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'Twelve New Chapters' - A Year in the Life

Today is World Piano Day, and as well as being the release of a suite of compositions by my good friend and talented musician Michael A Grant, it is the official release date of my own suite of piano compositions - 'Twelve New Chapters'.




So, what exactly is this music?


'Twelve New Chapters' is, as you might have guessed, a suite of twelve pieces of music. Each one represents a month of the year starting, of course, with January, and developing through twelve pieces of music that all transition into one another and, in fact, come round full circle.



Inspiration



I was inspired to develop this piece of music several years ago when I already had the bare bones of the composition that is now 'Fluttering in the Breeze'. This was always a piece that put me in mind of springtime, yet to create a piece of music based around the four seasons seemed a little bit tried and tested. So I decided to break the year down further into the months, and I was incredibly glad that I did.


'Twelve New Chapters' provided me with an opportunity to experiment with different feelings, as well as to explore different literary references to certain months and seasons.


As you read on, you may learn more about what these were.



The Pieces



All in all, 'Twelve New Chapters' last for approximately 50 minutes - give or take a little depending on the interpretation of the performer. Each piece is not only written to stand alone, representative of its respective month, but also to work as part of the suite as a whole by transitioning smoothly from the preceding piece and transitioning smoothly into the following. Just as the months of the year flow into one another and the changes between seasons are gradual, I hope that this is represented in my music also.



A Sleep from Night to Morn



January is a very beautiful month, yet many people find it to be a little bleak. All of the bright lights and festivity of Christmas and New Year is well and truly over, and what's left is a cold, dark and often long month. Yet is still has a lovely feel for it.


I discovered a poem by Helen Hunt Jackson titled 'New Year's Morning', from which I quote the title directly:


"Only a night from old to new;

Only a sleep from night to morn.

The new is but the old come true;

Each sunrise sees a new year born."



Snowdrops



The transition into the month of February is very gradual, and I composed this short piece of music prior to naming it - all the while having its place in the year in mind. It was deliberately a little more active but without ever allowing itself to rush away - glimmers of hope in individual phrases that pull back before they can develop too much.


When I discovered that snowdrops are especially prominent in this month, it just seemed too perfect a name to fit to the music.



The "Ides Of" March



It was never going to be the case that March wasn't going to be represented by...a march. But naming the march was always a problem.


Due to the more upbeat - thus more quirky - nature of the composition, a quirky play on the title seemed just the ticket also. The Ides of March is, of course, 30th March. For me, however, the "Ides Of" is a title for my march, marching optimistically forward into a brand new season.



Fluttering in the Breeze



The original piece from this suite, and my firm favourite still. Representing April was always going to be a special one for me, as it is my birth month, and using my composition to portray the beginnings of spring was a joy a I believe it captures the mood well with its buildup. I was immediately put in mind of daffodils during the composition and, as we all know, a certain William Wordsworth wrote a poem about those very flowers;


"I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze."


Just to give you an idea of how long I've been sitting on this, this is a short video of me playing 'Fluttering in the Breeze' at the House of Music (Haus Der Musik) in Vienna in September 2022:





The Magical Hawthorn Tree



I couldn't believe my look when I found this old nursery rhyme:


"The fair maid, who on the first of May,

Goes to the fields at the break of day,

And bathes in the dew from the hawthorn tree,

Will ever strong and handsome be."


One thing I particularly love in composition is to sprinkle a touch of magic into it, and the implications of magic in this rhyme were too great to resist.



Wine and the Touch of a Hand



Here is another piece that I had already composed prior to titling. A pleasingly short piece in the old ternary form style, and one that I rather enjoyed. However I was stewing over a title for days.


That was until I discovered a quote by Charles Morgan;


"There are moments, above all on June evenings, when the lakes that hold our moons are sucked into the earth, and nothing is left but wine and the touch of a hand."


The idea of being sat down with somebody you love and a glass of your chosen drink (wine!), outside as the sun sets is one that I could fully envisage when writing and subsequently listening back to this piece.



Under the Full Buck Moon



The Buck Moon is the name given to the full moon in July, and I fancied the idea of writing a piece that was a little bit more upbeat. Representative of a summer party that played into the hours of night. This piece drew much more heavily from jazz than any of the other pieces in this suite, but I think its midway contrast makes it work.



