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Inspired: a Life of Breath composition competition

Inspired is a competition for students studying Music at the University of Bristol, to compose a breathing-related piece for the acclaimed trombone quartet Bones Apart. The winner will be chosen by composer, conductor and Professor of Composition John Pickard, and Teaching Fellow in Composition Louis Johnson, both of the Dept. Music, University of Bristol. The winner will receive £500 in prize money, and the piece will be premiered and recorded by Bones Apart, at 1.15pm on April 28th 2017 as part of the regular series of free lunchtime concerts, in the main auditorium of the Victoria Rooms. It will be followed by a brass masterclass led by Bones Apart (also free, and also open to the public) later on that afternoon.

In collaboration with the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute, and as part of the Festival of Ideas, Life of Breath is putting on Feel It, an arts festival exploring pain, breathing and performance. Inspired asks entrants to take their inspiration from attending one of the breathing-related events at the Feel It Festival (Circomedia, Portland Square, Bristol, Nov 17th-20th 2016). All the talks, screenings, performance and exhibitions at the festival are free, and the breathing-related events are as follows: The Measure of Breath (the opening night premiere is sold out, but there are still tickets available for the Sunday matinee performance); Howl, focused on pain and breathlessness in dogs; Night of Breath, a double bill of specially composed choral work and dance; A Painful Silence, which considers pain and breathlessness in domestic violence; Finding Stillness Through Breath, an opportunity for guided meditation; and the exhibition, which will run throughout the festival in the spaces around the performance areas. Given how often pain is expressed (or relieved) through breathing, entrants are encouraged to attend some of the other pain-related events, and can find a full programme on the Feel It webpages.

Bones Apart prove (if proof were needed) that the larger brass instruments are not the exclusive territory of male musicians. They are first-class musicians, teachers and performers, and entrants should feel able to compose accordingly. The piece should be no more than five minutes long, and should aim to show that the composer has thought carefully about breath and breathing. Finally, the entry should be accompanied by a 500-word essay explaining the link between the source material and the final piece. Entries must be received by midnight on February 1st 2017 and the winner will be chosen and notified later that month. Entries should be submitted electronically as sheet music (ideally in .pdf) and emailed to the Project Manager Jess Farr-Cox at Any questions should also be directed to Jess.

For those who are new to composing for trombone, it might be helpful to remember that tenor trombones are in Bb. Up until the 1960s, bass trombones in G were common in the UK, but have since been replaced by a larger bore version on the Bb and F tenor trombone, with the addition of a second valve (either in Eb or Gb). As a guide, the practical range of a Bb & F tenor trombone is G (3 ledger lines below the bass clef) up to a high D (second line down in treble clef). Notes above that up to a high F are possible, but it depends on context, dynamic, duration, etc. The bass trombone range goes from a ‘pedal’ C (two octaves below C on 2nd space in bass clef) up to G above bass clef. With the low range (pedal C up to an octave above), there are limits to how fast a run of notes in this range can be played, again depending on context. With the high range, as with the tenor trombone’s top range, the bass trombone can also play above a high G up to a C, but again this will depend on the context, duration, dynamics and so forth. Various mutes are available: straight (metal or fibre; fibre will give a slightly softer sound), cup and bucket. Some notes in the low range can be tricky when muted. Please note that the harmon mute and plunger mute both need to be held/operated with the left hand, so this rules out any notes using the F (or other) valve. Therefore, only the Bb tenor range should be used when these mutes are utilised.

You can follow Life of Breath (@lifeofbreath), Bones Apart (@bonesapart) and Feel It (@feelitfestival) on Twitter.


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