Australian composer Jodie Blackshaw composes music primarily for wind band. A large proportion of her work is centred around children to provide them with a creative learning experience. She is currently in the final year of a PhD at the Australian National University, studying with Dr. Chris Sainsbury. As part of her PhD, she has written a wind symphony, which will receive its world premiere by the Sydney Conservatorium Wind Symphony under conductor Dr John Lynch, on March 29. The US premiere will occur eight days later, hosted by St Olaf College Band and director/composer Dr Timothy Mahr. Jodie Blackshaw wrote for Limelight about her new work, entitled Symphony No 1 Leunig’s Prayerbook for wind symphony.

Jodie Blackshaw. Photograph supplied

This four-movement symphony is inspired by four prayers written by Michael Leunig. The subtitles for each movement are derived from the prayers themselves and take the audience on a familiar journey.

I – The Blessing of Light (Summer)

The burn of Summer is depicted in an energetic opening that is also inspired by the birth of the Sun. The pitch material utilised in the first 102 measures is based on a scale created from the speed of light: 186 282 miles per second. Commencing on G (my personal resonating pitch with the Earth) I built the scale in semitones in an ascending order. The result is a 5-pitch scale (when considering the repeated tones of Ab and Bb). To emulate light refraction one-two notes in the original scale were altered by a semitone to create four new scales with a different tonal centre. The material commences in gritty, tight harmonic clusters book-ended by octave passages, guiding an energetic set of boldly intensifying statements through each of these refracted “light” scales. These harmonic clusters gradually dissipate until the audience is finally released of the tension at measure 95 with a C major chord. The end depicts Michael’s Leunig’s “glorious” light and its ability to consume the darkness that lies within.

II – Bitter and Sweet (Autumn)

The second movement was originally conceived for string orchestra and brings with it an overtone of bitter victory through the consideration of the sacrifice made by thousands of men and women during the Great War (1914-1918). It is a continuous thought that merges and evolves, bringing traces of melodic material from the opening movement, these being the themes of love and light. The orchestration has been carefully considered and is inspired, for the most part, by Strauss and Mendelssohn. The instrumentation is inspired by Stravinsky’s Symphonies for Wind Instruments and provides the audience with some reprieve from the intensity of a full wind symphony. Punctuated by delicate woodwind moments, the Bitter and the Sweet is as delicate as it is vulnerable.

III – Reflection and Resonance (Winter)

With light now fading and Leunig’s recommendation to “go inside”, this movement strips back the ensemble to the simplicity of a saxophone quartet, flugel horn trio and percussion. Ensemble members contribute choral overtones and a startling soprano saxophone solo shatters audience comfort. To ease the pain of personal reflection, a classical guitarist accompanies a fragile vocalist (baritone), transporting the audience to a safer place where truth and beauty live in the heart of the composer. For it is here that the soul is making meaning of the darkness, preparing to return.

IV – The Creation of Faith (Spring)

The final movement injects hope into despair, releasing the audience from the heaviness of Winter. In alignment with the prayer, “the returning and the rejuvenation of the natural world” is brought about by ascending, pedalled chords, resonated by mallet percussion and a single pedal note shared throughout the ensemble. From the opening to the beginning of the dance (measure 81) I have aimed to capture the feeling of flying through the air with “gay abandon”. Parts weave in and out around a simple Flute melody, underpinned by pulsating, dove-tailed percussion. The dance from 81-end is the rebuilding of human faith with “bits and pieces” as Spring brings us warmth, wildlife and the return of goodness and faith in humanity.


Blackshaw’s Symphony No 1 Leunig’s Prayerbook for wind symphony, will be performed at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music on March 29

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