world premiere of a work by popular Hobart-based composer Maria Grenfell.

...Grenfell's Night Songs is an imaginative setting for chorus and orchestra of three poems by Australian writers based on the themes of night and motherhood within a uniquely Tasmanian context.

This uplifting work drew on the strengths of the orchestra and highlighted the skills of various sections and individuals within the orchestra through the incorporation of brief solo passages.

The TSO Chorus did a commendable job of bringing the texts to life, particularly in the captivating opening Notturno." (Reviewed by Carolyn Philpott in The Mercury, Tuesday 18 November 2008)

Happy composer!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Career choices for 5 year olds

"When I grow up, I'm going to be a teacher, so I can teach people who speak English, how to speak French, because I can speak English AND French." Followed by a beautiful rendition of "Frere Jacque, Frere Jacque" in French. Then: "I know how to catch a monkey. You just follow the monkey and then when it sits down, you go WHAM with your net."

Monday, November 10, 2008


I will finish my exam and assignment marking by Thursday. I will.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Coming up

My piece Night Songs will be performed by the TSO and TSO Chorus in the Song of Destiny concert next Saturday, November 15, at 2.30pm in the Federation Concert Hall.

The piece is a setting of three poems by Gwen Harwood, Esther Ottaway and Henry Lawson. So far I think the rehearsals are going well. I went to a chorus rehearsal two weeks ago and they were sounding great! This week I was scheduled to attend four rehearsals but the Artistic Manager called today and told me the conductor only wants me at the last two. I'm quite happy about this - it's easier for me to not have to rush to a 7pm rehearsal on a week night, but also says that *fingers crossed* there aren't any major huge horrendous problems with the muzik that they need me there to unravel bits. Phewsies!

Oh. Also on the programme are pieces by Brahms and Elgar.

Meanwhile, I'm desperately trying to get my uni marking done, tidy my study, and plan a small vegetable patch. I've suddenly got the gardening bug and it's rather worrying. I don't really think I have time for it but at the same time I don't think I can not do it. Everyone is planting vegetables. Not just because of the insane prices in the shops, but because they taste so much better. I bought a great little book last week called One Square Metre by Lolo Houbein, and I am literally going to plant one square metre of salady things and see how it goes. Start small, rather than launch in and watch it fail miserably. Wish me luck!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Time management

I've just read Rhonda's post about Time Management over at Down to Earth.

I've really been struggling with this over the past few weeks. I think it's partly because for a few weeks I was feeling quite a lot of malaise bordering on depression. In the past day or two that has lifted, thank goodness. Shortly after her first birthday, we worked hard at addressing Lillian's nasty night-waking habits. Encouraged by a couple of visits to the GP, we had two nights of controlled crying to night-wean her, and they were really essential for my sanity, although I couldn't bear listening to her cry and so many times almost gave in. The extra unbroken sleep has made such a difference to the family. Unfortunately she's taken to waking at the crack of dawn, but I have some strategies up my sleeve to sort that out as well... there is always something!

Anyway, time management is often a bugbear. I am an organised person, but I often feel that I need to be more organised to fit in all the things that need doing and this is frustrating. Life's challenges vary according to the age of your children, and as we still have a little person who has two day sleeps and is still breastfed, there are only so many things I can do each day, and I just have to accept it - as do others.

I do believe in the maxim, "If you want something done, ask a busy person." But just how busy do we need to be? I am busy. Very busy. Sometimes I do not know where my time goes. These days I spend over an hour a day in the car just doing the school run. And I know we made the choice to school our son across town, but in Tassie terms that's only a 20 minute drive from home - although it feels interminable! And we do not regret our choice of school.

But apart from the school run, there's everything else to do around and for the home. I try and let Lillian have the two sleeps a day she still seems to need. I love that she still has two sleeps a day, but the poor little chicken only gets both of them at home if I don't go anywhere! Then there's work. I've been teaching again since the end of September, which has been a bit of a shock but now the dust has settled I feel completely energised by it.

Since I finished my commission, I have been busier than I possibly imagined - and the thought of another commission fills me with dread! How would I possibly get it done? Well, by not doing all the things I've been doing since I finished my commission, of course! Life has a way of sorting itself out and you juggle demands and take short-cuts when you need to, and do things the long way when you don't need to.

Anyway here is my take on Rhonda's Time Management post.

Yes! I love lists. I cannot live without my Filofax. Yes, ancient technology, I know, but I do not have an iPhone yet and I like the tactility of writing my lists, jotting down my commitments. Lists are especially important when shopping. I still have nappy brain and when short on sleep, there is nothing worse than going to the supermarket and coming out with 20 things but forgetting the three that you actually went in for.

Hmn. I don't really like doing this. I used to teach aural skills at 8.00am and thought that was tough. It was probably tougher on the students than me. But that was then and this is now and we have two children and so we rarely sleep in these days. At the moment, Lillian is enjoying the pre-dawn chorus. (I think there's a bird in a tree near her room whose days are numbered.) But seriously, getting up early does mean that your day starts with a gradual increase of activity and things just get done because that's what you do when you get up early. And when things get done, the whole house hums.

I always feel much more at ease when I know what we are going to have for dinner. It's just one less thing to think about when you're tired and the children are whingy at the end of the afternoon, and some small person is saying, "I'm STARVING. I'm so hungry I could eat three fridges." Oh yes. This only half an hour after he was last fed. I've been lagging with my meal plans lately, must improve.

I'm not very good at doing this. I tend to think that things get done faster if I just do them. But it's important to let go, and so I'm trying to encourage the five-year-old to do little things like set the table, clear his plates, take his shoes off outside, bring me his lunchbox etc. Children enjoy some responsibility - and so do adults. If David wasn't catching the bus to and from work, he'd be making a few more trips for milk and bananas on the way home!

Even if I am running from early morning until night-time, I try to do this. It just makes life simpler. I am finding lately that I'm not having to do laundry every day, but when I do, it's generally a couple of fuller loads which save on power, water, and effort.

TV, computer, long phone conversations - sometimes you need some down time, but TV and the computer particularly tend to suck up the hours. Some days I only check email in the evening, as I literally haven't even set foot in my study. Sorry for anyone who has been emailing me and wondering why I'm so slack at replying! Or blogging, for that matter.

At this stage in my life, the only time to myself is when the baby is asleep and the five-year-old is at school. Or in the evening. But I do prefer to spend evenings companionably so time to myself is a rare commodity. I think it would be beneficial for my state of mind, particularly on weekends when there is someone else around to do a spot of child-minding.

I have been trying to do this, although storage is an issue. Buying in bulk works really well for families if you can manage it - cuts down on trips to the shops and you always have something in the Magic Cupboard, whether it's a tin of salmon for a quick dinner, or another box of tissues for when someone starts sneezing unexpectedly.

Make lunches the night before. Lay out clothing. Do some ironing and/or baking. Pack bags for the next day's school, activities or outings. Put on a load of laundry or nappies. I even went through a stage when I would put out the cereal bowls the night before. A little obsessive, but it worked at the time.

Thanks Rhonda. She always has such great common sense on her blog. Go and have a look, but don't waste too much time on the computer today. Think of all the other things you could be doing instead!


Well done, America. Let's hope that the election of Barack Obama will indeed bring new hope to a country and a world in need.

I loved his speech. Bravo.

