February 3, 2004
Myriad : Hello, Ms Weatherwax,
thanks for answering some questions. You won the First Prize in the
4th Friendly Music Contest with your piece "Silver
Apples of the moon" and we wish first to know who you are.
Could you please introduce yourself ?
Esmeralda Weatherwax is actually two people. For the rest of this
interview we will call ourselves Esme1 and Esme2.
Esme1 : All my ancestors are Welsh but I was born and brought up in
London. I have now reached the ripe old age of 50 and live in
Cornwall. From my window I can see the sea.
Myriad : What kind of hardware are
you using ?
Esme2 : We have an old iBook with a 300MHz processor, 3GB hard disc
and 160MB's of RAM and are using Mac OS X. We're trying to save up
for something better as it has become impossible to keep all our
software on such a "small" hard disc.
Myriad : How did your interest in
music develop ?
Esme1 : I remember as a small child listening to my mother's Mozart
records, but even then I found his music too bland. When she got
some Palestrina and Bach I started to take an interest. It was when
I bought some old recordings of Beethoven's late string quartets
that I became completely hooked by music. As a child I listened to
those old recordings many times over. Later, as a teenager, I
started to learn classical guitar, piano and violoncello and also
became interested in composition and song-writing. In my mid
twenties I lost interest in music and took up art instead. I think
that my problem was that I am left-handed and very clumsy, and
could never get a musical instrument to make the sounds that I
could hear in my head.
About four years ago I discovered Harmony Assistant and Virtual
Singer. I was particularly amazed by Virtual Singer --- if I had
had that software to help me with my song-writing 35 years ago I
would probably now be a rich, famous, disgusting, wrinkly,
dissolute, coffin-dodging old rock star; whereas, alas, in my
twilight years I find myself neither rich, nor famous, nor a rock
star. I have Myriad to thank for the rebirth of my interest in
Myriad : Do you play an instrument
(or several) ?
Esme2 : Between us we have played the guitar, piano, cello, violin,
banjo, penny whistle, saxophone, flute, accordion and various
home-made instruments. Now the only instruments that we possess are
the beautiful harmonica which you sent us as our competition prize
and this juicy Apple computer.
Myriad : What are your tastes in
music ? You can quote artists or music genres if you
Esme1 : Over a lifetime my tastes in music have been very wide. I
will resist the temptation to give you a long lists of all my
favourites. Here are just a few...
In the realm of classical music I like everything from Palestrina
and Monteverdi, through Bach and Beethoven. I like 20th century
music from Stravinsky and Berg, Webern, through John Cage and
In Blues I like B B King, Muddy Waters, L C Robinson, Johnny
Shines, John Littlejohn and loads more.
In Rock I like everything from Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa
through to Radiohead. Anything that is creative and
experimental, and not bland.
In Jazz I like everything from Charlie Parker onwards and I
particularly like listening to Wayne Shorter nowadays. (Oh, and she
likes the jazz guitar of John McGlaughlin.)
In Folk music the list is way too long and includes artists from
Pakistan to Africa and elsewhere --- but my all time favourite folk
group is the Irish band, the Dubliners.
Esme2 : For those in the UK, our favourite listening is Friday
night on BBC Radio 3 --- “Mixing It" at 10.15pm, followed by
"Jazz on 3" at 11.30pm until 1.00am..
Myriad : More precisely, what are
you currently listening to ?
Esme1 : At this precise moment I am listening to a song called
"Papa was a Rodeo" by Magnetic Fields. Recently we have been
listening a lot to The White Stripes, and to Radiohead.
Myriad : And what kind of music
don't you listen to anymore ?
Esme2 : I have always had a blind spot for classical music of the
Late Romantic Period (1850 - 1900). Too slushy, romantic and over
Myriad : If you had to chose a
piece to be put into a capsule to be sent to the inhabitants of
Alpha Centauri, what would be your choice ?
Esme1 : I would want to send them something that communicated what
it is to be human --- something earthy, intelligent, emotional and
spiritual. I would choose Pablo Casals playing Bach's six Solo
Cello Suites because in these pieces both the performer and the
composer express all of these aspects of human nature sublimely
Myriad : If you had to be cut off
from the world for a whole year, what are the two albums you would
take away with you ?
