Paston 600 Footprints composer Sarah Rodgers – part four

Commissioned to compose a new work as part of our upcoming ‘Paston 600 Footprints’ project with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Sarah Rodgers shares insight into the composing process in the fourth of a series of updates tracking the progress of this new composition.

Agnes ready for rehearsal – Sarah Rodgers gives an update on progress with her new composition for Paston Footprints

The first page of the score for ‘Agnes – a pocket oratorio’ by Sarah Rodgers

Done and dusted – well almost!

The three remaining sections are now complete. Instead of giving the chorale a standalone setting, I have decided to interpolate it into the gigue but without sacrificing its gravitas as a chorale. This has meant overlaying the 6/8 rhythm of the gigue with the chorale in 2/4. The timpani play an important role in this final section and, it would be fair to say, have the last word!

The text for the chorale is taken, not from the Paston Papers, but is a short poem by John Skelton, a contemporary of Agnes Paston. Skelton was born in Norfolk in 1460 and is known as the first Tudor poet and as tutor to Henry VIII. He used his verse satirically and for political and religious comment and the verse I have chosen complements the story from Agnes Paston’s letters very effectively.

The vocal score is now finished and has been sent to eager choristers. David Ballard, Director of Music at St Nicholas, North Walsham, took receipt of the vocal scores on his wedding day – that’s what I call dedication! Choir rehearsasl have begun and, I’m told, there has been an enthusiastic response.

Before I finalise the full score, I have asked the orchestral specialists to cast an eye over the parts to ensure playability. Composers hear in their heads the sound they want and often stretch players to achieve this. Where period instruments are concerned, this simply may not be possible, or advisable. As much as we extend our knowledge of instruments and their capabilities, as composers, we can’t know all the nips and tucks as the players do, so it is helpful to have the experts on hand to ask.

At the beginning of May, I went to a gig by some players from the OAE at the Black Lion in Walsingham. They put on an entertaining show of words and music as part of a programme of events for the whole weekend involving performances to young and old and some inventive instrument-making. This is such great engagement with communities who wouldn’t otherwise have easy access to such diverse music.

The concert on 1st July at North Walsham, when my piece is premiered, will be a very special occasion for Norfolk and I am greatly looking forward to the performance.

I’ll probably squeeze in one more blog before the great day!

Sarah Rodgers

(published 18 May 2018)

The world premiere of this new work will be performed by Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in North Walsham, Norfolk on Sunday 1 July 2018. More details here.

Find out more about Sarah and her work here.

Read part one of Sarah’s blog series here, part two here, and part three here.