But apparently all is a-buzz in "the blogosphere" about the new First Puppy. Never would the Obama girls have thought such a decision would be so fraught with implications. Welcome to the White House, I guess.

It's a busy week for politics. New Zealand goes to the polls this weekend too. Many are anticipating Helen Clark's defeat. It will be interesting to see what happens, as so far I have not been following the NZ election. Oh, the shame.

And... even Bhutan has a new king!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

How to score...

...for horns and strings. Plus a bunch of other things. Alexander sometimes has me cruising around YouTube for Thunderbirds or (lately) Star Wars clips, and I came across this little Star Trek montage today. I loved the footage of the old Star Trek when William Shatner was young and handsome before he turned into the incomparable Denny Crane, haha!! The music just took my breath away and it's so extremely simple and effective.

Sorry for being AWOL lately. Life has swallowed me whole and I'm still down in the gurgler just getting through each day. At least Lillian is now sleeping at night. But I seem to be so tired all the time. C'est la vie with two kids.

P.S. Thank you for all your lovely posts about the children's recent birthdays. Much appreciated even though I haven't had a chance to reply.

Monday, October 6, 2008


And so our baby girl turned one today!

Lillian is our precious little girl, so cuddly and sweet yet with an obvious streak of determination and strong will. She's crawling well now and is quite the sticky-beak, getting into everything she possibly can. She has a great sense of humour like her brother, and they play beautifully together. They make each other laugh and I hope this continues for a long time even when they're annoying the heck out of each other, as they invariably will. She claps hands delightedly, can wave when she thinks about it, and vocalises surprisingly loudly! "Da-da" is really the only word at present, much to her father's delight.

Happy birthday my sweetheart. May your life be full of sunshine and happiness always.

Monday, September 29, 2008


And so our baby boy turned five last Friday.

We are often amazed at this little fellow. He has so much personality and "chutzpah", he talks like a book yet at the same time I need to muster all my negotiating skills to get him to follow instructions etc. I guess that's normal for a strong-willed five year old! His kindergarten teacher says that he's "an oral, linguistic learner" which is certainly true. I find it hard not to get frustrated knowing that he is such a bright spark yet unbelievably stubborn when it comes to trying or doing new things, but I know he will get there when he's ready. He loves his friends, but when he decides he doesn't like someone there's no turning back and he'll store up his little grievances and bring them out whenever necessary. An obsessive personality, incredibly curious, mad about inventing, loves his family and especially his baby sister. Happy birthday Alexander!

Monday, September 15, 2008


We have been away for a few days.

Photo from here.

After what seems like an interminable winter, we (I) decided that we needed a break as soon as The Piece was dusted and delivered. Lillian seems to have picked up every bug circulating around the Germ Factory (aka Kindergarten) and it was high time we all got some rest and took some time out to recharge the batteries.

Not wanting to travel too far or too expensively, we packed the pram, portacot, a couple of guitars and two small children, hopped in the car and drove to St Helens, 3 1/2 hours up the east coast of Tassie. What a lovely spot. The weather was mixed but we did manage a picnic, some fishing, some rock-hopping, beach-running, a bit of wandering about the town, much lazing about, reading, watching Thunderbirds (what else?) and ... naps for the grown-ups. Bliss.

Lillian decided to start crawling, and also had her first go on a swing.

We stayed here and can highly recommend it to anyone looking for a home away from home.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Thunderbirds are go!


I'm on a quest to find a Soundtech Tracy Island for A Certain Person's 5th birthday in 3 weeks. 3 weeks! The Thunderbirds are currently an all-consuming passion for the small person who will be heartbroken if I can't find one in the shops (not likely) or "in the computer". He is even asking God for one every night, in the hope that it will appear at the foot of his bed the next morning.

Am scouring eBay worldwide. Oh the pressure.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred

The Omnivore's Hundred is an eclectic and entirely subjective list of 100 items that Andrew Wheeler, co-author of the British food blog Very Good Taste, thinks every omnivore should try at least once in his life.

He offered this list as the starting point for a game, along the following rules:
1. Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2. Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3. Cross out any items that you would never consider eating. (I can't work out how to cross out so I'll just write NEVER)
4. Optional extra: post a comment on Very Good Taste, linking to your results.

And of course, if you don't have a blog, you can still play along, with a good old pencil and some paper -- care to share your results? And/or items you think should be added to, or removed from that list?

I have to confess I haven't heard of quite a few of these things, but here goes! (Thanks Steph for this!)

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros (delicious)
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding (many years ago - my father grew up in the UK so we used to have this at home very occasionally, with big eggy breakfast)
7. Cheese fondue (but prefer the chocolate variety)
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Phở
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart (in New York city)
16. Epoisses (?)
17. Black truffle (had it in pasta in Italy...)
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese (NEVER)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (?)
27. Dulce de leche (the real thing from Argentina, or its French cousin called confiture de lait)
28. Oysters(mmmm)
29. Baklava(mmmm)
30. Bagna cauda (?)
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi (no, but have had sweet mango lassi)
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (yuck, I don't smoke)
37. Clotted cream tea (no, but love clotted cream fudge!)
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo (no but would love to)
40. Oxtail (only as the soup)
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (NEVER)
43. Phaal (?)
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/€80/$120 or more
46. Fugu (?)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel (I think so...)
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (not had one yet, but will one day)
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi (?)
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine (?)
60. Carob chips (ugh though)
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (?)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (definitely an acquired taste)
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis (NEVER)
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (?)
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe (?)
74. Gjetost, or brunost (?)
75. Roadkill (NEVER)
76. Baijiu (?)
77. Hostess Fruit Pie (?)
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong (is this tea?)
80. Bellini (I thought he was an opera composer)
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict (mmmm)
83. Pocky (?)
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant (I wish!)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse (NEVER)
90. Criollo chocolate (?)
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano (is this chicken mole? If so, then yes I've eaten it)
96. Bagel and lox (mmmm)
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta (not a huge fan)
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake (NEVER)

Monday, August 18, 2008

A career path for composers

The TSO Australian Composers' School started today. I have been the co-ordinator of the school for the past two years, but this year my role was limited only to liaising with applicants and helping out with the selection process simply because I have been up to my ears with my piece and doing the Baby Thang.

Anyway, this morning I took Lillian along to the Welcome session, and we stayed to listen to part of Gerard Brophy's lecture which began by talking about a career path for composers. What? Yes, that's right, there really isn't one. I can't very well comment on the entire gist of the lecture because I had a small child on my lap who kept dropping her toy and trying to grab my lips with her hands, but Gerry touched on many topics including dealing with contracts, being necessarily concerned with earning a living to house, feed and clothe one's family, the fact that we are surrounded by music particularly in the iPod and movie-music generation, how some composers have been writing ringtones (I'm not sure if he was serious about this one) to earn some cash...

It's hard. In many ways being an academic is of course an easier option, and one that many composers choose to take simply because of the certainty of earning a salary. Theoretically, composers who work at a university have a fair degree of time in the week/year in which to write music, but in today's academic climate there are so many other things that need doing, you barely get any time to write music as part of your job and if you do, you're either lucky or determined not to be sunk into an administrative black hole. And of course, being an academic is never easy because getting a job in the first place is hard enough.

Anyway, I have to stop now. My baby won't stop crying even though she's supposed to be asleep, the washing is almost finished and I have to go and dig out some old yellow curtain material to make some duck feet for the four-year-old's Book Week costume for tomorrow, which I found out about, oh, 5 hours ago. Gee, being a composer is so romantic and productive.

