Dec 19, 2016

RESEO Conference Winter 2016 Pt.1

Reflective Practice: Evaluation in Arts Education

I'm going to start with a provocation: listening to the speakers at the wonderful 3-day European conference at the Opera National de Paris, I came away with the terrible feeling that there is a tendency of middle-aged, white, male policymen to talk purely for the sake of talking, whilst the majority of female project managers and department chiefs actually have pivotally important knowledge or fact-based experiences to share!

But could we hear their experiences? No, because all of the men (bar 3) spent so long upstaging the others with their mansplaining of subjects we already knew about, including the value of arts education! (This is OLD NEWS, mate!) I was disgusted to see that the more powerful the policymen were, the less they seemed to listen or care about anything other than themselves.  These dudes have a lot to reflect on - had they participated in the training and advice sessions provided by RESEO at the conference, they may well have picked up something useful to this end! Ok - breathe. I've got it off my chest... I think... Provocation over.

This was just one of the fascinating insights I gained into the situation of opera education in Europe: that politics is actually an important part of the challenge to really create value through artistic practice.

To cut to the chase, the real point of this conference was to remind us all that evaluation - that "boring" thing we do after all the fun of a project or that "scary" thing that might reveal how we didn't really achieve what we wanted to - is actually REALLY VALUABLE if we consider it as part of the project and not just a tag-on at the end.

The whole three days, I kept thinking: "to eVALUate is to make VALUE." Just as when you en-liven something, you can en-value it, give it more value. Even if the project was a failure! Susanne Burns, of Susanne Burns Associates, summarised this idea well:

Evaluation is not just about numbers - It's about actively learning as well as telling stories.
It's not just for our funders - It's for all of us, whoever is running the projects.
It's not about advocating the quality of the work - It's more neutral, and can reveal learning from mistakes.
It's not negative/time-consuming - It can be positive and fit resources.
It isn't just retrospective - It is most effective if it happens concurrently with your project!

It's a tool which you can use to make best use of your experiences and learnings - and others can benefit from it as well! More on this subject in Pt.2

Dec 1, 2016

Lizzie and the Dark

I am very excited about my first chamber opera for young people being workshopped with a primary school in York. I have been working with the class of Year 3 on developing musical and design ideas that will be brought together in a school assembly! The performers are really enjoying working on it so far, I can't wait to see what an audience thinks!

Aug 5, 2016

Opera audiences might be growing?

In searching for a way to justify my PhD thesis of the composition of opera for young people, I have tried to look at some of the maths. Opera is funded very well by the state. The Royal Opera House alone received an Arts Council grant of £25m in 2012/13, which is appoximately 40p per person if averaged over the estimated UK population of 62m.

Mainstream opera audiences are believed to be mostly in the 60-69 year old age bracket, according to the 2014 study 'Opera Audiences and Cultural Value: A Study of Audience Experience' published by Creativeworks London.

Now, I had previously - and wrongly - assumed that this was a relative minority of our national population here in the UK. In actuality, the Office of National Statistics reveals that since 2014 there are more people over 60 (14.9 million in 2014) than there are under 18. It's almost a quarter of our population.

So I'm now wondering: if our population is aging, perhaps it's not the young 'uns that opera houses need to convert, but more of the middle aged group.

Unfortunately for me, none of this helps my PhD thesis. Rather, I think I have some more statistics to uncover...

Oct 27, 2015

Opera Schmopera

So work begins on the PhD in the composition of opera for young people.

I have so many questions to begin with, both in terms of form and content. What is an opera? What do I want to say in an opera to young people? What are young people? What value can they get from any operas I create, or that we create together?

It should almost go without saying that I am approaching this subject with several years of experience of working as a music/theatre/drama facilitator for opera houses. I have seen joy, creativity, inspiration, dialogue, skill-improvement, confidence-boosting and culture shifts as results of my workshops. I have also seen thousands of young people engage enthusiastically with a culture of rich tradition and thought that they had previously been unaware of, or had felt was not for them.

But what more can I do? How much more value can be created through this work? Are there ways in which those values can be made conspicuous? What are valuable results, or not-valuable results? What could happen that is not expected?

I will keep updates about this and more. 

In the mean time - first stop, the Library here at the University of York.

Second stop, RESEO, the European Network for Opera and Dance Education.

Sep 21, 2014

More works than I know what to do with!

Basically, 2014 has been so busy I have not had a single moment to actually report what I have achieved. This is quite an extraordinary turnout! Videos to my last few productions are now being put onto this website. Watch this space!

Sep 25, 2013


I've added a few new sound-bites to my dance music page. Me improvising at the keyboard, imagining some dancers jumping round! Improvising is one of my favourite things - it's so theraputic!

Sep 16, 2013


Last week I walked into a local Mosque in Newham to ask about their potential participation in the EastEnd Notes choir, and to ask about what kind of issues might be important to consider in asking Muslims to get involved. The experience was so warm and welcoming, though as it happened they weren't too keen on the choir.

I got talking to a young man who was kind enough to explain his interpretation of the Muslim view on music, much of which centred around humility. For me, this raised questions about how exactly I could engage with Muslims on a cultural level outside of music-making.

