17 December 2015
Last week saw the first ANTHEM! workshop take place at the CCA in Glasgow. ANTHEM! is a workshop about protest and song in which I lead participants to collectively create and perform a single new protest song, written by the group, for the group, on a subject dictated by the group. ANTHEM! is open to all, no previous experience of songwriting or musical performance is required. ANTHEM! was part of ArtCOP Scotland, a local artistic response to what some are calling the most important event of this century, the COP21 UN climate change negotiations in Paris.
To get us warmed up, and to introduce the group to a variety of different styles of protest song, we began the session by singing three existing songs: the 17th century Diggers’ Song, Phil Ochs’ 1964 anti-war song I Ain’t Marching Anymore and Ding Dong Dollar, a Glaswegian anti-Polaris song from the 1960s.
Despite being part of ArtCOP, there was no compulsion for the participants of ANTHEM! to compose a song about climate change and/or sustainability. However, this was a large part of the conversations that proceeded our songwriting — ANTHEM! is all about open discussion, finding common ground and collectively creating something new. The discussions were wide-ranging and interesting, and eventually the group settled on a topic for their song, the complicity of one’s money in warfare and environmental damage. Group members told of their shock on finding out that their electricity bills were paid to companies that contributed to environmental damage and discovering their pension funds had invested in the arms trade — actions which did not meet the ethical approval of the customer and pension holder.
In protest songs, text is key. Having decided upon the subject matter for the song, I asked each group member to write a short scenario where the simple payment of a bill, or other everyday action, had directly or indirectly financed an activity the group member found morally offensive. These scenarios were then distilled into the verses of the song. Next, the music was composed collectively as group members argued for their preferred twists and turns in the melody.
This is the song written by the group: Not in my name (but with my money). Within five minutes of finishing the song, we performed it to an unsuspecting audience in the cafe at the CCA. As you’ll see in the video below, we stood on the balcony above the cafe and sung to anyone who’d listen. I hope to run further ANTHEM! workshops in the future.
19 November 2015
Last weekend I took part in Enterprise Music Scotland’s Creative Exchange with Red Note Ensemble at Crear on the west coast of Scotland. I was joined by fellow composers Shiori Usui, Chris Hutchings and John De Simone, all of whom I’ve known for many years.
Crear is in a beautiful part of the country where the sky and light are constantly changing. The rehearsal room at Crear has floor-to-ceiling windows with stunning views of the Isle of Jura. Our stay coincided with the arrival of Hurricane Abigail which limited the amount of time we spent exploring the surrounding area but gave us a good excuse to sit in front of Crear’s open log fire. At night we were surprised by clear skies and an impressive view of the Milky Way.
I spent most of the weekend completing a short solo work for Red Note cellist Robert Irvine (more on that another time) who was joined by violinist Tony Moffat and violist Jessica Beeston.
On Sunday morning, having completed the cello piece, I wrote this little ditty:
18 November 2015
You are invited to ANTHEM!, a workshop about protest and song. Join composer Thomas Butler to collectively create and perform a single new protest song, written by the group, for the group, on a subject dictated by the group. The session is open to all: no previous experience of songwriting or musical performance is required! Bring your voices, bring your words, bring your anger.