Edited the nasty bits out on 27 August...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Things to do in Hobart for (almost) free

Joining in on a Travel Meme, started by Penni who can stop feeling pathetic now. :D

Here are the rules (because it wouldn't be a meme without rules):
1. List (at least) five things to do for free in your city or town, not just well publicised touristy things, but things YOU might do too!
2. Write it with a visitor in mind.
3. Tag three people* - extra fun if they live somewhere you'd like to know better or you're going to sometime soon.
4. If you're anonymous/coy about where you live, choose another town or city that you know.

Things to do in Hobart:

1. Salamanca Market tops my list. It's a fun, vibrant, weird, quirky, crowded mess of people every Saturday from 9.00am to around 2.00pm, rain or shine. Food, produce, coffee, clothing, jewellery, arts and crafts, bric-a-brac, books, CDs, confectionery, natural Tassie-made bath and beauty products, woodcrafts, plants, toys, buskers, moving statues... you name it. If the cruise ships are in or it's a long weekend or close to Christmas, it's jam-packed. Speaking of jam, don't leave without purchasing a jar of Joanna's Jam - divine homemade jams in several delicious flavours. A jar never lasts long in our house.

2. Drive up Mt Wellington or if you haven't got a car and want to spend money, go on a walking tour. But you can also just take a Metro bus up to Fern Tree and walk along the Pipeline Track or up to Silver Falls. It's a gentle slope up to the falls, and pram friendly (although muddy in winter). The Pipeline Track is also good for a bike ride. The mountain has lots of little tracks all over, some are short walks and some are full-day excursions. Best to find a guide book if you plan to spend more time up there.

3. The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens is a beautiful space to roam and wander. Walk along the many paths and look at the trees, plants, flowers, ponds, conservatory and views. Check out Peter Cundall's vegie patch. There's a café for coffee and snacks or a full meal if you're hungry. On a fine day take a picnic rug, your lunch and a book and just relax in the sunshine. At certain times of the year the Gardens come alive on weekends with special events such as the Tulip Festival in October (entry fee applies), and in summer there are outdoor plays and kids' concerts. A beautiful part of Hobart right near the city centre.

4. The Hobart Aquatic Centre - not free but entry costs are very minimal. Go for a workout at the gym, have a swim, or simply splash around having fun with the kids. There's a cool water slide and a frog slide for the smaller ones. The café has typical swimming-poolside food and plenty of seating for non-swimmers.

5. Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. This is one of my favourite places - so much to see and very child-friendly. A huge dinosaur skeleton greets you up the stairs from the entrance on Macquarie Street. There's been a fantastic Antarctic exhibition for some time, including old 3D film footage taken at the South Pole over 100 years ago, real ice for sticky fingers to explore, a very moving and fascinating section on Tasmania's convict history, plus changing art exhibitions. A very good café with the brilliant concept of having the kids' playroom directly opposite so you can sit and have your coffee or lunch while the kids play across the hall in full view.

6. I haven't been here, but my Sources tell me it's GREAT for little (and big) boys who get a kick out of trains: the Tasmanian Transport Museum. Limited opening hours on weekends, and small entry charge.

7. The Taste of Tasmania - if you are around between Christmas and New Year this is a must-visit event. For one week you can sample Tasmanian food and wine to your heart's content, down at the waterfront with all the thousands of locals and visitors who swarm around at a beautiful time of year when the sun is shining, the water is crystal clear, it's not too hot (usually), the Sydney to Hobart yachts and yachties are in... Hobart at its best.

Consider yourself tagged!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fish Pie

Thanks, Jamie Oliver. I love this recipe. Although it's a little fiddly, and involves cream - which I buy about twice a year - the results are well worth it. We are having this for dinner tonight, should be perfect for this cold, wet and snowy day.

You can actually cook the potatoes, spinach, eggs, and the carrot and onion in advance (before adding the cream), then assemble it all just before baking, as I do think this is best served straight from the oven. These days I find the arsenic hour can be calmed somewhat by having dinner almost-if-not-ready to go before heading out for school pick-up at 3pm.

Fantastic Fish Pie
5 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
2 large handfuls spinach
2 free-range eggs
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
285ml double cream
juice of 1 lemon
1 large tsp English mustard
2 handfuls grated mature Cheddar or parmesan cheese
1 handful parsley, finely chopped
about 500-600g boneless skinless fish - tonight I'm using Blue Grenadier - cut into large strips and placed in an ovenproof baking dish

Preheat oven to 220C.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add potatoes and return to the boil. After 2 minutes, add the eggs (carefully), then boil for a further 8-10 mins until the potatoes are cooked and eggs are hardboiled. A minute before this, put the spinach in a colander or metal sieve above the pot and allow to wilt.
Remove the spinach and squeeze out excess water, cool the eggs under cold water, peel and quarter, set aside. Drain and mash the potatoes with a little milk, olive oil, s & p and nutmeg if you like.
In another pot, heat 1 tsp olive oil and cook the onion and carrot for 5 minutes. Add the cream, bring to the boil, then remove from heat and add lemon juice, mustard, cheese and parsley.
Put the creamy sauce and the spinach and the eggs over the fish. Top with mashed potatoes.
Bake in hot oven for 20-25 minutes.
Serve with extra greens.

Read While Waiting

I saw this on Penni's blog. Have a look and pass it on.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fake haiku

Geriatric printer whirring final version of piece
Sixty-four pages, very tiny print
Edits complete, just need to proof-read

Two sick children for past week
Very tired
Need more sleep
And chocolate

Thank God for professional copyists!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

One step closer

I am sitting at my desk on another very cold night listening to the friendly geriatric whirr of my faithful printer. It's printing out the 64 page draft of my piece.

Now, before anyone gets too excited (least of all, me), there are still a few gaps that need filling. The piano reduction is half-done, which is a blessing. Man-o-man what a tedious job that is! Although cut-and-paste with Finale 08 is a beautiful thing when doing a piano reduction, so it's made that job slightly less onerous than a friend told me it would be.

The harp part is mostly complete, a few more passages to wrangle. I just love writing for the orchestral harp. I remember the little pnemonic that an Eastman harpist friend told me, in order to remember the pedals, three on the left and four on the right: Did Columbus Bring Enough Food Going (to) America? Thank you to the wonderful Genevieve Lang, TSO harpist, who is happy to answer emails with comprehensive instructions - I love that in a harpist! (And a guitarist... those stringy instruments that I don't play are a little tricky.) Much more useful than being crabby at the composer during rehearsals - believe me I've had that before... not from a harpist, I might add.

There are occasional flashes of articulation and the odd dynamic appears in certain specific passages that I was obviously thinking about somewhat lucidly at the time. Sadly the timpani and percussion parts haven't featured all that prominently in my thinking about this piece. I think that's because it's obviously a choral piece, so I have really been focused on the text and how to harmonise it appropriately. So I need to have a good think about percussion next.

Pens not quite down yet, but the end is in sight. I find it easier at this stage to be able to see all the lines of the stave at one time, something a computer screen doesn't manage unless your monitor is as big as a plasma-screen television. Which mine isn't. But I'll be able to do my best Villa-Lobos impersonation tomorrow while I have two children at home, doing some composing at the dining table with the children playing around me. That is, until one falls over like the sitting skittle she is, and the other badgers me for food every twenty minutes. Ah well, one can dream of getting things accomplished.