We sat and conversed over a cup of tea and some delicious cake, but it was only as I left that I realised one potential cultural exchange that we could continue to develop: namely, eating and chatting! Two of the simplest cultural exchanges, and also two of my favourites! 

Now I'm really looking forward to more of that! And meanwhile, recruitment of choir-members goes on...

EastEnd Notes

The Spitalfields Festival has commissioned me to lead a cross-cultural, male-voice choir called the EastEnd Notes. The project will culminate with two performances in Spitalfields Music Winter Festival on Saturday 7 December at 6.00pm and Tuesday 10 Dec at 7.30pm. For more information, follow the link.

Jun 7, 2013

Opera Go-go!

I've really enjoyed writing my latest work, The Sweeper of Dreams, and it's almost completely finished! I hope to upload a full version in July.

A lot of hard work has gone into this little opera baby, and a lot of important lessons have been learnt as a result of it. It's been a very wholesome process all-round!

Feb 26, 2013

Year beginning

2013 is to be my most challenging year ever. I have no idea how I'm going to achieve my goals, but I am determined that I will realise every one.

So far, it has been one of the most encouraging years ever. I have had more interest in my project ideas than ever before. People want to get involved, institutions want to commission them, and opportunities are coming up everywhere I turn!

And yet already it is extremely difficult. I am taking a leap of faith, somewhat blindly. I do not yet know what I am truly capable of (but then who does), so I'm trusting that I'll deal with whatever comes my way. Plus, at some point soon these crazy ideas need to turn into crazy amounts of cash. I have a mortgage to pay now!

I keep coming back to the reason why I am doing this. First of all, to prove that normal, mediocre people like me can turn the impossible into the possible. When I prove it, maybe people will start believing me when I say it. Secondly, I want to find out what I am capable of. This is only the beginning, and every mistake will be precious knowledge gained. Every obstacle an opportunity to grow.

Every obstacle an opportunity to grow.

Religion should bring people together. It should unite the potential for good in people's hearts toward benefitting society and humanity and creating a better future.

Daisaku Ikeda

Our voice is all-important. The voice has tremendous power. Voices brimming with courage, confidence and compassion resonate in people's hearts and move them on a profound level.

Daisaku Ikeda

Nov 14, 2012

Acknowledging the director

I've added a new section to the site, all about the pieces I've directed. Looking forward to adding a few more productions in there very soon!

Oct 6, 2012

New guitar piece

At last! Yellow Rattle has been added to this website! I've been working to get this piece up here since January. It is now proudly here!

Mar 27, 2012

New music uploaded

At last! New music has been uploaded onto my music page.

But just look at these aMaZiNg lyrics from the Year 2s from Southall who wrote this inspirational song about the kind of London they would like to see:

We're gonna build a new London
Not like the old one
We'll have pink seas and parades
We're gonna live and be happy
Share all our money
In this nice, new, special place

I don't like the shops, or the cars or the traffic
I don't like that my friends have to go home
I hate that people look at me like I'm different 
We're gonna clean up Big Ben
We're gonna build a new house
In a London of our own

Very emotional to think how much promise and potential these little people have. I'm really determined that they see their vision materialise!

Jan 19, 2012

New piece for 'cello and Braving piano for class

Yes! At last, I have a new piece up in my Music page. It's the piece that has unleashed a whole lot of creative inspiration, or rather it was the result of a creative outpouring that took months to achieve. There was a blockage in my inspiration tube. Dublin has washed it away, thank goodness! Thank Guiness? Nah, I didn't really have that much. Wasted opportunity...?

Anyway, we are now back in London and making amazing things happen here again. Big thanks to Phil Macdonald for the fun in the studio recording the 'cello piece. There's lots more composition coming up this year, which is fantastic.

Also, I feel today is especially exciting as I played piano for my first dance class ever. It was a contemporary class at Central School of Ballet for Jess Wright (Random Dance) - very last minute - but absolutely brilliant! I was shaking with nerves before we went in, afraid that I'd mis-count things or that my arms would just cease up and I'd physically not be able to play the piano. But it was wonderful. So much fun to improvise all that music to those talented dancers. It's so satisfying to see how you can make someone jump higher just by giving them an up-beat!

Oct 17, 2011

Untitled (strings)

Just playing around with some recorded material I found of a string quartet; I've uploaded it onto my Dance collection. Some really wonderful sounds coming out of it.

Real raw jam jam

This afternoon I met with a raw food culinary artist to discuss how improvised music and improvised food can go together! We're gonna have a jam next week. Not, jam jam, I mean like an improvisation jam. Though who knows, maybe there will be a real jam involved! Raw jam. A real raw jam jam. Maybe that could be the name of the project!

Sep 19, 2011

Thank you, Omar for teaching us and for pulling my talent out. You have made me feel like I'm a musician. You make me want to write a million songs. In my head I have so many ideas jumping in my head. I want to express my music. I feel like I am in wonderland. I have never ever been more happy in my life. To me the world is a wonderful place, like I'm a song writer. You have made my eyes open, made me see the world and become a superstar. Music is my talent. I love my talent. This is the best talent ever that I have ever had. I hope when you teach others they will feel the same as I do.

from Inderjit Yr 5

Song cycle

I am soooo close to posting up 2 new songs I've been working on! Almost there now...