An Introduction: Doing Music & Being a Musician

Welcome to my new blog, Without Barlines – a space where my professional experiences and creative motivations can be shared openly and publicly. In line with my working philosophy, I’ll be treating musical practice and culture as a diverse field of interaction whose often-encountered partitions, which are many and varied, I see as serving only the most superficial functions.  On a personal level, I hope to be able explore and understand my own ideas more deeply by going through the process of preparing them for public consumption. I also hope (perhaps fancifully) that discussing and analysing my experiences in the musical field will provide musicians and those that care about music with new insights or perhaps simply alternative viewpoints to counterpoint their own experiences and ideas.

The context for starting this blog is colourful and varied. I’m generally classed as a composer. Indeed, this is perhaps my greatest strength as a musician and it’s certainly the area in which I’ve invested the most time and effort undertaking training. But I class myself as a musician – a more general term certainly, but one that more accurately portrays my professional activities and one that tallies with my firm belief that greater things can be achieved in the arts by embracing the diversity of the field. So, as a composer, I can talk about upcoming projects and work that I’d like to complete if only for the fact that I think it will make great music. I can talk about my processes and methods, the abandoned ideas and the surprising revelations. I can also talk about my disenchantment with parts of my back-catalogue and the various things that cause me to have identity crises as a composer.

This is all well and good, but I doubt it would be much use to me (or anybody else) to consider any of this in isolation. I’ve recently started working as a copyist for composer Nigel Morgan, whose working methods and music are very different from my own. This has required learning how to use new software, getting to grips with a new house style, and applying my existing skills to a type of music that I’ve had little contact with before. This has profoundly affected me as a composer (for one) and as a musician in the more general sense (and the far more important sense as I see it). Working with Nigel has allowed me to develop previously germinal thoughts on scoring and the presentation of music, not to mention given me cause to question my own relationship with the idea of ‘process’ in the compositional and analytical acts.

I’m also in the midst of a longstanding relationship with Leeds Haydn Players. I never saw myself as someone who would conduct a significant number of Haydn symphonies (truth be told, I didn’t rate Haydn too highly before I started working with LHP!). Yet, here I am, preparing for a pair of concerts in the coming weeks and beginning to think about another in December. Not only that but I continue to produce orchestrations of Haydn chamber works – orchestrations that have all kinds of requirements and unexpected technical demands. But I couldn’t be happier doing it. As well as broadening my musical horizons my work with LHP has reaffirmed my belief in the immeasurable value of working with amateur and community groups.

Speaking of orchestration and conducting, I’ve had some wonderful experiences with the band Starling on their first two albums. Producing string arrangements and going through the process of recording these with both student and professional musicians has taught me a lot that the ‘classical’ music world (which is where I’ve received my formal training) couldn’t hope to teach me. While all is quiet on this front at the moment (we’re currently awaiting details of the second album’s release), the things I’ve learned here have helped me enormously with film and theatre music.

I could go on to talk about my previous teaching or my plans to move to the other side of the world. There’s so much diversity in my musical life (not to mention my wider existence!) that I can no longer see the divisions that supposedly separate this genre from that, or this activity from another. Consequently I will happily make the following assertion:

I am a musician. I do music. And, crucially, I believe that music does. It’s not that music is – it’s not simply a product or a learned set of parameters, however important these things may be – music acts upon the people who come into contact with it, the places where it’s heard and the culture that surrounds it.

The importance of all this has recently come crashing home. I worked for the best part of two years in the hospitality industry. The whys and wherefores are not really important. Suffice it to say that working in an industry that demands long working hours, mainly at weekends and in the evenings, caused havoc in my life and work as a musician. I managed to hold onto a few contacts and undertake a few projects, but I basically found myself adrift. I’ve since left hospitality to return to the field for which I have the greatest passion: music (and the arts more generally). This has entailed all kinds of job interviews, declarations of self-employment and other such dull things. But it also made me take stock and think very hard. I returned to the field having lost contact with a great number of people, not being able to get to events and gatherings. At first I found myself going into a sort of default work-mode, which was heavily coloured by my time as a composer in academia. Not having access to research materials and not having a job in an academic institution basically rendered this approach useless. And so here I am, trying to find myself again as a person and as a musician. While this has been extremely difficult at times (largely due to intervening catastrophes in my personal life) I’m now at a point where I’m able assess what is and has been most important to me, to determine exactly what skills I have and how these can be used to the benefit of others, to find new avenues to explore creatively and in life more generally. While clearly of enormous personal importance (which is not something I wish to dwell on here), I see this process of exploration and questioning as one of wider significance. In musical terms this has unearthed a number of areas that I think are worth exploring and, indeed, areas that I’ll explore here in due course. My thoughts are not yet fully gathered, but I can give you a taster of what they will include: the methods, purpose and future of scoring; the importance of community music, working with amateur groups and engaging audiences; the issue of music and space in the concert hall, installations and music for the visually impaired; and overcoming musical separations (historical, stylistic and activity-based).

This blog, then, is an outlet for me – someone who does music – to explore and share what doing music really means and how it can help us understand music’s impact as an active, lived cultural and societal experience.

I hope to be able to provide something both helpful and entertaining. If not then at least it will help me organise my own thoughts, which is no bad thing.

You can find out more about me on my website.

Comments and criticisms are always welcome.

Adam Fergler
(composer, conductor, arranger, copyist, editor, child, lover, waiter, geekdrinker, musician)