Picture: Croissants & Whiskey, rehearsing with Kym

The story of a new work #5


S · P · I · R · I · T · S

A suite of musical plays, vignettes and anachronisms
about the spirits passed down to us
those we embrace, those we endure, and those we resolve to leave behind


Kym Dillon’s title and official synopsis for the 2022 Continuo Commissioned work


Hello to our friends and supporters at Continuo!

It has been quite a long time since my last update — along the way I would often deliberate about whether I should write a quick update or rather get more work done on the piece, and the piece always seemed to win the argument! I’m happy to say that as of the end of September I have finally finished S·P·I·R·I·T·S, a nine movement piece coming in at around 35 – 40 minutes. It has taken a bit over a year to complete.

Back when I last wrote to you, I had mentioned that I had finished the first movement, which for me is always the most difficult due to its nature as the foundation of the tone and feeling for the whole project. Croissants & Whiskey rehearsed that movement earlier in the year, and once they were ready to show it to me I had the opportunity to go in and work with them.

This was quite an experience for me; first off it was really encouraging to hear that so much of what I imagined was actually working (an experience which always feels magical), but it also allowed me to hear any issues that I hadn’t thought of with the writing, and also hear where something I wanted wasn’t communicated clearly enough on the page. Having the opportunity to actually be there with the ensemble and express what I wanted from different passages and interact with their questions and ideas was something I really cherished, and really went a long way to making this feel like a collaboration.

With this ensemble’s members having various levels of experience playing baroque music — a context wherein there is comparatively less information on the page than in modern music — it became apparent to me that sometimes I could get the most vibrant results by actually giving less detail and allowing the ensemble to find their interpretation more organically. As someone whose ideas often involve a challenging level of specificity, this was not something I had considered, but it’s something I took with me to some extent when writing the rest of the piece. The ideas would still be detailed, but the way to bring them about involved prescribing fewer restrictions. I feel composition is a practical art; it’s not only about creating the piece itself but also about allowing the human performers of that piece to be as at home in the music as possible.

Anyway, it was a very successful rehearsal, and I’ve included a happy snap – see above.

This experience served as fuel for my launching into composing the rest of the piece, as now I had had hands-on experience of writing something substantial for this unique ensemble, hearing it played by them on these instruments, and workshopping it. This experience would then inform me greatly as I continued writing over the coming months. As I mentioned, the piece is broken up into nine movements, and I knew it was always going to be a rather large undertaking even when I first had the idea for the piece. In fact, I had ideas for many other movements which I’ve left on the drawing board, and the nine that remained were the minimum required for the overall idea to be experienced in the way I wanted.

There are three movements for the full ensemble, four duets for different pairings within the ensemble, a solo for harpsichord and a solo for ocarina (how often does one get to hear an ocarina live!). These different subsets help evoke the theatrical and playful atmosphere of S·P·I·R·I·T·S, but the restrictions also gave me energy — when you have a certain story to tell but you just have a viola and recorder to work with, it involves thinking a bit outside the box! I feel that these different combinations will also enhance the audience’s experience and give the work momentum, excitement and surprise as it is heard.

The ensemble now has all the music, and we are really looking forward to the December 14th performance date. I tend to be rather holistic in creating a piece, as I care a lot about the overall audience experience of a work. I even started designing what the audience program would look like while working on the music as it helped me to piece the whole experience together and consider it as a whole.

Once again I’m so grateful to the Continuo Commissioning Project for choosing us for this inaugural commission, and I have endeavoured to create something I feel is worthy of it. I plan to give you an overview of the various movements a bit closer to the performance, but for now I’ll leave you with the offical synopsis I’ve settled on for S · P · I · R · I · T · S:

A suite of musical plays, vignettes and anachronisms
about the spirits passed down to us: those we embrace, those we endure, and those we resolve to leave behind

Thanks for being with us on this journey,