Thunderstorm vs. Peridot



August may be the month that we all associate with summer, perhaps because it's deep seated from having the entire month off back when were at school! However, here in the UK the weather is not always at its best. I had already composed the 'Thunderstorm' theme of this piece, quite unaware that I would be incorporating it into this suite at all, but when I had the idea of using two themes to contrast one another I became excited.


Yes, thunderstorms happen in the UK during August, but I wanted to contrast it with something much gentler too.


Peridot is the August birthstone, and I just loved the idea of those born in the month rising against the storm and taking ownership. The second half of this piece - what I call 'The Peridot Waltz' - is for them. A brief nod back to the gentler passage of the thunderstorm's theme at the end implies that it is moving away and has been defeated.



First Term



The month that all schoolchildren dread - September! The first term of any year is always fraught with the same thing - playfulness to begin, frustration at academia, playtime again. And - although in the grand scheme of the suite this overshoots my year - my piece 'First Term' actually is the same three themes repeated three times - each one getting a touch more frantic to represent the sheer repetitiveness and frustration of schooldays.



Music for a Rainy Day



The original Jack Mitchell Smith piece. Needless to say when I do say that I composed this piece at the age of 18 in 2009, that the plan for this piece was not as part of a greater suite. However, October can be rainy and I didn't want to lose 'Music for a Rainy Day', so I welcomed it into the suite with open arms.



The Leaves Where You Walk



I feel that despite being the simplest piece in my suite, this is arguably the most powerful. We are, of course, in the month of November by now. And there is much time for reflection as we fast approach the end of the year. Not really, but December gets a little swallowed up by commercialisation so November is often the last chance we do get to appreciate how far we've come.


Frances Bellerby wrote a stunning poem titled 'All Souls Day' - a day which is recognised on 2nd November. In it, she writes;


"And yet - touch my hand

that I may be quite without fear,

for it seems as if a mist descends,

and the leaves where you walk do not stir."


This piece is also written in ternary form, and the middle section is entirely reflective of how far we've come as themes from 'Snowdrops', 'The "Ides Of" March', 'Fluttering in the Breeze', 'The Magical Hawthorn Tree', 'Wine and the Touch of a Hand', 'Under the Full Buck Moon', 'Thunderstorm vs. Peridot', 'First Term' and 'Music for a Rainy Day' are all recognised for a single bar each, often broken by splayed chords to remind us of the month we are in, harking also back to the mood of January as we fast plunge into winter again.



"So He Did Come After All!"



I didn't want to focus on the obvious holiday that was Christmas so much as winter itself, although arguably I did given the source material that inspired the piece. Back in 2014, I began underscoring a short story by Leo Tolstoy titled 'Papa Panov's Special Christmas' - to be narrated with piano music underneath.


I never completed this short project, however I had quite a few themes together. As children played outside, so would the music become much more upbeat and jaunty, for example.


Whilst I ensured that I did not focus too heavily on Christmas, I did make a nod to the original inspiration given the closing lines of the story;


""Didn't you see me, Papa Panov?"

"Who are you?" he called out, bewildered.

Then another voice answered him. It was the voice from his dream -- the voice of Jesus.

"I was hungry and you fed me," he said. "I was naked and you clothed me. I was cold and you warmed me. I came to you today in everyone of those you helped and welcomed."

Then all was quiet and still. Only the sound of the big clock ticking. A great peace and happiness seemed to fill the room, overflowing Papa Panov's heart until he wanted to burst out singing and laughing and dancing with joy.

"So he did come after all!" was all that he said."


The way I finish the piece with gentle arpeggiated chords is a nod to January's piece - 'A Sleep from Night to Morn', suggesting that the whole suite is about to begin again.



Artwork



The artwork for 'Twelve New Chapters' was designed and created by Karen Hayward. Whilst the album artwork is slightly condensed, you can see its full glory below:




Getting a Copy



I would love for you to support me in getting a copy of 'Twelve New Chapters'.


The best way to support me by far is to download directly from the website!


However, the album is also available on Apple Music, Amazon Music and more.


 

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