Broody Mary


Two images of Mary I and Katherine of Aragon (top)

McCaldin Arts is excited to announce a new project with some old friends: Andy Rashleigh, who wrote such magnificent words for Vivienne, and Martin Bussey, whose music I first sang at the Ludlow Festival a couple of years ago.

We agreed we want to make a work featuring the Tudor Queens Katherine of Aragon, her daughter Mary I, Elizabeth I, with reference to the other wives of Henry VIII. Andy and Martin are both extremely well-read in this area of English history, which I am definitely not. So I have been catching-up by reading various books by Alison Weir, David Starkey, Jessie Childs, David Loades and Anna Whitelock.

Mary I has had a bad press. It suited her successors to denigrate her and she is chiefly remembered as Bloody Mary for her persecution of Protestant heretics.

But there’s so much more to her that she has become the key figure in our project.

Mary’s rule was in many ways unhappy, even disastrous, but she made political and legal changes without which it is unlikely that Elizabeth I could have reigned so successfully. Mary’s private story is not only sad because of her inability to bear the child she so longed-for but is also at the heart of her failures as a ruler because her deeply Catholic conscience could not substitute for the political astuteness she lacked. Several books have recently rehabilitated Mary’s image and our piece is essentially sympathetic to her in recognising her significant achievements while acknowledging her as a woman of her time.

Having completed our research and found our target, we are now ready to start writing the piece. I think I will leave that bit to Andy and Martin.

Listen to Martin’s song A Church Romance which I sang on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune with Iain Burnside.


Shedding some light with TORCH

TORCH Research Centre in the HumanitiesI’m delighted that I have been accepted, with Dr Toby Young of Somerville College, Oxford University, for a Knowledge Exchange Fellowship project with TORCH, the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities. Our work is entitled Transforming the Operatic Voice and is a ten-month research piece to explore the philosophical and technical space that exists between operatic and pop singing. We aim to develop innovative approaches and techniques with which to compose and perform contemporary opera and other vocal music. In addition to vocal production, register and timbre, we will be examining aspects of groove, pitch manipulation, expressivity, ornamentation and treatment of text.

Toby is a composer whose work explores the boundaries between pop music and sonic art. His academic research looks at the philosophy of creativity, in particular exploring the relationship between aesthetics, culture and the creative mind. This joint piece of work with McCaldin Arts brings together Toby’s academic expertise and experience as a practicing musician with our skill-set based more specifically in live acoustic performance.  A series of public workshops will explore the commonalities of approach in opera and pop and form the basis of a new programme of work by McCaldin Arts.

Haydn’s London Ladies in London

mccaldin artsThe next performance of Haydn’s London Ladies, in which I am joined by Paul Turner (piano), will be at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge, on the evening of Tuesday 20th September at 7.30pm.

It’s three years since I first premiered the show at the Foundling Museum, since when it has developed from an hour-long experiment into a full-length concert. The original group of four ‘London Ladies’, whose stories interleave with Haydn’s own, has been increased with one new Lady, along with the music associated with her.

I am very excited to be performing the show in its new form in London for the first time and am already working on another show that uses a similar format to weave the musical items together around a central storyline.

Tickets for Haydn’s London Ladies will be available soon via the St Paul’s Church website. St Paul’s is at 32a Wilton Place, London SW1X 8SH

Summer English Song on 5 June

21 apr fb eventMy next recital at St Paul’s Knightsbridge is with baritone Paul Sheehan and two composers, Stephen Dickinson and Rob Keeley. We will be performing familiar songs by Peter Warlock (three Shakespeare settings) and Gerald Finzi (the song-cycle, To a Poet), which we have paired with works by our composer-pianists. Stephen Dickinson’s What Have You In Your Heart? sets seven poems from AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, and Rob Keeley’s Five Stevie Smith Songs offer a strongly contrasted style, both poetically and musically.

Sunday 5 June, 2.30pm, St Paul’s Knightsbridge.
Tickets are £10 (£5 concessions) on the door.

The full programme is as follows:

It was a lover and his lass (duet) – Vaughan Williams

Three Shakespeare Songs – Warlock
Sigh No More Ladies
Take, O Take Those Lips Away
Pretty Ring Time

Five Stevie Smith Songs – Keeley
La Gretchen de nos jours
Le singe qui swing
Tender only to one
Will ever?

