‘At Peace’ with Opera: Winter Morning Walks

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TimNewhouseProfile

Hi everyone! My name’s Tim Newhouse; I’m a 21-year old composer and musician. I have many talented singer friends and colleagues embarking on a career in opera, and believe the Australian vocal scene is in very good hands as a result.

As a developing, musically curious composer, my musical tastes gravitate towards odd stylistic mixes. It’s challenging to deal with the fact that I, for example, love the orchestra when it’s combined with experimental concepts, modern jazz harmony or hip hop beats but am uninspired by music from the Baroque and Classical periods. I don’t even like Gershwin! I’m very open to whatever’s out there, yet horribly picky; it’s occasionally a very lonely place to be.

Opera is an example of music that has never grabbed me. (audience gasps) Don’t worry, it’ll become clear soon why I’m writing on an opera blog. It has an incredibly powerful and meaningful history and I’m very thankful that it motivates many of my colleagues to pursue their dreams and create their own artistic identities. But, to put it bluntly, I’ve never been engaged by it, and the vibrato level makes me unsure of what pitch the singer’s actually trying to sing. Rather than feeling discouraged or alienated, I’ve since attempted to find more common ground!

One of the large ensemble composers originally from the jazz world that I am most inspired by, Maria Schneider, collaborated with Dawn Upshaw, a renowned American soprano, along with poet Ted Kooser, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the St Paul Chamber Orchestra (who recorded a separate extended composition with Upshaw on the album) and long-time members of her New York-based big band (Jay Anderson on double bass, Frank Kimbrough on piano and Scott Robinson on alto and bass clarinets) to release Winter Morning Walks in 2013. Kooser’s poems (that Schneider set to music) were written during his recovery from cancer, and the extended piece’s text came from Brazilian writer Carlos Drummond de Andrade.

Winter Morning Walks appeals to me not only because it happens to have been produced by Maria Schneider, but if you listen to it, the music kind of sounds operatic, thanks to Dawn, and that’s partially why I’ve been looking at opera a little bit differently. I’m not someone who likes saying, ‘everyone should check out this album’ but I always recommend Winter Morning Walks. I do sometimes feel a disconnect with my opera-loving friends because the music that inspires us to create and perform is quite different, so I often use this album as a kind of ‘gateway’ to help us connect musically on a deeper level: “She’s got an operatic voice, and that mixed with the jazz-influenced harmonic structures and combination of classical orchestration and authentic jazz sensibilities is what makes me love it! Yay! You get me!”  This is an example of music I think the world needs more of, and it’s the reason I write music in the first place. I suspect composers are composers because they’re not quite happy with what’s out there. We’re individually inspired by certain ‘moments’ of music, but aim to fill the ‘gaps’. What those gaps are is subjective depending on the demographic we write for and the music we’ve heard – that selection is unique from person to person and that’s why we have differences in taste.

Largely thanks to the influence of the Maria Schneider Orchestra, the way I usually write for singers is as a wordless ‘instrument’; a silky timbre in my large ensemble writing, and I have worked with many types of singers for commissions, musicals and jazz orchestras. Schneider uses this well, especially in her albums Concert in the Garden and Sky Blue, as well as parts of Winter Morning Walks. At the moment, as well as constantly brainstorming projects, preparing to record an album, getting ready to tour the east coast with my music for jazz orchestra and juggling arranging work for Perth Symphony Orchestra and Perth Cabaret Collective, I’m passionate about connecting with singers who want to say something meaningful and have creative involvement in the concerts they put on. I’d like to see more of these connections exist in Western Australia, and I’ve seen (and Tim.jpgbeen part of) many partnerships between composer and performer that have flourished – it benefits both parties and has the potential to make powerful and emotive art. Similarly, the musical partnership between Dawn Upshaw and Maria Schneider, through mutual encouragement and collaboration, created a beautiful album that serves as a significant signpost in both artists’ careers. One such example that I’m excited about: my girlfriend, blessed with a gentle spirit and an exceptionally creative mind, said to me a few weeks ago that she wanted us to embark on some sort of creative project together. She had lots of ideas, being a classical singer, playwright and actor, and then I thought: “What about an opera with an acapella choir and electronics?” She loved it. This is an example of how my mind works – if I was to write an opera, I didn’t want to discount my own artistic sensibility and write something derivative. I’m really looking forward to working with her to bring our idea to life, because I’m engaging with a myriad of musical traditions but don’t feel like I necessarily have to ‘please’ everyone or write completely within the bounds of one existing culture. That’s always how I approach writing my music, and I’m humbled that everyone I’ve worked with (especially vocalists) has respected that value system. Last night I rehearsed a new work I’m premiering at a concert with three singer mates of mine and live electronics – I was so impressed with how responsive they were to my ideas and thoughts. It resulted in something really meaningful and fun for all of us, and I can’t wait for us to perform it together!

I really believe a truly essential skill as an artist in this industry is to understand where music comes from and to contribute to the tradition in a fresh way that communicates your identity. Winter Morning Walks made me look at opera as something I could perhaps appreciate, and use as a creative outlet. Like everyone, I’m learning to reflect on my own experiences and grow my ear (not literally). It’s crucial to be open to new musical soundworlds, but stand by what you’re into. That’s my process.

Want to suggest cool operas I should listen to? Interested in working with me? Tell me I’m an idiot for not always liking opera? Awesome, I’m all yours.

Written by Tim Newhouse

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