Contemporary music collaboration featuring our students is a triumph!

Contemporary music collaboration featuring our students is a triumph!

PhD student and conductor of the New Music Ensemble James Thomas organised a collaboration with contemporary double bassist James Banner that resulted in a fantastic two-day workshop and a memorable performance in Firth Hall. Funded by Think Ahead, Thomas encouraged undergraduate students to get creative, composing sketches and eventually miniatures for Banner to bring to life. Here is what James had to say about the experience…

“Music is a temporal art form and so as a composer, my primary concern is considering how I can control the flow of time through sound. During the first year of my time-focused PhD project, I came across the work of James Banner (an accomplished professional double bass player with specialism in improvisation) and sent him an email asking if he would be interested in working on a new composition together. Soon after, we began collaborating on what would become tremors in the rift between (2022), a 23 minute solo double bass piece exploring the contrasting resonance and decay qualities that resulted from significant detuning of its strings. Whilst I worked on the piece, I received lots of feedback from James regarding my writing for the instrument and aspects of performability and practicality. After numerous email exchanges and online zoom meetings, we were able to refine the material and notation into the finished score.

At this stage, I began to look for an opportunity for James to perform the piece but because he is a busy professional musician, I also needed to find some funding to pay his performance fee. As I was aware that part of James’ previous work had involved running double bass composition workshops for university and conservatoire students, I devised a plan with my supervisor Professor Dorothy Ker and the head of the University Concerts Series Nick Potter to invite James to run a two-day composition workshop for students in the music department that would culminate in a performance of the new pieces and my work tremors in the rift between. With the Concerts Team covering the costs of James’ performance, I applied to Think Ahead for their support in funding the workshop and was delighted when they agreed to help!

The two-day workshop took place on Tuesday the 28th and Wednesday the 29th of March in Sheffield University Drama Studio. During this time, the composition students (who were all music undergraduate students) learnt all about writing for this wonderful instrument idiomatically and effectively; its capacity for extended techniques; and aspects of notation, as well as strategies for collaboration and composing for improvising musicians. Over the two days, each of the students composed several sketches based on what they had learnt in collaboration with James, who demonstrated their ideas and helped to develop them in real time. By the end of the second day, each student had composed their own completed miniature, all of which were performed by James in a concert in Firth Hall the same evening (which also featured the premiere of tremors in the rift between). All students reported to have learnt and gained a lot from the experience both in practical and creative terms, with one participant suggesting that the approach fostered by the sessions had boosted their confidence as a composer significantly. On behalf of both myself and all the student participants, I would like to offer my sincerest gratitude to Think Ahead for their generous support of this project!”