Tag Archives: songwriter

A quick trip home!

16 Mar

At the first workshop of Relish in Immature Bombast, 24 May 2012, Auckland Town Hall. Photo by Oliver Rosser.

At the first workshop of Relish in Immature Bombast, 24 May 2012, Auckland Town Hall. Photo by Oliver Rosser.

I moved to Chicago on 5 January 2015. Three months on, I’ll be back in New Zealand for a couple of weeks.

To clarify for both Chicagoans and Kiwis: no, I’m not moving back. I still definitely live in Chicago. This trip is to fulfil a long-standing commitment with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra because they’re playing my Relish in Immature Bombast again.

If you’re unfamiliar with this piece, it’s for huge-ass pipe organ, full-on funk/rock/jazz drum kit, and symphony orchestra, take a squiz at this video:

The APO is performing this at Open Orchestra Central, at their home venue of the Auckland Town Hall. Reprising their roles are original soloists Tim Noon (organ) and Jono Sawyer (drum kit) – in fact, it’s ten years since Jono and I first worked together in ska band Jonny Doom & The Forcefields. I’ll be introducing the piece as MC and composer, interviewing some of the performers, and also MCing the rest of the afternoon’s proceedings.

Best of all, this event is totally, 100% free. Come to the Auckland Town Hall at 2pm on Saturday 11 April, and hit “Going” on the Facebook event if that’s your thing.

I also have a fundraiser concert!

Sir James Wallace has been quite generous with both his funds and his home – I’ve got a couple of Wallace Arts Trust-funded compositions in the works, and on Sunday 19 April he’s hosting a house concert for me. Poster:

Robbie-Ellis-Rannoch-RGB

I’ve invited two other composer-performers to join me:

Corwin Newall isn’t all that well-known outside of Dunedin, but he and I got to work together quite a bit during my Mozart Fellowship year. He’s got a new song cycle called Scientists (with movements about Alfred Nobel, Nikola Tesla, Gertrude Elion and Ernest Rutherford), which I’m singing and he’s playing on piano. He and I are also working on Douglas Lilburn’s Sings Harry (as well as a few other rarer Lilburn songs), and performing them at a few concerts. Also, he’s quite a nifty wordsmith and comedy songwriter… these skills will also be on display.

Grooves Unspoken album coverYvette Audain‘s axes of choice are saxophone and clarinet. She’ll join me for the North Island première of my new Sonatina for alto saxophone and piano (a piece funded by the Wallace Arts Trust). She’s also a great composer who last year released an album of work called Grooves Unspoken, for which I did the design and layout.

This house concert is on Sunday 19 April, and you can book in one of two ways:
Secure your seat with a donation
– Reserve a place and donate on the night: rannoch@wallaceartstrust.org.nz or 027 472 3669

There’s a recommended donation set at $40: this is kinda necessary because I’ve had to pay for my flights back to New Zealand on this trip (long set in advance). I would love to see you there! RSVP on Facebook if you will.

Also:
Lunchtime concert at the University of Otago, Wed 15 April.
Pre-concert talk for the APO, Thu 16 April.
Lunchtime concert at the University of Waikato, Wed 22 April.
– I do a concert at 1pm in Hamilton, and fly out of Auckland Airport at 7:30pm. Doable.

PS I’m also in Seattle from 1 to 5 April. Will be nice to visit that city again.

Lots of work for one performance.

28 Jul

One grand cliché of being a composer is that it’s straighforward enough to get the first performance of a new work, but damn difficult to get the second. However, some of my favourite experiences have been writing songs that are very much intended never to be done again.

Andrew Grenon benefit posterLast night I MC’d a Wallace Arts Trust fundraiser concert for my flatmate, tenor Andrew Grenon. A lot of Andrew’s supporters know me as his piano partner in Politics The Opera, although it’s been a long time since we’ve made one of those videos. Life gets in the way, you see.

Andrew has a sense of humour and is a Song Sale writer-performer, so he asked me to sing my Root Vegetable Opera at his concert. That’s always huge fun, though when I perform it in the company of actual real opera singers I give a mountain of disclaimers about my vocal technique beforehand! Andrew also told me I was free to introduce the concert as I wished… maybe something musico-dramatic?

Two-and-a-half years ago I was fortunate enough to write the opening number for the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards in Wellington – very much in the style of a Tony Awards opener. That’s a song that has so many specific references to Wellington theatre, film and current events circa 2011 that it will almost certainly never be performed again.

