Being personal

Why are any two songs heard together?

Maybe they were together on a playlist, or a concert programme, or a radio show.

Maybe they are popular with a target demographic of which you may or may not be a part. Maybe they were randomly selected from a group of songs you like. Maybe an algorithm chose them based on your previous listening. 

Sometimes songs are more carefully selected and ordered, with attention to how each track relates to what comes before and afterwards - as in a concert programme or a mixtape. 

So what is that connects songs to each other? 

There are some really lame concert programmes with vague biographical, thematic or geographical links between each piece - not to say that these links can't be meaningful and creative sometimes. But I've always been more interested an approach led by personal feeling - which is messy, irrational, hard to categorise or tidy up.    

In 2011 I designed and produced a concert project called Being Personal as part of my study at the Royal Academy of Music, putting forward the argument for authenticity and for putting together music based on what it meant to one person (me, in this case!). 

See also my post A journey in music from Jan 2017.


Here's my pitch.


Ed Scolding – Concert Project Proposal (revised version September 2011)

“If Katy Perry didn’t exist, it’s hard to imagine anyone having the imagination to invent her.”
London Evening Standard, 18th March 2011

So who is Katy Perry? The Standard continues ‘… she’s such a saucy seaside postcard that she appeals to young girls and men old enough to know better alike… she’s the perfect 21st Century pop star.’ The paper goes to describe her variously sliding, crooning, multiple-costume-changing show, a ‘candy-scented, visually arresting, faintly ludicrous joy’.

What is unimaginable about that? Where is Perry in the swirl of frocks and lighting? Her website insists that she writes “all her own material. ‘You’re getting a pure connection to the artist,’ Katy says. ‘You’re not getting some idea of what that artist should be, you’re getting a direct voice.’” In that case, were she unfortunate enough to be secretly abducted by aliens, how long would the brand of Katy Perry be able to carry on without her? What part of her music, her singing, her songs, concerts, recordings, comes uniquely – directly – from her? Would the Standard’s reviewer really have noticed a substituted lip-syncing Katy Perry look-alike?

Certainly Perry is not alone, but emblematic of a group, and one not defined by genre, or even art form. Money takes precedence over authenticity. “The principles of the market reign supreme,” commented Sir Peter Maxwell Davies in 2008[1], describing recent art works as “manufactured artefacts without content.” A year earlier, in making and selling his diamond-encrusted skull, ‘For the Love of God’, Damien Hirst explicitly used and celebrated the truth that “(visual) art has turned into money.” (Jonathan Jones in the Guardian[2])

So how can we wade through the marketing to produce truly authentic art? Art critic John Ruskin offers a possibility in his 1866 speech to a group of Yorkshire investors: “tell me what you like, and I'll tell you what you are.”[3] By revealing what we like, we show who we are. We invite others to share what we are, to reject, to rejoice. We acknowledge our true self to whichever God, community, elders, partner or pet is available, and have from their reaction the opportunity to accept and change as we need to: or to ignore them.

My response therefore is to show who I am. I am a composer, a person deeply moved, impressed and inspired by music, so a powerful way to share myself is through a concert. It must be profoundly, truthfully personal in order to be authentic. It will be a dissection of myself as a composer into a concert: my choice of pieces that I am close to; my compositions illustrating in greatest depth my musical personality; my creative transcriptions of music that inspires me to respond; my arrangement of all this music in the concert. It will be a highly personal, subjective picture of what I like, of what I am.

My concert will show authenticity in all its uniqueness and vulnerability. It will show that we need not aspire to the so-called individuality represented in the manufactured mainstream, that authentic is good: the best music is the most authentic music, whether performed, written, or listened to.

[1] From Davies’ speech to the British Academy of Composers & Songwriters, 8 October 2008.

[2] Jones, Jonathan Damien Hirst’s skull tasteless? That’s the point (February, 2011) (Accessed 20/3/11)

[3] Ruskin, John. ‘Traffic’ The Crown of Wild Olive & The Cestus of Aglaia Ed. Ernst Rhys. (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1915) 52