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New composition for Small Heath

January 22, 2015

Category: community

Hello there,

This is Seb, the composer writing for/with the Small Heath community. I wanted to share some ideas on the new piece I’ve been writing in the past few weeks, which is temporarily titled “Small Heath Blues” (but this may eventually stay as is often the case!).

I started my composition process by brainstorming on the ideas that came out of the workshop at the Small Heath Library, looking at the words that the participants used to describe Small Heath, its sounds and its people. Initially I like to work with a notepad and write down random ideas without thinking too much about music.


I started to think about the main concept that I wanted to use, which is that of multi-ethnicities. By talking to several people I realised there’s at least five groups of ethnicities in Small Heath, some very large (for example the Indian subcontinent one) and some much smaller (for example the remnants of the Irish community).

I had then the idea of listening to a lot of music of these ethnicities (the other groups being the Somali, the East-European and the Afro-Caribbean) and decided to transcribe some fragments from particular pieces I liked. Then one of those flashes that affects us composers, since I’m writing for five instruments, I could loosely assign each ethnicity to an instrument.


The second main concept that I wanted to emerge from my composition is the walk that we had to record the sounds of Small Heath. I could identify three main section of the walk: the high street (Coventry Road), the park and the residential neighborhood. It seemed to me that I had to follow the same pattern or structure to make the piece reflect the variety of these three settings. To each section I assigned some key words that emerged from the workshop and some specific samples recorded during the walk.


With the main concepts sorted and some transcription to use as starting point, I felt it was time to get to work. Manuscript paper, a bass guitar by my side and I was ready to draw the first notes!


Without giving out too much about the piece, I can say that I am two thirds into it and I’m planning to complete the last bit by next week. The three main parts (Part 1 being the park) have contrasting moods and the five instruments interact as if they represent the people of Small Heath. Together with them, the samples from the field recording surround the instruments, building around them that specific and unique environment which is Small Heath.