News: April Composer's Retreat

A space for creative feedback from other creatives

A few years ago I started having Composer’s Retreats at my home in Waitarere, about an hour and half north of Wellington.  So far there have been four; two of them with. young-ish composers and the other two with more senior peers. In April this year a very special convergence took place over four days, of Helen Bowater, Chris Cree Brown, Victoria Kelly, Eve de Castro-Robinson, Christine White, Anthony Ritchie, Phil Dadson, a special appearance by Martin Lodge, and myself. There is something truly special about a group like this - with so much overlapping life and creative experience - spending time together, cooking, eating, sharing work, and luxuriating in the pleasure of just hanging out. A composer’s life has a lot of alone time, and  as a community, our paths cross infrequently, and usually fleetingly, when they do at all. Some of these particular paths have been crossing for nearly 50 years! But it’s still rare for us all to be in the same place at the same time, with time.

It’s common in other creative disciplines for artists to gather regularly.  A big part of it is to engage in critique and discussion about works in progress. I’m not convinced composers do this enough (especially out of academic environments), but the benefits are obvious and immediately tangible. We take the whole solitary artist thing to a high level - but I don’t think it’s always willingly. Gatherings are about more than just the music and art, they are a means to build community and solidarity. Music makers from a wide range of genres attend these retreats, and it’s been profound and humbling to witness first hand that we all share - regardless of genre or style or taste -  the same feelings of loneliness and insecurity that usually accompanies a creative practice. We also, very clearly, share the same struggles for expressing ourselves authentically whether we are in our 20s or our 70s.

The only other regular socialising for composers that’s been woven into the fabric of our compositional culture is the Nelson Composers Workshop. But this is a one-off annual event and we don’t seem to be fostering that experience elsewhere.  I look forward to more Waitarere Composer Retreats (if you can think  of a better name please share!), and I encourage other musicians and composers to consider hosting retreats or similar gatherings. They’re a gift for everyone involved.

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