I did something similar for Andrew. The song has so many particular references – e.g. the setting of the concert, the night’s fellow performers, our Grey Lynn flat, his circumstances (heading to the Wales International Academy of Voice), and the country of Wales itself – that it will never be performed again. It’s a one-time bespoke job.

But you know what? Those jobs are bloody fun. You can go as specific as you like, and your song can be tailored exactly for the assembled audience and their context. I get a kick out of making comedy and art out of the timely, specific and the local. That’s no way for a work to appeal to a wide or enduring audience, but I’ve got other material for that. And given that one of my life’s ambitions is to write the opening number for the Tony Awards, I’ve got to take these opportunities to practise the rather niche craft of occasional songs.

I’ve uploaded the sheet music (hang piracy, I’m never going to sell this song for money) and chucked the video on YouTube. Massive thanks to the pianist Claire Caldwell for adding flair to my Sibelius copy-and-paste dots & chord symbols.

Good luck Andrew!

We’re on a radio show about the arts on Sunday

15 Feb

It’s taking me all my will power to avoid writing Arts on Sunday when referring to Radio New Zealand National’s rebranded programme Standing Room Only.

Oh, Lynn Freeman’s still presenting, Simon Morris is still producing, Justin Gregory is still doing his out-and-about reports, but they’ve got a new name for 2014.

Yesterday (Friday) Andrew Grenon and I were interviewed in a pre-record for The Laugh Track, a segment where ostensibly funny people get to select their favourite comedy. They’re going to play bits of our videos under the banner Politics The Opera. Here are those videos:

Our other-people music choices start with Victor Borge’s pastiche of Mozart opera, specifically the bit about tenor arias from 3:47:

Then Corwin Newall’s amazing a cappella number Bass, which I really should have asked to upload to SoundCloud or something… this was a product of Song Sale Dunedin.

Finally, Tim Minchin. Not one of his amazing wordy, wickedly funny numbers with impeccable logical constructions and syllogisms, rather a far less wordy and achingly expressive but less funny number still with impeccable logical constructions and syllogisms:

…but not this recording. The far more beautiful one from Tim Minchin vs the Sydney Symphony that was broadcast on ABC television, which isn’t up on YouTube. That recording has amazingly warm piano sound which balances with and cushions Minchin’s voice, as opposed to the above YouTube clip which pushes the voice way out front and centre, not letting his natural little adjustments to the piano texture leave room for his voice (which they do)… argh. Mixing is hard.

Speaking of mixing (and writing and recording and editing and mastering), I made this theme tune this week for this show:

Anyway, back on topic to me and Andrew, not Christine Brooks. Listen in live at 2pm tomorrow (Sunday)! I can’t, cause I’ll be working. Standing Room Only tends not to podcast the Laugh Track segment, so listening live is usually your only option. DO IT.

Song Sale Auckland

13 Feb

Song Sale, which started in Wellington and which I brought to Dunedin, is starting in Auckland! Almost seems like we’re franchising this thing proper…

I’ve wanted to start Song Sale Auckland since I settled in the city of my birth in May last year. I’ve held off until now because I only entered Auckland’s stand-up comedy scene a couple of months ago. Now I feel I have the contacts to make it work…

So it’s taking place on Monday 24 February at One 2 One Cafe on Ponsonby Rd. (Facebook event here.) According to the poster below:

Not made by a professional graphic designer.

Not made by a professional graphic designer.

We have Augmented Fourth on MC duties. This is me (cause I’m used to hosting Song Sale), and Sam Smith (because I want us to have plenty of performing experience together before our Comedy Fest show in May).

Becky Crouch is a comedian I’ve never met in person, but many in the scene have told me she’d fit right in. Sam Polwart is a comic I’ve come across a good few times, sometimes working musical audience interaction into his sets. Louise Beuvink studied in Dunedin and finished just before I arrived in 2012… all through that year, fellow performers told me she would have been great in Song Sale Dunedin, had she been around. Well, she’s in the very first Song Sale Auckland. Hoorah!

Rounding out the team of songwriters are Penny Ashton (I’ve done music for four of her solo shows); Clare Kelso (like Penny, one of the creative directors of ConArtists); Swaren Veygal (producer/DJ, former Music Director of the University of Otago Capping Show, and Song Sale Dunedin veteran); Josh Clark (choir director/accompanist who is wickedly funny); and my flatmate Andrew Grenon, my flatmate and the tenor with whom I make Politics The Opera videos.