What Have You In Your Heart? – Dickinson
When I Was One And Twenty
Loveliest Of Trees
Is My Team Ploughing
Oh, When I Was In Love With You
White In The Moon
From Far, From Eve And Morning
If Truth In Hearts That Perish

To a Poet – Finzi
To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence
On parent knees
The Birthnight
June on Castle Hill
Ode on the Rejection of St Cecilia

Our Revels Now Are Ended (duet) – Dickinson

29 April launch date for Notes from the Asylum

notes from the asylum cdI’m delighted to announce that 29th April is the confirmed date for the release of my second CD, Notes from the Asylum, by Champs Hill Records. Pianist Libby Burgess and clarinettist Catriona Scott join me on the CD, which features songs by Purcell, Abrams, Brahms, Wolf and Rorem, chosen to complement the central themes in Stephen McNeff’s Vivienne, recorded here for the first time.

To read more about the recording project and watch the introductory video, follow this link.

Romantic words and music for Valentine’s Day

Download song text translations here

mccaldin artsMcCaldin Arts’ first performance of the year is at 3pm on Sunday 14 February. Created especially by writer Di Sherlock, this hour-long event combines poems by WB Yeats with the songs of Schumann and Wagner in a seamless conversation between words and music, performed by Clare McCaldin (mezzo) with Libby Burgess (piano) and Di Sherlock (reader).

2016 is the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, so there’s likely to be much made this year of Yeats’ Irish nationalism. We wanted to explore something rather different with this programme, which reflects on nineteenth-century Romantic notions of Love and Beauty.

Frauenlieben und -leben and the Wesendonck Lieder are interleaved with poems from throughout Yeats’ life, including Prayer for my Daughter, Wild Swans at Coole and When You Are Old, plus sung settings of The Salley Gardens and The Cloths of Heaven.

The concert is at St Paul’s Church, 32a Wilton Pl, London SW1X 8SH.

Tickets £10 (£5 concessions) on the door.

Plans for 2016

The new year is starting with a buzz of activity at McCaldin Arts, dusting off existing projects for performance and preparing the ground for new work.

Haydn’s London Ladies has grown from an hour-long to a two-part presentation with interval and is getting a first performance in this new version at the Swindon Recital Series on 7 Feb. Enlarging the recital has enabled us to bring in a fifth Lady, Emma Hamilton, whose story justifies a whole show in itself, and to introduce some extra music. As well as excerpts from less-known pieces such as The Battle of the Nile, we will also perform the cantata Arianna a Naxos, a piece of which Emma Hamilton sang with Haydn at the keyboard.

We eagerly anticipate the release of Clare’s new solo CD with Libby BurgessNotes from the Asylum – which is due out any day now. Read more about the project here.

New songs are in the pipeline from Rob Keeley and Toby Young, as well as longer-term projects in development with Martin Ward and Martin Bussey.

We are also pleased to announce our involvement with a new charitable organisation – New Notes & Noises – which will be helping us to develop and present new work in the future. There will be more information on this over the next few weeks.

Happy Christmas

clare mccaldin

Clare performing at a Christmas concert at Leighton House earlier this month

Thank you for following me and my work both here and on my personal website. It’s been a busy year of new and exciting work. The promise of 2016 is, if anything, even exotic and demanding.

You can read back over my previous Newsletters by going to the dedicated page.

Have a peaceful Christmas break and a prosperous New Year.

Conference Call

Clare McCaldin & Toby Young at UCLThis summer’s exploratory project with composer Toby Young and the dancers Estela Merlos and Thomasin Gülgeç has had an extended life, in the form of a joint paper delivered by Toby and me at a recent conference.

We made a twenty-minute presentation on Discourses of metaphor and gesture: towards a collaborative language as part of the day organised by the UCL Institute of Education. The overall conference title was Music and movement as process and experience and, as the event was hosted by the Royal Academy of Dance, a significant portion of the audience were teachers of dance and those in development as teachers.

The day revealed a wide and interesting range of philosophical approaches to the experience of dance as well as the process of making, and examined the important issue of how dancers and musicians communicate.



