Head of Music Patron, Sonia Stevenson, reflects on spending time with composer Laura Bowler.
The essence of Music Patron is hard to capture. At its heart it’s about creating connections and relationships between patrons and composers. But what does that really mean? What might that connection look like?
Last week I was lucky to spend the day with the incredible composer, performer, producer and all-round wonderful human being Laura Bowler. Laura is one of the 9 composers currently on Music Patron (you can read how we selected these composers here, and you can register your interest as a future composer here).
My time with her encapsulated all that Music Patron is about…
Stepping into a composer’s world
Laura invited me into her beautiful home filled with bold-coloured sofas, bright paintings (some, her own), and the cutest, most-loveable French bulldogs. Walking into her office, I spotted book shelves laden with books on feminism, identity, climate change, poetry and literature of every kind. Her piano and cello stood along one wall, and her desk was filled with notebooks and manuscripts.
There is something very inspiring about seeing a place where an artist brings their creativity to life. Seeing Laura’s world helped me understand her and her music more deeply: her inspirations, her process, her passions.
An eye-opening, deep dive into their music
On Laura’s music stand was a score of her piece FFF. If you’ve never heard it before, you need to watch here. Laura performs it herself and it’s a tour de force! The piece explores the theme of exhaustion and as the music unfolds, the vocal line gets higher and higher, more and more intense, until it morphs into a kind of death metal scream.
Laura explained that she broke down the piece into different sections of emotional intensity e.g. anger, sadness. When rehearsing, she takes each of these sections and practises pushing them to their most extreme intensity.
I loved this piece before, but now I love it even more and I have a whole new appreciation for the craft and talent involved in putting it together.
On the subject of Death Metal screaming…
Laura has the most amazing array of extended vocal techniques (watch the FFF link above to see what I mean), but Death Metal screaming was something new to her. She had to learn how to do it properly and like any vocal technique, it’s something you have to practise hard if you want to get good at.
“How do you do it?” I asked. “Well,” said Laura, “imagine the noise you make when you’re frustrated with something. Make that noise and keep your throat really relaxed. It might feel a bit scratchy or tickle, but it shouldn’t hurt. Now jump and each time you land, make that noise. Try to extend the sound. When you’ve mastered it with your mouth closed, try opening your mouth and making different vowel sounds.”
It turns out I can make a freakishly low and scary rumble. Not a scream yet, but maybe if I practise…? Sign up to the Music Patron newsletter for your own video tutorial from Laura.
From screaming to beautiful lyricism. “Can you give an example of how you use your voice for something lyrical and sustained?” I asked. Laura picked up a copy of Virginia Wolf’s ‘The Waves’, choose a page seemingly at random, and proceed to instantly compose the most beautiful, evocative landscape. I couldn’t believe that the music was being created like this, in the moment. It felt like the seed of an opera.
Later, Laura explained that often she starts her compositional process by singing snatches of text. She showed us some of the sketches and notes from her incredible, genre-breaking opera, The Blue Woman, which premiered at the Royal Opera House last summer.
Game-changing support for composers
We took a break to walk in the stunning, cathedral-like atmosphere of Macclesfield Forest. As we walked, Laura tole me about her journey as a young person growing up in Stoke; the first in her family to make a career as a musician. She faced many barriers along the way, not least that she didn’t even consider composing to be a career or something she was capable of until a teacher heard her perform one of her own pop songs and said “you know, you could be a composer.” Female composers were few and far between: “there were no role models” Laura explained.
Despite this, Laura has gone on to be one of the UK’s most exciting, most ground-breaking composers, most socio-politically driven composers. “I was lucky. When I started out, there were grants and things you could apply for and funding you could access to make your own work and be a DIY composer. Now those opportunities are dwindling and it’s hard to imagine what the next generation of composers will do.”
That’s where Music Patron can be a force for good. For £10+ a month, you can support a composer like Laura, give them the financial confidence to try new ideas and provide game-changing way to shake up the broken ecosystem of new music. And in return? You’ll get to step into a composer’s world, delve deep into their music, experience some serious talent and be inspired. And who knows, maybe you’ll learn to Death Metal scream!