Beginnings 始まり



Everyone starts somewhere. For me it was in a piano lesson when I was probably around 9 or 10 years old. The memory of this moment is crystal clear, although I cannot remember exactly when it was. I must have spent some time that week doodling rather than practicing because in my piano lesson I told my teacher that I had written something. I can still remember the tune (maybe I will include it in a future composition!) and it is best described as “a short ditty bearing an uncanny resemblance to Vivaldi”. From what I can remember, my piano teacher gave me a pat on the head and some enthusiastic words before steering me back to the task at hand – the piece I was supposed to be playing for him.

However, my teacher’s response had been encouraging enough to deepen my instinctive curiosity for writing music. Good teachers have that knack of nudging their students in the right direction at crucial moments. In the following years, I kept doodling and jotting down ideas. Many of them were thinly-veiled variations on my favourite pieces from the classical repertoire, but as with learning one’s mother tongue, we must imitate before we can truly find our own voice. I doodled on the violin, too, often imagining that my sketches were from a Bach Partita or the cadenza of a violin concerto. Eventually I had enough ideas to cobble together into what would become the Serenade for Solo Violin and String Orchestra, which was first performed in 1990 when I was 17.

The Serenade, however, was not my first completed piece. It was only my first publicly-performed piece. The first completed piece was a little lullaby for piano that I just played to myself. The melody is very simple, and the harmony and accompaniment resemble a piece you might find in a book of practice studies for young piano learners. Again, I cannot remember exactly when I wrote it, and I do not even remember if I wrote it down, but it always stayed inside my head.

Fast forward a couple of decades to 2002 … After the first performance of my Requiem, some of the orchestral players asked me if I would be interested in writing a piece for them to play at local schools in Hillingdon, West London, as part of their work for the Hillingdon Music Service. I gratefully accepted and wrote a piece called Concerto Grosso. The idea was to put modern musical ideas in a Baroque structure: something experimental for me and hopefully something a bit different for the children. I thought it would be nice to include a piece that I had written when I was about the same age as the intended audience. I dusted off the little lullaby and orchestrated it with some extra ‘scrunch’ in the harmonies. And so Berceuse became the second movement of Concerto Grosso.

For many years I thought that this piece in its original form was just too simple to be made public. What has changed is watching my son learn the piano. It has reminded me that nobody is born a musician. Even musical prodigies start out in life having never touched an instrument, and it requires someone putting them in front of one for their talent to be realized. The first time Mozart touched a piano, it was not to compose a symphony. He started out by whacking the keys, and after a while he moved onto little ditties, and then it was not until he was eight years old (!) that he wrote his First Symphony. But even regarding Mozart, one of the most exceptional talents ever seen in the classical music world, the point is the same. Everyone starts somewhere. It is just that some people – through a combination of natural talent, favourable circumstances, and sheer hard work – progress further and quicker than others. Nevertheless, every step taken along the path to where you are now is important. Berceuse was a step along my path …

So here it is (click to download). The sheet music is free for people to download and have a go. I hope people will enjoy the piece for what it is. I enjoy it simply because it reminds me of where I began, and therefore the journey I have taken to where I am now.

1 February 2019.