And in case anyone is wondering, no we are still not getting enough sleep.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Title tittle

So Richard Mills's new TSO piece was called Night Poems.

My new TSO piece is called Night Songs. Well, it was until I heard Richard's piece last night.

Hmn. Should I change it?

They're both vastly different pieces: mine has a chorus in it. No theremins.

Maybe it doesn't matter. Ai.

Northern Lights

Last night I went to hear the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra play Richard Mills, Shostakovich, and Sibelius, conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing, the TSO's chief conductor and artistic director.

Richard Mills's work Night Poems opened the concert. It was an imaginative piece with a particularly attractive second movement. The novelty factor in his piece was the use of the theremin, an instrument invented by a wily Russian in 1919 and which came into popular culture particularly by its use in the Beach Boys song Good Vibrations. Anyhoo, I didn't quite understand why the theremin part was present in Richard's piece; I actually found it somewhat distracting and irrelevant, but perhaps I should have read the programme notes.

The second work on the programme was Shostakovich Cello Concerto no. 1, a spectacular piece as are most works by this amazing composer. A second dimension of spectacle was the performance by German cellist Alban Gerhardt. He appeared on stage refreshingly wearing a dark red open-necked untucked shirt with black pants and floppy blonde surfer hair. That minor detail aside, his playing was quite remarkable and there were several curtain calls at the end, encouraging him to play some Bach during which you could hear nothing except the music. It was truly breathtaking.

To complete the concert, the orchestra roared its way through Sibelius Symphony no. 1. I must admit here that I have been a devotee of this wonderful composer since my undergraduate days, when I played Symphony no. 5 in the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and it changed my life. Sibelius's music is, for me, characterised by an incredible degree of motivic development, as well as beautiful and striking harmonic language and clear clean lines of timbre. I gave the pre-concert talk for the TSO when they played Symphony no. 6 a couple of years ago - a rare performance of that stunning work - so I was looking forward to hearing another of the symphonies in concert. This early work of Sibelius had most of the hallmarks of his emerging musical voice, and although much more overblown in its orchestration than his subsequent six symphonies it was exciting to hear it in performance and follow the train of thought from the start of the piece to the end. Lang-Lessing's interpretation was intelligent, intense and musical as always.

A wonderful concert.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Perfect Fifth

Thank you Sara. This always makes me laugh out loud. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Our munchkins

That face, those eyes. A little melancholy but I do like this photo.

Alexander has decided that Lillian would make a good wrestling partner. She's always gung-ho for a bit of rough and tumble. Meanwhile Mummy hovers and tries not to shout, "Careful!" too frequently.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

And so we're well on the way, then...


Still the house of no sleep. Largely due to Miss Lillian developing a rather yucky cold. But progress is being made with reducing night feeds. And she has also very kindly shared her cold with me, so I'm sleepless and sneezy.

Trying to orchestrate and so far so good except it's so dull! I'm waiting for some flash of inspiration to imbue this piece with some flair and colour. Just kidding - sort of. Maybe you only get "dull" when you're so exhausted you can't think more creatively. But I keep thinking seconda prattica so that the text speaks more than the music.

Quite honestly I'm too tired to get all philosophical about it, I just need to make the deadline. That's all.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The crying game

Well we are doing a bit of controlled crying to try and solve the problem of our Wakeful Baby Girl. The time has come. We have become desperate.

I can't manage any more nights of 4-6 hours broken sleep, when she won't even go to sleep without a fight after a middle-of-the-night feed. I know it's 'normal' for babies to wake at night, but it has become a real problem for our family so we need to sort it out. What she has been doing is not normal for this baby. She is exhausted and irritable during the day because she's not sleeping well.

It doesn't mean that my heart isn't being ripped out and trampled on the carpet when she is crying.

I have finally managed to work out how to add a photo. Well, no, it's not that hard, but the stoopid internet wouldn't let me do it the previous times I have tried. Alexander is 4 yrs 9 months, Lillian is almost 9 months.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fast food

Variations of this dish have become a bit of a hit in our house. It's even quicker than stir-fry because you don't have to cook any rice. Even Lillian gets stuck into the noodles, slurping them up with gusto, flinging them around the high chair, sucking on the chicken, chewing her bowl... you get the idea.

Hokkien Noodles with Chicken (or Prawns...)

For two adults, one child and one baby: 2 chicken thighs or 1 large chicken breast (or 200g green prawns for a change), cut into strips

Vegetables: I use 1 onion sliced into wedges; 1 clove garlic, sliced; and usually about 3-4 other types of vegetables, sliced. Tonight I used 1 carrot, 3 mushrooms (shiitake mushrooms are delicious), 1 head of pak choy, 1/2 green capsicum.

Dashes of: Ketcap manis, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sweet chilli sauce to taste.

Noodles: 1 packet of Hokkien noodles, to be found in the fridge section of the supermarket.

Heat 1 Tbsp sesame oil in a non-stick frying pan or wok. When hot, stir-fry the chicken until cooked and golden, adding some ketcap manis. Remove chicken to a bowl. Then stir-fry the vegetables starting with the garlic and onion, then the harder vegetables first until all are tender crisp. While you're cooking the vegetables, put the noodles in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let them sit for 2-3 minutes, then toss with tongs to separate. Return the chicken to the pan, or if you're using prawns add them now and cook till they turn pink, along with the sauces to taste, and finally the drained noodles making sure everything is mixed nicely. You can also add a handful of bean sprouts at this point. Tuck in!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Rough and Tumble Bush Lodge

A year and a half ago I made contact again with a dear friend I went to school with. And I mean primary school, so it was a loooong time ago.

Susan Cook was part of a small group of children that I found myself in at St Martins Primary School in Christchurch, and we all became fairly close-knit during the two years before high school due to the fact that we were moved up a year and arrived en masse in Form 2 having bypassed Form 1. I imagine this was something of an experiment in education for the early 1980s, but it worked really well and we all survived. I remember sitting in a group in Mr Kennedy's class, scared of all the big Form 2 kids who knew More Stuff than we did. Turns out we were okay after all. Several of us still keep in contact sporadically, mainly encouraged by Roger Dennis who somehow manages to keep in contact with lots of people. Go Rog.

Nowadays, Susan and her other half Marion 'Weasel' Boatwright are now running the Rough and Tumble Bush Lodge on the west coast of the South Island, New Zealand, and it looks absolutely brilliant. The website is a great read, with lovely pictures and interesting information. The brief story of how they developed the Lodge is worth a read - on previous incarnations of the website they had a much longer version complete with in-progress photos of the building. What I would give for a weekend there!

Pear and Almond Teacake

I made this for dessert last night based on an Apple Teacake recipe I've made before. It took about 5-10 minutes to prepare.

Pears are beautiful at the moment, I have been buying 2kg bags of beurre bosc pears for $3.50. Yum.

Pear and Almond Teacake
100g self-raising flour
50g polenta
1/4 cup ground almonds - alternatively you could use walnuts - I keep raw almonds in the pantry for snacks and just whizzed them in a food processor
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 or 2 pears, peeled and sliced
1 tsp sugar, a sprinkling of cinnamon

Preheat oven to 200C. Grease an 8" springform cake tin or use a ring tin (nice).
Mix flour, polenta, almonds, sugar in a bowl. Add egg, cooled melted butter and milk and mix together.
Pour into the prepared tin and arrange pear slices on top, sprinkle with cinnamon and a tsp of sugar.
Bake 30 minutes.

