Our Composer Scholar Talks About His New Work

  Friday, 11 December 2020

Our composer scholar Paul Dunkerley has written about the process of composing his piece for the chorus - Plural Absurdity

After previously completing a two-year performance diploma at Leeds College of Music, I decided to stay on and study composition at degree level - it was during my second year of this in which the opportunity of the scholarship arose. I saw it as a unique opportunity which not only offered the possibility of my work being given time by such an experienced ensemble, but would provide the chance to work under the direction of such an established conductor as Simon. This gave me both invaluable practical guidance, but also outlined important contextual factors surrounding the evolution of British choral repertoire, and the dedication of the people involved in making these experiences possible.


So, going from wanting to write a choral work to 'you are writing a choral work' was a somewhat sobering realisation! But there were two important aspects which undoubtedly steered me accordingly: how I was able to experience first-hand the work of the chorus on Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius and its subsequent performance with Barry Banks and Sarah Connolly at Leeds Town Hall - an incredible experience which affected me greatly and showed me unequivocally what Leeds Festival Chorus is capable of. In addition to this, it was Simon's reassurance that whatever I wanted to write must be exactly that: it must be what you want to write.


Plural Absurdity comes from the increasing significance I found the role of philosophy to have upon my compositional research interests whilst finishing my degree, which was further narrowed down with this piece through my fascination with paradox - therefore, everything in the piece was created from having a paradoxical basis. Before I began work on the piece, I did a considerable amount of reading into the philosophy of paradox, and how through approaches of classical logic such absurd conclusions can be drawn from our understandings of language. There were of course innumerable ways in which this could be approached, but I like to think of this work as being along the lines of a singularity, whereby individual elements are presented as being incapable of existing simultaneously, yet are forced to do exactly that; but crucially, only through performance can this be said to be the case. 


The text was chosen due to its own paradoxical nature, and I decided to use both English and the original Greek (despite clichéd concerns surrounding ‘Greek’ and ‘Paradox’) as it is through the construction of language in which these logical flaws are found. I also found it paradoxical to use a biblical text for a non-sacred work, especially given the way in which I approached the text was not one of concern for the meaning of each word as it is realised, but rather on the basis of the qualities of sound they each possess.


I would also like to highlight my gratitude to everyone involved in spending time on this work – given the current disarray in social norms having such a turbulent effect on everyone, I can offer only my unreserved thanks that Plural Absurdity continues to be included in the chorus’s plans. I hope everyone is keeping safe whilst we await the return of normality.