By the way, Andrew and I are getting interviewed for the Laugh Track on Standing Room Only this weekend – after the 2pm news, Sunday on Radio New Zealand National. Listen eh. They don’t tend to podcast that segment so I think listening live is your/our only option.

Haven’t published anything in a while.

21 Aug

My life has been quite bitsy, full of lots of small projects.

Well, here’s one resultable fruit:

The Root Vegetable Opera is an overblown comedy song for mock operatic baritone and piano. Eight months on from the recording session, I’ve mixed the tracks. I don’t sound terrrrible, but I’m no classically trained singer. Corwin Newall, on the other hand, is a classically trained pianist.

On the topic of recording vocals, next week I make a studio recording of Annie & Joshua with my two singers. I’m getting Bridget Costello just a week before she leaves for London to study, but Callum Blackmore’s staying around for ages. Good.

Another composition is finally reaching fruition: I just published Trolling the Tuba to SOUNZ, and it’s getting premièred just outside San Francisco on Friday/Saturday/timezone depending. This is thanks to Jess Rodda and the rest of the International Low Brass Trio, which abbreviates to “ILBT”, which must be either a sandwich or a personality type. They’re going to be performing this work quite a bit over the next few months, including on a Canadiadian tour.

I am making plans for two out-of-town tours myself:
Wellington (15 to 23 September): the 2013 New Zealand Improv Festival is on and I am the Musical Co-ordinator and musician for several shows myself. I’ve got a lot of things I’m looking forward to, but the most involved for me will be Time Lord, a Doctor Who-themed long form directed by David Innes from Melbourne. I’m borrowing synths from Wellington people.
Dunedin (24 September to, uh, something). Song Sale! University Lunchtime Concert! Dunedin Youth Orchestra! Improsaurus (I hope)! All in one week.

Usually I find a picture for posts, so I googled-imaged-searched “most random image on the internet”. This is what arrived.

Happy Wednesday.

Chewbacca wielding a crossbow astride a giant squirrel fighting a regiment of Nazis.

Tele-spruiking

21 Feb

Looking east onto North Pender Island from the Gulf of Georgia.

Looking east onto North Pender Island from the Gulf of Georgia, taken as I write this post.

I write from the ferry between Victoria and Vancouver, in the territorial waters of British Columbia/Washington State/British Columbia. It’s Wednesday 20 February here in North America, but en Nouvelle-Zélande it’s a Thursday at a particular time of the month. This means Song Sale is on in Dunedin!

Now, it is a little odd and a little superfluous for me still to be spruiking for this monthly gig. Yes, I founded it in Dunedin and it was my baby, but now that Daddy has moved to a new city some foster parents have taken responsibility for the rambunctious toddler. Or something. I’m not good at parent-and-guardian analogies.

Regardless, I look from afar wishing all the best for this year’s gigs. I know it will thrive under new management: Corwin Newall is a fantastic writer and performer, and even though he’s young I can see him developing into a really good teacher and director of talent. Gabby Golding is one of the most enthusiastic and organised people I know in the Dunedin arts scene, and late last year she enthusiastically took the reins to organise this mother. (Told you my family member analogies weren’t good.)

They’ve secured funding from both Creative Communities and the Dunedin Fringe Festival, so they must be doing something right – importantly, this means the gigs remain free entry. They’ve also engaged Angus McBryde, a professional, to do their graphics. This is instead of retaining my, uhh, ‘idiosyncratic’ design principles of textual overload. Compare December 2012 and February 2013:

But beyond who manages it, Song Sale is not only an entertaining show for an audience, it’s a valuable vehicle for many different types of creatives.

For a songwriter in the generally-popular-music world, it’s a chance to submit one’s self to a deliberately constrained process: writing something in a hurry. If the song is no good, it can die after its first outing. If it’s great, all the better. If you write enough songs in a hurry, you develop good instincts about which is which and this helps you early in the writing process.

For composers – those trained in a classical, dots-on-paper tradition – Song Sale teaches timing, audience interaction, and Seeing What Works. So many composers are nervous wallflowers, afraid to put themselves out there. While the gig may look terrifying to total introverts, the vibe of the show means The Audience is On Your Side. Even if you try and fail, the audience will still love and support you.

That’s a precept of improv theatre as well – worth mentioning since many Song Salers are members of Improsaurus. The audience doesn’t come to a show to see the perfect response to any situation, they go along to see what on earth the response ends up being. There’s always a little thrill for an individual audience member when that person’s own suggestion is picked up and turned into a scene (for improv) or a song (for Song Sale), but even if the suggestion didn’t come out of your own mouth, you still feel like you have a stake in it: it came from the room and You Were There.