Delicious with yoghurt or ice-cream, or just on its own. The nuts and polenta add a nice texture.

If you don't have polenta or almonds, or don't want to add them, use 150g flour instead of 100g.


We're thinking of a trip in 2009. To visit dear friends, and see some sights.

I've spent time in New York, Los Angeles, other parts of California, parts of Arizona (Grand Canyon) and Utah (Bryce Canyon) and a few visits to Chicago. Never been to Boston or Washington DC. David has never been to the USA.

Any recommendations?

I'm suddenly so excited to see old friends again!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tagged - some facts about me

Here we go then. "Some facts about me" meme. Thanks Penni!

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning

2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.

3. At the end of the post, the player tags 5 people and posts their name, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they've been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

What was I doing 10 years ago?

In 1998 I was living in Los Angeles, finishing off my doctorate. In January I saw an ad for a lecturing job in Hobart, Tasmania, but didn't apply because, well, I didn't know where Hobart was and I didn't think I'd want to live there anyway. A friend persuaded me to apply, which I did (three weeks late - can't believe they even read the application! - and they flew me to Tasmania for a week in March to give some lectures, teach a bit, and interview for the job, which they offered me half an hour before I had to get to the airport to fly back to the States. I didn't sleep a wink the whole flight. I was really struck by how beautiful Tasmania was and immediately thought it was a place I'd love to live. I decided to accept the job and give myself 5 years before moving on. That was 10 years ago. So in May 1998 I finished my thesis (flute concerto), graduated with my DMA, and then went on a three-week holiday to Europe with my family. It was a lot of fun, I'd never been to Europe before. I went back to Los Angeles and had three weeks to pack up my belongings and move to Hobart at the end of June, to start my new job on 1 July. I met a lovely man named David who was on staff at the Conservatorium, and we started hanging out together just as friends at the end of that year. That's what I was doing 10 years ago!

Five snacks I enjoy in a perfect, non weight-gaining world:

1. Red Rock Deli Chips.
2. Chocolate biscuits, any type.
3. Licorice Allsorts.
4. Barbecue Shapes.
5. Crackers and soft cheese like brie, and cashew and parmesan dip. Mmmm.

Five (snacks I enjoy in the real world) more nutritious snacks (since I am not opposed to eating the above in this plane of reality):

1. Mandarins.
2. Crackers and a little bit of cheddar cheese.
3. Almonds.
4. Muesli.
5. Mangoes but golly they're expensive in Tasmania, even in summer.

Five things I would do if I were a billionaire:

1. Have a fairy who comes into my house every morning to give the place a quick clean up after the breakfast chaos, puts the washing out and then disappears until the next day bringing milk and fruit as it's needed. And a nanny at my beck and call.
2. Join a fabulous gym and have a personal trainer.
3. Re-furnish my study.
4. Travel three times a year, at least one of them a lying-on-the-beach type of holiday in a place with palm trees and cocktails with the little umbrellas.
5. Finish renovating this house, sell it and buy a waterfront in Battery Point, preferably with a bit of flat garden.

Five jobs that I have had:

1. Toy salesgirl.
2. Violin teacher.
3. Music lecturer.
4. Research assistant (=filing and making coffee for my dad).
5. Composer. Is that a job?

Three of my habits:

1. Nail biting. TERRIBLE.
2. Folding things neatly.
3. Gossiping!

Five places I have lived:

1. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
2. Christchurch, New Zealand.
3. Rochester, New York.
4. Los Angeles, California.
5. Hobart, Tasmania.

Tracey even though she's moving house and probably won't get to this - hope it's going well TL!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Elizabeth Bay House

My brother-in-law Gareth is a multi-talented individual who recently discovered that Elizabeth Bay House in Sydney is oriented to align precisely with the sunrise at the winter solstice. He has created an audiovisual and used part of my flute concerto as the background music. He took the photographs, filmed the sunrise, did the research and wrote an article.

Gareth is an amazing singer-songwriter. We listen to the stuff they play on ABC Sunday arts shows and after about two seconds we wonder when Gareth is going to be hugely famous and all over the radio and TV. He performs in Sydney as Malone and the Gentle Band, often at the Vanguard but also other places. If you ever see his gigs advertised, GO. You will not be disappointed. Move over, Kurt Elling.

And he's just made a wonderful 4-track EP, so I'll post here when it is released publicly.

A short p.s. to apologise for not blogging much lately. I've had a sick child so time and sleep have been rare commodities around here.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Poetry and music

Esther Ottaway, whose poem I am setting for the piece I'm working on, has had an article published here.

Toasted Muesli

I love muesli. It fills me up so much more than el blando wheat cereals, and I just like the taste of all the bits and pieces in it. I'm currently addicted to Tropical Muesli from my local wholefoods shop but it's sometimes hard to navigate the tiny aisles and "go-on-put-your-hand-in-I'm-yummy" bins with a pram and 4 yr old at the same time.

So since I had ingredients at home, and some time, I made this today based on an Edmonds recipe. Toasted muesli is higher in fat and sugar than natural muesli, but I was after a bit of a change. Since testing it, I think it's a bit too sweet so next time I'll leave out the sugar and put in more oats and dried papaya. That's for Alexander, he adores papaya.

1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup raw almonds, whizzed in a food processor - you could use any kind of nuts
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup sultanas and 1/4 cup chopped dried papaya - but you can use whatever dried fruit you fancy

Heat the oil, sugar and honey in a pot or microwave and stir until the sugar dissolves.
Mix all the other ingredients together except the fruit, then pour the honey mixture over it and mix well.
Put into a roasting pan and bake in oven at 140C for 30 minutes or until golden brown, stirring a couple of times. Set the timer and don't forget it. This stuff burns easily.
Remove from oven and allow to cool. Then break up, toss the fruit through it and store in an airtight container.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fact or fiction

This morning's conversation:

Can Spider-man fly?
No, he just swings through the air attaching himself to buildings with his webs.
I don't think Spider-man is real.
Actually, Spider-man is a character from a comic book, so you're right, he isn't real.
I don't believe in Santa Claus OR the tooth fairy.
Why not?
Because I haven't lost a tooth yet! Hahaaaa!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

I don't know how

But I have nine minutes of music written.


I'm not sure when or how I managed it, what with sick children and taking up blogging (note to self: stay away from the computer) and no sleep, but there we are. My time limit is 15, so I reckon anywhere between 12-15 is going to be fine. And who said composing was all about "the flash of divine lightning". Haha.

It's just in short score at the moment, which will be to my advantage when I'm orchestrating because I realised that I have to do a piano score for the choir rehearsals. Eep. All that Finale-ing is going to send me bonkers. But hey, better that the choir know what the accompaniment is going to sound like, even if just a little bit.

4 months to go. Onwards and upwards.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Mmm, cookies

I just made some biscuits from a recipe in the Edmonds Cookbook, a NZ staple. I love this book. The baking recipes are fantastic, and so are the jam, chutney, preserves etc. The book gives you basic techniques and simple old-fashioned recipes that always work and aren't too trendy. I really want to learn how to make jam properly and have another go at chutney and relish. My first and only attempt at jam was singularly unsuccessful. One of my projects for next summer, if not before.