Towards a new language

FullSizeRenderLast week I worked with composer Toby Young and two dancer-choreographers, Estela Merlos and Thomasin Gülgeç to develop a new multi-media work from scratch. Thanks to the generosity of the Rambert company – with whom Estela and Thom previously danced – we based ourselves in a studio at Rambert’s spacious new home on the South Bank.

This was the first time that the four of us had worked together as a group. We carried equal weight as creative decision-makers, which was a first for me. As a singer I am still far more used to being handed a completed score at the end of the process, rather than encouraged to contribute to the thought and structure underpinning a piece. I found it challenging and rewarding to have to think in this way.

We had an agreed starting-point; the experience of being physically “locked in”, as described by Jean-Dominique Bauby in his memoir, The Diving-Bell & the Butterfly. We were keen to avoid literal narration or illustration; however, the immobility and the psychogical experience reported by Bauby, as well as by the rare souls who have recovered from being locked in, suggested themes around stasis, flesh, interior landscape, hallucination and memory. Memories overlap in the locked-in experience with hallucinations (constructed memories in some sense), erupting into the patient’s awareness and then abruptly vanishing. Through these ideas we also found ourselves circling back to a preliminary discussion about Camillo’s Theatre of Memory and the location of memories in physical space.

Estela Merlos, Thomasin Gulgec & Clare McCaldinA fundamental challenge for us has been to learn to understand each others’ terms of reference and, particularly, use of metaphor in relation to the work. Our creative starting-point was the same but once we start talking about abstractions, we came up against differences in the way we exploit metaphor creatively. This has been one of the most fascinating discoveries of our work together and our learning to communicate about this directly mirrored the search for a new language at the heart of the piece itself.

For example, the idea of a cave can represent any number of things metaphorically and, in a literal sense, might have suggested a way to think about the performing area. As an impetus for devising, ‘cave’ was something around whose many associations Estela and Thom could improvise as a way of generating choregraphic material. The idea ‘cave’ therefore not only generates, but also comes to signify, a created phrase or section. The noun becomes shorthand for that whole sequence and part of the map in the dancers’ heads that enables them to memorise their material. We non-dancers realised that the cave idea is not necessarily indicative of a scenario within the piece but is part of the chain of images forming the road-map for the dance, independent of a phrase’s technical ‘grammar’, which may continue to be tweaked for greater beauty or clarity.

Estela Merlos, Thomasin Gulgec & Clare McCaldinThe question of what overall shape the piece should take emerged relatively early, not least because Toby and I agreed that we like working within some kind of musical limits. Assessing and editing the quality of our own work was straightforward enough, but critiquing our colleagues’ work was much more challenging. The sheer beauty of what they do is undeniable but how do we know how good it is? As we ‘got our eye in’ over the course of the week and began to read the structure of their choreography more clearly, we felt more confident to offer our opinion. I suspect Estela and Thom may have had a similar experience with our musical offerings.

In the end, the piece comprised four sections: Rebirth – Animal – Immoveable – New Paths. Toby also proposed the idea of the madrigal – several different lines voicing a common experience – as an analogue for different kinds of inner voices, memories and hallucinations. Having settled on this, we immediately access to a classical language of imitation, ornamentation and vocal gesture that could be mixed with a the more modern forms of Drum & Bass. Toby still roughed out ideas on the piano as we improvised, but the laptop became a key tool to source, sample and mix sounds on the spot, including a heartbeat and electronic tones suggested by the worlds being explored.

Multi-tracking my voice on the three lines of the madrigal opened up options for me to sing live with myself or to participate in the choreography. We were all keen to explore whether we could cross even partially into each others’ territory. Estela and Thom sang a bit and I danced a bit. I can confirm that it’s not easy to move so fluently!

Estela Merlos, Thomasin Gulgec & Clare McCaldin Finally, how to finish the piece? We wanted to make a positive statement. Reports differ on the positive and negative emotions experienced by those who are locked in, but we didn’t want the experience of watching our work to leave people feeling hopeless about the subject. New Paths developed in part from Bauby’s description of “beginning to forge glorious substitute destinies for myself”. In the imagination one can experience the ecstatic freedom that is denied by the body’s actual immobility. Within the piece, this justified my move from the edge of the stage to full participation in the dance and was supported by a climactic build in the music. The rightness of this creative decision was bourne out by comments from our invited audience, with whom we discussed the piece after we had performed it.