Added to this, many improvisers are also stand-up comedians and many stand-up comedians incorporate music. Song Sale is a pretty sweet song development laboratory, and it bubbles up musically comedic moments that don’t occur when you deliberately craft songs on your own. After a year-and-a-half of Song Sales in both Wellington and Dunedin, I have a heeeap of songs that have had several outings, become more refined and cogent, and could be turned into a solo show and/or an album.

If you’re reading this from Dunedin, do turn up tonight: 7pm at The Church, 50 Dundas St. The gig has a new structure (or a structure full stop): an established act performs for the first half – tonight it’s Reed Street Posse from Oamaru – and the commissions come after the interval. As always – and with gracious thanks to Creative Communities funding – entry is free and commissions are $5 per song. Here’s the Facebook event – go forth and spread.

The power to surpr**SPANISH INQUISITION Y’ALL**

2 Oct

Radio New Zealand last week, and Television New Zealand this week. All I need to do is resurrect NZPA from the dead and I’d have the trifecta.

Megan Martin and Ross The Cameraman from TVNZ’s Dunedin bureau came along to the most recent Song Sale at The Church. She filed this report for Close Up in which we sing of blenders, root vegetables, the onset of Spring, spiteful inheritances, and Mark Sainsbury.

Next Song Sale is Thursday 25 October, btw.

Mark Sainsbury, Megan Grinlinton & Trubie-Dylan Smith on Close Up
Singing up a storm

The red piano.

26 Sep

Last week I was in Wellington and I had the opportunity to play He Kōrero Pūrākau mo te Awanui o Te Motu, that bright red piano ornately carved by Michael Parekowhai. I had a friend video some of the performances at Te Papa.

Here’s the YouTube playlist. It contains attempted Maori strum in Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi (yes, bajingajink on piano), a singalong on Poi E, a New Zealand music lesson on Pōkarekare Ana, the Split Enz classic Message to My Girl, and Beyoncé’s Single Ladies.

And as a bonus, here’s Trubie-Dylan Smith’s Das kraftwerkische Blenderlied performed at the last Song Sale:

Last of all, a quick notice: on Friday, Improsaurus performs their first ever long-form improvised musical. It’s called Improv: The Musical. We’ve been working really hard to get this up and running, I’m looking forward to it.

Book advance tickets here, or passively hit attending on Facebook and risk there being no door sales.

LEN LYE a review

7 Sep

I’m in Auckland until this afternoon. I came up on Wednesday to see my former composition lecturer’s new piece LEN LYE the opera, and to review it for Theatreview. (Actually there are more like four of my old teachers among the core creative team…)

It’s “a major statement of advocacy for the overlooked genius and forward-thinking artistry of Len Lye”. My review’s here. The NBR and the Herald carry shorter write-ups.

Today I meet with Penny Ashton, Thomas Sainsbury and James Wenley about musicals in various stages of development.

Next week I sing as a “baritone” on the stage of Marama Hall in Dunedin and play with the Court Jesters in Christchurch.

The week after I get to play Michael Parekowhai’s red carved piano at Te Papa in Wellington, and I do my first gig in Invercargill.

Life’s pretty good.

Instant Songwriting – now in dead tree form!

17 Aug

Dear world,

A while ago I contributed some backing tracks to a book project. Instant Songwriting is written by Chicago actor/teacher Nancy Howland Walker. It’s a series of exercises designed for improvisers who want to acquire that magic skill of song construction in the moment.

Through the first half of this year, its four parts (Dunce, Decent, Distinguished and Diva) were published as individual ebooks on Smashwords. Now the whole thing has been printed in paperback.

BUY IT FROM AMAZON NOW NOW NOW! It’s US$15.95 and eligible for free Super Saver Shipping, as they say.

If you need further inducement, many many tracks from the book (possibly all?) are freely available on the Instant Songwriting website. I’m in the company of amazing musos from around the world like Michael Pollock (Second City Los Angeles & Improv Olympic West), Mike Descoteaux (Boston ex Chicago), Jeff Bouthiette (Second City Chicago), Kris Anderson (Brisbane) and Joe Samuel (London). Tracks by me include a cheesy bossa, a big pub waltz, and a metal thing without much of a consistent key centre.

Next week, Improsaurus begins training for their first ever long-form musical. Instant Songwriting will be an important teaching text for me.

BUY IT NOW NOW NOW.


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