I added 1 Tbsp cocoa so they are really Double Chocolate Chip Biscuits. Mmm.

Chocolate Chip Biscuits
(makes about 24)
125g butter
1/4 cup sugar
a few drops vanilla essence
3 Tbsp sweetened condensed milk (but I didn't have any, so used a bit of normal milk to bind the mixture)
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup chocolate chips
(optional: 1 Tbsp cocoa)

Preheat oven to 180 C, grease two oven trays.
Cream butter, sugar, condensed milk and vanilla until light and fluffy.
Sift in the flour, baking powder, cocoa if using, and mix together with the chocolate chips and a little milk if the mixture is too crumbly.
Roll into walnut-sized balls, place on oven trays and flatten slightly with a fork.
Bake in pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes, then cool on wire racks.
Put the kettle on, make a cup of tea, and then the cookies can be eaten while slightly warm and fudgy in the middle.
Store in an airtight container but seriously, they won't last long.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Advice to young composers

Last year Matthew Hindson contacted a number of established composers and asked them to write up some advice for younger composition students.

I was happy to be included and the final result is an excellent store of things to think about when you're sitting at your desk or computer or in a cafe somewhere, wondering what the heck possessed you to take up composition and what the heck you're going to do next.

Monday, April 28, 2008

That ol' chestnut - motherhood

This evening I had a surprise phone call from a good friend who recently took on a very full-time job in a town far away. We spent a little time catching up, as you do, talked about our children and other bits and pieces and she said, "So, are you teaching at the moment?" I patiently explained that no, I am on maternity leave because Lillian is only 6 months old and I don't plan to go back to work outside the home until Feb 09 at the earliest. The tone of the conversation suddenly changed, and it has thrown me somewhat out of kilter this evening. Suddenly I felt like I had disappointed her, and I had nothing of interest to talk about.

I found myself trying to justify my non-teaching life by explaining that I have a commission that I'm working on. But an hour or so earlier I happily talked to my husband that even though our children have been sick for the past five days, of course I enjoy caring for them even though it's hard exhausting work. That's my "job" and my first priority at the moment. Who else is going to do it, and why should they?

I certainly don't intend to criticise working mothers because I am one even though I work at home and in the evenings. I think it was the sudden assumption that, because I'm at home with my children, doing the kinder drop-offs and pick-ups, taking care of my baby and not going out of the house to work, I'm not really doing anything productive or meaningful.

I believe that despite what the government wants (more women in the work force), there is a cultural swing towards women staying at home and caring for their families while their children are very young (under 2 or 3). Whether that means they restructure their lives so, like I do, they juggle work and children without losing their career, or whether they even put their paid work on pause while their children are young. I do believe it is happening a lot more than is being talked about in the media. Perhaps it's all part of the generational change. The median age for a woman having her first child has risen, and many women have already reached significant career and financial goals prior to starting their family.

Of course there are also many women who would go insane if they had to stay home full time with children! If you absolutely love your job and the people you work with, you're lucky - whether or not you have children. In recent years I haven't been as fortunate, so I'd rather stay home and work on what I want to, rather than beat my head against a brick wall at a place where I'm not appreciated or taken advantage of, in the best sense...

Recently I read an interview with the composer Liza Lim, who said that she did no composition at all during the first year of her son's babyhood. I completely understand how she felt:
There was the period beforehand – gestation – where I really felt my creative power go somewhere else. The tide really went out a long way, and I wrote a couple of crappy pieces where I just couldn’t get it together. I was just in La-la land. I had my child, and I didn’t do anything for the first year of his babyhood – I didn’t even try to. Then there was that whole thing of trying to rediscover my creativity on the other side, which I think lots of women have. ‘Am I the same person in some way, on the other side of having had a child?’

Composition is such a mentally draining activity, that by the time you get through the day's work caring for small children, if you have any brain cells left to write music it's probably happening in your sleep. But I digress.

If this subject interests you, go and read this book, which I found a revelation when I read it a couple of years ago. Not everyone will agree, and that's fine. But do we need a Queensland or overseas holiday every year? Do we need those giant 4WD tractors mowing everyone down in the city streets? A giant-screen plasma TV? A new wardrobe every season?

Whatever. We are lucky that we really can choose what we want to do. The main thing, for me, is that our children are happy and healthy.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Composers - don't forget!

The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Australian Composers' School 2008 applications close on Monday 2 June at 5.00pm.

Are you wondering how to move ahead with your career as a composer? If so, this development program is for you.

We need a 5-7 minute orchestra piece, plus application form, available from the TSO website, where you can also listen to snippets of previous composers' works and interviews.

The past two Australian Composers' Schools have asked for applicants in two categories (Emerging and Training) but this year there will be just one category. There were so many high quality pieces submitted that we decided to give a few more composers the opportunity to send new works for full orchestra. This year a maximum of five composers will be selected. The wonderful thing is that there is no age limit, so even geriatrics over 35 can apply! *grin*

The Composers' School is a great experience and a real foot-in-the-door to the Australian orchestral music scene. If you can't attend as a participant, it's well worth coming to Hobart as an observer. So get those black dots going and send in your piece by Monday 2 June!

Questions? email acs@tso.com.au.

American V

David recently bought American V: A Hundred Highways, Johnny Cash's last recording which was released posthumously in 2006.

It's truly wonderful. The liner notes, by the producer Rick Rubin, describe a poignant picture of the final months of work in between Cash's hospital stays. He knew he was not going to live much longer, but the tone of many of these songs is of a man heading towards his final rest, almost in anticipation of it. You can certainly hear his failing breath in some of the tracks, particularly the first one. It's the same raw baritone from the great early songs, but his age is palpable. Some of the tracks are simply beautiful - my favourite is If You Could Read My Mind - sparsely accompanied with a mature sense of pace and breath.

At first I thought the lyrics were rather morbid, on his knees praying for forgiveness in many of them, but on further listenings I totally agree with one online review that: "There is something quite heart-filling as much as heart-rending in these songs and in these performances."

In a funny way the recording reminds me of Strauss's Four Last Songs, which always bring me to a standstill whenever I hear them. The contrast between the scratchy wheezing Johnny Cash and the impeccably elegant Strauss in his old age is fairly transparent, but both share the expression of an old man, coming to the end of his life, wanting to leave the world with a last and lasting contribution, and doing it with the years of experience and expertise behind them.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The ten o'clock heebie jeebies

I am a night owl. At 10pm I'm usually heading down to my study to poke about on the computer and write some little black dots.

For the past few nights, Lillian has woken up screaming her little noggin off at 10pm. And the only thing that comforts her is a bit of a cuddle. I have no idea why she does this. Nightmares, perhaps? The sound of my footsteps or the heater going on?

And she's still carrying on. Arrggh.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Oh Elgar

This morning on the way to school I heard a snippet of Elgar's orchestration of Handel's Overture in D minor on ABC Classic Breakfast. Heck! it was AWFUL!

Why oh why did he have to do it? There were massive trombones in big walls of sound, booming away in what should have been a nice Baroque walking bass. There was a screaming piccolo. Now, I have nothing against piccolos - for obvious reasons - but that piccolo should have been gagged and put back in its box. And there were tense vibrating violins all over the place. Urkle.

