I’ve just finished a wonderful 4-day week leading the RNIB/Handel House’s annual Summer School for advanced composers. The brief was to write a piece for solo soprano (Juliet Fraser, co-founder of Exaudi), and the five diverse composers tackled the challenge (and it is one!) with aplomb. Having made them do body rhythms and Bobby McFerrin riffs, bombarded them with a diet of Meredith Monk, Georges Aperghis, Tansy Davies, with obligatory mentions of Berio’s ‘Sequenza III’ every few minutes, our intrepid crew worked their socks off, with occasional rests for biscuits.

Two composers still managed to get my twin vetos of Wordsworth and Shakespeare in but made such leaps and bounds that I had to forgive them: Zoe took some long strides out of her usual rock song territory to write a meditative monologue-like song setting Othello; and Ben, in his own measuredly laconic words, dragged himself ‘about 1,000 years into the future’ with his powerfully angular, stuttery take on ‘Surprised by Joy’. Elsewhere, we had an Aperghis/Berio-esque piece on the theme of temptation (in French) by Kerry, an examination of the inner turmoil of an international table tennis champion (complete with precisely-notated ping-pong ball sounds) by Kevin, and a satirical look at the phone-hacking scandal setting a quote by Ulrika Johnson by Michael. Ha ha! A more eclectic range of works you could not imagine, and they were embraced whole-heartedly and with impressive musicianship and quite genius ping-pong effects by Juliet on our last day.

It was fascinating for me to learn about each of our composers’ methods of accessing and notating music, from the scarily-named JAWS programme, to highly enlarged screens and painstaking note-inputting, from voice-recording and transcribing to the version of Sibelius which speaks back to you. The patience with which some of our composers worked was highly inspiring. I’m looking forward to hearing Juliet perform these pieces on October 23rd at Handel House.