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Composing a piece in isolation, about isolation, for isolation.

Composing a piece in isolation, about isolation, for isolation.

Christopher Healey says challenge accepted.

Some bake sour dough, some channel their inner photographer or fitness guru and others seek tips from isolation experts including astronauts and sailors for whom this period of self-isolation is done with familiarity and ease. For Christopher Healey, an early career composer of art music with over eighty works in his portfolio, isolation brought its personal and professional challenges, but it has also delivered him the inspiration to compose a new series of works centred on exactly that theme – isolation. 

Chris Healey at Home

“The lockdowns came at a terrible time for me actually. I was due to get married on the 22nd of March and had to cancel the week before because of the virus. I had also put a lot of work into organising a concert of works by nine Australian composers that was to take place late March. We planned to record the concert instead and stream it on CutCommon's website, but then the restrictions changed again and we could no longer even have a string quartet and a recording person together at the same time. It was a really intense couple of weeks.”

Despite the personal challenges, the realities of the self-isolation period and its impact on Christopher’s day-to-day sat naturally within his comfort zone and saw him adapt as needed.

“For me personally, life during this time is quite palatable. I am very introverted by nature, so the prospect of social isolation was not daunting for me the way it has been for many of my more extroverted colleagues. I approached the change with a ‘business-as-usual’ mindset, and that meant I had about 15-20 extra hours in the week thanks to both a reduction in work hours and no more long commutes to work. Other than losing a significant chunk of my income, these changes have been somewhat of a relief and an opportunity to create that I was eager to grasp onto as much as possible.”

With more time in his day-to-day life, Christopher began to draw influence from his situation and considered how we could create a piece of music that enabled him to continue his artistic purpose as a composer while in isolation, and have some fun, too.

“The idea for the concerto came to me because I could see a lot of my colleagues were out there looking for something fun to do but with no performance opportunities. That sounded like something I can be useful for as a composer! The work is not about isolation as much as it is for it. And I have the means of producing some software recordings, so the idea for a soloist plus some sort of digital accompaniment was obvious to me. What could be more fun for musicians (other than Netflix or sipping on margaritas) than premiering a concerto from home?

“My goal with the piece is really just to create music that is playful and lets my musician friends have some fun while we're all stuck at home. It is not intended to be serious or ground-breaking but human and engaging! For this piece, the goal is for each movement to work as a standalone, and for the final nine or more movements to be able to be programmed for live performance (when that's possible) in sets of three or four movements in a choose-your-own adventure fashion.”

Christopher has completed five movements of his isolation-themed composition, with three more movements currently in development. The first five movements are:

Trombone Trouble
Prosecco-Popping Piccolo
Housebound Horn
I Can Believe It's Not Rutter (Flute)
Tubacca Attack!

He has composed each movement with a specific musician in mind, however the music will be available to any musician wishing to play it. Housebound Horn has already been recorded by his friend and Queensland's Best of Brass Armin Terzer, you can get a preview of this piece below

For some composers, the compositional process is complex. For Christopher however, his approach is resoundingly simple and grounded in showing up, getting into the mindset, and seeing where the day or night takes him. 

“I'm still working part-time from home, so a lot of the music-making is being done in the evenings and on my off-days and weekends. My partner is also an incredible pianist (he makes my musical talents look positively mediocre) so the music never really stops for long in our home. It's strange sometimes because it seems so normal for there always to be some sort of musical activity happening, be it practicing or composing or listening that you forget that it's probably astonishingly atypical. Other composers I know often do their hour of composing if they're feeling industrious and that's enough for them, but yesterday between composing and practicing 8 hours went by, and that's a fairly typical 'day off' for me. Of course, no one cares how many hours you do or how many pieces you compose, it's tends to be a lot more about the social network that helps determine which composers get played and which don't. However, that makes the present moment somewhat of a strange situation for introverts like myself who would rather just do the work than play that game. We're all busy creating while the rest of the world is trying to work out what is happening!”

Discover more movements from Christopher Healey's composition below.

If you are interested in performing one of Christopher Healey’s compositions, or need help with editing and recording the accompaniment tracks, you can find him on LinkedIn here.

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