It was interesting, though, pondering the fashion for orchestrating different repertoire at different stages in history. Stokowski did a bunch of these things, not quite as awful as the Elgar but still not a good idea. I once had to orchestrate one of Boulez's Structures which is originally for two pianos and has no meter. The only way to do it was very sparsely indeed, and of course put in a meter because funnily enough musicians en masse like to know when to come in and how long to play for. Fortunately the thing was never heard, as it was an examination question, but it was actually a really good thing to do for the technical challenge.

Thank goodness that changing entirely the character of a work from a certain period by adding bits here and there is no longer such a good idea. I wonder if Handel would agree.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

And there's more

There were six in her head and the little one said:
"Some more please! Some more please!"
So the teeth moved over and two more popped out.

Ai carumba!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Food for thought

After an extremely productive day, this evening I decided to go all out and cook North African Lamb with Chilli, Ginger, Chick Peas and Couscous - thank you Jamie Oliver. The result was delicious and the best part is that there's enough for two more dinners, hooray! Not having to come up with tasty nutritious meals night after night certainly makes late afternoons easier in a house with a small baby, tired kindergarten boy, tireder husband and trying-hard-to-do-everything composer masquerading as a mother/housewife.

If you want to see spectacular meal planning though, have a peek at Dani's website. Dani is a great cook and what always strikes me about her food obsession is the imagination that goes into all her recipes.

I love to cook and I love to eat. At the wedding on Saturday there was a choice of roast beef or Jamie Oliver's fish pie, with three salads and some gorgeous crusty bread rolls. I have to say I'm a big Jamie fan. His recipes always work and they're delicious. The chef on Saturday agreed with me.

There are times in life, though, when you just lose your food mojo because there is so much life going on around you and you can't keep up. Fortunately I don't feel like that at the moment, I'm just trying to clear the decks in the evenings so I can write. But when you have small children in tow it's difficult to make many stops on a food-shopping outing to get exactly what you want at a variety of different shops. So creating meals becomes fairly predictable and unimaginative, using ingredients that you can get hold of on one quick trip.

What did I do today? Alexander was back at school and Lillian slept for enough time for me to get back into the piece and I'm reaching the end of the first poem (of three poems). There's a nice bubbling motive going on and while part of the poem is a little puzzling -- "Ice light of the aurora veils Canopus" -- I quite like what I've done with it, some quartal harmony and a mournful oboe obbligato which will morph into a flute line and back to the oboe. It's nice to be thinking clearly about my work again when those moments allow me. And also to feel like I'm getting a bit done in the day so I can make something nice for dinner!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Happy days

My dear friend from my mothers' group was married yesterday. David played while the guests arrived, then accompanied her while she sang to her husband. Then there was a delicious catered lunch, the wine flowed, the sun shone and the kids had a jumpy castle, fairy entertainment and reliable babysitters to look after them so the adults could relax. A beautiful day.

Much love and happiness to the 'newlyweds'.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Ahh sleep.

This has been the house of mixed-up sleep patterns for the past couple of weeks.

Lillian has decided that napping in the daytime is an option for whenever she feels like it. And she's been waking at night again. I blame the teeth. I've been watching her little choppers and what I thought would be tooth no. 6 is still under the gum up top, but today I noticed that actual tooth no. 6 has popped though in her lower jaw. So there it is. Six teeth and no. 7 almost sprouted. Last night was the best night's sleep she's had in ages. 7.15pm to 6.45am - heaven! Wish I'd been asleep for that long.

David and I have been staying up too late catching our breath, as it's such a whirlwind with two young bunnies in the house who occupy every waking moment. What do I do staying up after the kids have gone to sleep? Well, I do the dishes and make the lunches. I tidy the lounge and kitchen, as it's really difficult to relax when there is chaos around me. I might fold clean laundry and put it away. Occasionally I iron shirts. Sometimes I mop dirty floors. I watch a bit of tv, but not every night. And of course I pop onto the computer to check messages and catch up with online friends, and I also write some little black dots.

Speaking of which, I think we have good progress. I'm up to just over 3 minutes (15 min max) and past halfway though the first text. I wish the person from Penguin would get back to me about rights to the poem, as the author's son has given his approval for its use, which is very kind. Just need the official 'yes', otherwise the piece is going to have to have a lobotomy. Eep.

I'm pleased with how it's going so far. A lot of it is in my head, which is a little alarming when I look at the blank staves, but as I work in short score with lots of jottings for orchestrations etc, it does come back to me. As a necessity the most important part is the text setting and resultantly the harmonic and rhythmic language, which, in SATB setting, creates itself anyway so there's my kick-off for the rest of the score. And actually I'm enjoying the bits of pre-composition I've got going on a sheet of manuscript in front of me. Chord sequences in various inversions, relationships from one chord to another, little diagrams of interval patterns, and some a-rhythmic vocal writing. Nice to be at this stage of the piece where it's starting to flow. I just need more time and more sleep.

The only person who's been getting good sleep at night is Alexander, bless his cotton socks.

Anyway, I'm off to bed.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A letter to Oma and Grandad

Dear Oma and Grandad,

Thank you for the hug and the kiss!

I'm taking a few moments in my busy schedule of trying to stay awake all day and drive my mother to the nut house. That's why Mummy hasn't been composing much. Yes, I'm 6 months today and I celebrated by staying up late the night before, as well as waking up at 1.30am for half an hour of gurgling and scooting backwards down the cot. Mummy wasn't impressed but at least I slept in this morning a little bit. Our clocks went back one hour but I don't really take notice of such things.

Today Jackie came over and gave me a huge bag of hand-me-down clothes from 00 to size 3, including around 15 pairs of shoes! I have 4 teeth and my 5th and 6th teeth should be here this week as well. I'm eating a little bit but I don't really enjoy the high chair for long as it's a bit tiring. I prefer to sit on Mummy's lap and suck on some food and then put my sticky hands all over her. Great fun! In the past 10 days I have tried chewing/sucking on steamed apple, carrot, broccoli, potato, and some raw pear and banana, and today I tried parsnip and sweet potato.

Lots of love,
Lillian xx

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Some great articles

By Gordon Kerry, a composer who also writes brilliantly about contemporary music issues.

You know you'll enjoy an article that begins:

You must remember this: ‘In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.’ It’s a great line - part of Harry Lime’s justification for his murderous criminal activities in Graham Greene’s screenplay for The Third Man.

Have a read.

Managing pressure

I found this wonderful little list of key points that David had made for me, from a page in his old Filofax.

1. Make the best use of your energy, and pay proper attention to your health.

2. Balance work with recreation - and set aside a time each day for reflection.

3. Review your values - make sure that you are not putting yourself under unnecessary pressure by confusing your priorities.

4. Express your feelings - discuss with others possible areas of conflict before they become acute.

5. Accept what cannot be changed - have the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.

6. Use negative experiences as positive steps to learning.

7. Check your time management skills - don't set yourself unrealistic deadlines, order your priorities, delegate effectively, and approach tasks methodically.

8. Regard symptoms of stress positively, as early warning signals, and do something about them.

9. Face squarely anything that worries you. Often identifying honestly the worst that can happen will help relieve anxieties.

10. Count your blessings, not your afflictions, and live each day as it comes.

So true.

So we're well on the way, then.

Yes, we have 19 bars and things are looking up. I should say, that's 19 bars of vocal music, but I'm still pleased about it.

Of course, if my daughter decided she'd sleep during the day instead of shout at me, it would make life a little easier. But them's the breaks.

I am working on a Gwen Harwood poem. However I just heard from the publishers that they do not hold the rights to the poem so I've had to write to someone else about it. I hope they let me use the poem, it would be a big step backwards to have to find another one. You've got to love a text that starts:

"Late-night music: frogs' irregular rhythm,
bubble-recitative across the hill."

It's interesting when setting very musically-inspired texts, and ones that use direct links such as the names of instruments or obvious statements like "irregular rhythm" because it's very easy to be obvious right back in the way one shapes the music, the metre, the instrumentation. I find that I try to avoid the obvious links, but it's rare to find a wonderful poem that sounds musical enough without having to draw attention to it. So where it says "frog-fugue", I won't be writin' a fugue. Too hard! I think I'll let the text speak for itself. As it should.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Printer chat

I am the slightly sentimental and proud owner of an HP LaserJet 5MP printer. It's a laser printer that I bought in approximately 1995. Yes. It still works too. With my 2 year old iMac. Isn't that incredible?

I am not a techno-freak and I don't crave the newest and latest gadgets. Every so often I think it would be a good thing to own a new printer. One that takes up slightly less space, prints faster, possibly one that does photos, colour, 1200dpi, even A3. We think about it and research the options but never end up doing anything about it. This usually comes down to the fact that my printer works well, is a laser printer, and my music scores look good anyway. We don't print photographs at home.

Most of the printers around now seem to be inkjet, and I assume this is because of home photo printing. They are also incredibly affordable, compared to what I paid for my LaserJet many years ago in the US.

What I really want to know is: will inkjet printed music scores look like laser printed scores? Printing orchestral scores on A4 is always a risk, especially on a low-ish resolution printer, because if you have around 22 staves you have to have really good resolution for the size of the little black dots. My printer does 600dpi as its maximum, so right there it's behind the eight-ball in terms of quality for a full size score. However, all the orchestral pieces I've done over the past years have been printed by a copyist (God bless Symphony Services Australia commissions) and sent to me in the post, which is a rather privileged existence of which I am only too aware.

And it's very difficult to work out whether you still need to have PostScript in a printer, if you are a Finale user. I have seen an HP DeskJet 1280 which is A3 size and has PostScript. I think. I usually leave it to David to read the fine print, no pun intended. He's much better at that stuff than I am!

If anyone has advice or opinions on this topic, I'd be very grateful to hear from you!

I think, in the end, that it's really difficult to get a one-printer-does-everything printer. Hmn.

And please, no Finale vs Sibelius backchat! I have already picked a side and I'm too old to learn new tricks. :P

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bridal dance

My sister got married last November. Her husband just put their bridal dance on YouTube. Check it out!

Seven Things

I've been tagged by Em for a "seven things" meme. I don't really know what that is but here are the rules:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog
2. Share seven facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird
3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs
4. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

So here are seven slightly dull facts about myself.

1. I have now lived in Tasmania for 10 years. Good grief how time flies.

2. My high school music teacher was Russell Kent in Christchurch, NZ. He said I should go into composition, but I thought all composers were dead.

3. I went to the Alice Smith School when we lived in Malaysia. Last year at pre-kinder, Alexander made a new friend named Oscar. Turns out that Oscar's mum Sally also went to the Alice Smith School. We couldn't believe the co-incidence.

4. I love eating Salada crackers with butter on them. David says it's just an excuse to eat the butter. I don't do this very often.

5. I always crave Asian food when we're travelling out of Tassie.

6. I can't work unless my office is tidy. Of course, this may be yet another method of procrastination.

7. Currently my hair is falling out, has gone virtually straight, and I have lost 19 kilos since having Lillian, my little Liposuctor. Breastfeeding seems to drain everything from my body.

I don't know seven people with blogs who haven't already been tagged for this, so here are a few:
Yid-Ee and Steph

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Google maps

We had to go out this afternoon. Alexander got into the car, and I got into the front passenger seat for a change, as these days I'm doing the driving with the kids during the week.

Alexander: Oh! Dad! Are you driving us?
David: Yes, I am.
Alexander: Where are we going?
David: Just into town to do a few things.
Alexander: We'll need Google maps.

He's four-and-a-half.


Lately I've been thinking about how much I miss my American composer friends.

Thank heavens for e-mail and Facebook, so I can keep in touch with people. But it's not quite the same as being able to pick up the phone for a quick (free!) call, or zip off to a concert together and snigger about the music and the performance, or have a regular lunch date where you could chat about what you were working on or what you've been thinking about.

My two closest composer friends and I still e-mail regularly. It's great being able to communicate so easily, air an idea, ask questions, or just get an opinion. Handy when one friend is a Pulitzer Prize nominee and general all-round amazing musician, and the other is also an amazing musician, and she's like a second sister too so we are usually on the same wavelength!

My husband David is a brilliant soundboard for ideas. In fact, he's always the first person I go to when I feel like I'm beating my head against a brick wall. He's an ideas man, is David.

I'm working on a large choral-orchestral piece and I'm trying to settle on a text. I have two poems already, just need to make a decision about a third because the piece has to be around 12 minutes long, and the two poems aren't quite enough. It's really hard because I am not Australian, but I'm using Australian poetry. Mostly because I have been asked to. Having an identity firstly as a New Zealander tends to mean that New Zealand poetry makes more sense to me, so I am having to wrap my head around some new language, tone, pictures, you know what I mean. The bush ballad thing just sounds a little too folksy for what I'm trying to do!

Anyway, I do feel like I am making progress in very tiny steps. It's a wonderful journey of discovery. And it will hopefully be the ideal way to communicate to my audience and performers once the piece is finished. That's the no. 1 goal of this whole business.


Ok so here I am, blogging. This is really just a trial. It’s also a great way to procrastinate when you have a deadline.

Most composers I know have very cunning ways of procrastinating. Cleaning, listening to music, reading something that catches the eye, doing endless loads of laundry, cooking complicated recipes, tidying that drawer that you never open, de-cluttering your closet, emailing, perusing Facebook and various blogs, the list goes on.

I am often asked how I get “inspiration” to write a piece. Generally I have to disappoint people who think that composers live in a dream-world of Wagner cottages with water views, a beautiful grand piano groaning with bits of manuscript paper, and baskets of food delivered to your doorstep. It may be like that at various summer residencies in the US (wish I could go!), but not here.

For me, composing usually takes place late at night, after the children are fed, bathed and put to bed, the laundry is folded and put away, the kitchen is tidy and the lunches are made, a little bit of chocolate is eaten with a cup of tea, the parents have had a conversation or two while watching some inane television show before reclaiming some semblance of “me time” where I won’t be interrupted by someone wanting a piece of me.

Composing is crammed into those few spare hours I have to myself, in solitude, in my hopelessly messy study crammed with books, paper, broken dinosaurs, teething toys, old birthday cards, to-do lists, cables emerging from the computer… Inspiration occurs when I’m doing something around the house or feeding the baby, driving to my next errand, not while I’m looking out of the window at the hills and sky. Then before I know it, there are some dots on the page and gradually over the months it starts to make sense amidst the chaos, hard work, tears of frustration and exhaustion, and all those little deadlines that make up a normal week.

Do I sound resentful? I don’t mean to be. I love being at home with my kids at the moment - well, really, just mostly my beautiful baby Lillian who is 5 months old. Alexander is 4 and now goes to Kindergarten three and a half days a week. In a blink of an eye I have become a mother of two, with a baby and a school run. When did we suddenly become grown-ups?