Esme1&2 : It would have to be our two favourite
Nick Drake - the album "Way to Blue" (especially "River Man",
"Things behind the Sun", "Northern Skies", "Pink Moon", and the
brilliant "Black-eyed Dog") In fact, everything by Nick Drake --- a
Tom Waits - the album "Small Change" (especially "Tom Traubert's
Blues", "The piano has been drinking", and "Pasties and a
G-String".) In fact, everything by Tom Waits --- perfect drinking
Myriad : What was your source of
inspiration for the piece with which you won the contest
Esme2 : The song "Silver Apples of the Moon" is not actually our
favourite song and we were a bit surprised to win the competition
with it. (Esme1 prefers "To Earthward", whereas Esme2 likes "Full
of Ghosts".) Anyway, it is a setting of "The Song of Wandering
Aengus" by the poet William Butler Yeats and the poem itself was
our source of inspiration. We'd wanted to set a poem by William
Butler Yeats to music for some time, but many of his poems are too
long to fit easily into a song. Then we came across this poem, and
it was was perfect.
Myriad : What was your method of
composition (technical details will be of interest for the readers)
Esme1 : We have several methods of composition. Our main method is
to keep a folder full of ideas which we call our "Compost Heap";
these ideas may consist of a few chords that sound good together,
or a scrap of melody, or a couple of lines of lyrics, or a special
effect, etc... These ideas are usually discovered when we are
playing with Harmony Assistant, and they are rarely more than about
4 bars long. At the moment our compost heap has more than a hundred
of these short files in it, collected over several years --- they
will all get used eventually. When we are writing a song or piece
of music and we need to find a second theme or a development idea
or something that will bring the piece to life, we dig through the
compost heap and invariably find something that helps the new piece
to grow. Our piece "Cornish Rhapsody", for instance, is almost
entirely made up of ideas that we collected on the compost heap
over the period of about a year.
Esme2 : Most of my songs are settings of poems by famous poets.
When I first choose a poem to set to music, I spend about a week
reading it to myself over and over, until I have memorised the
natural rhythm of the words and have absorbed the meaning and sound
of the poem. Also during this time I develop an emotional response
to the poem which helps when I set it to music. By that point I
will have decided which style of music best suits the poem and I
find that a melody then comes naturally because I know the poem so
well. The notes of the melody are often an exaggeration of the rise
and fall of the voice when speaking the poem. The rhythm of the
melody is an exaggeration of the spoken rhythm of the words. In
this way the melody grows naturally from the words.
Myriad : Do you have an anecdote
to recount ? Not necessarily related to your piece, but related to
music in general.
Esme1 : When I was twelve I went to London to see Pierre Boulez
conducting a concert of modern music. The concert included his own
piece "Le marteau sans maître" which I was very taken with at
the time. After the concert I rushed around to the stage door to
get his autograph. As he came out, I elbowed my way through his
acolytes and asked him to write a couple of bars of music from the
piece and put his signature beneath it. As a budding composer I
remember being very disappointed that he had to get somebody to
hold a score up so that he could copy some notes from it. I thought
that as he had written the piece and had just conducted it, that he
should know it all from memory. He was very charming and polite. I
have recently seen a copy of the score and can now understand
entirely why he had not memorised it.
Myriad : What are your goals or
your projects in relation to music ?
Esme2 : This is a difficult question. For the last year we have
written very little music because we want to use the Gold Soundbase
and yet it won't fit onto our hard disc. Our first priority is to
get a swanky new 15 inch Apple Powerbook. Once we have a bit more
digital power we have various plans. Esme1 is interested in
computer programming and computer generated music. Esme2 is more
interested in finding strange new harmonies and melodic lines. Who
knows where it will take us. Both of us like to write in a wide
variety of styles.
Myriad : Do you have a personal
Web site ?
Esme1 : Not yet. One day maybe. We don't have enough time or money
to set up a web site at the moment.
Myriad : Do you want to give a
message or some advice to the readers of this interview
Esme2 : This is a piece of advice that I try to follow myself.
Avoid excessive repetition in your music. Listen to your own music
as objectively as you can, and if, at any point during the piece,
you begin to feel bored, you should ruthlessly edit the music and
enter a new musical idea at that point. You can be sure that if
your music bores you it will also bore your audience. In my
experience as a judge in the Myriad Music Competition I find that
repeat signs are too often used to make a short piece longer. That
isn't a good reason for repetition.
Myriad : What other questions
would you have wanted to be asked ? What would have been your
answers then ?
Q. Who wrote Ravel's Bolero ?
A. I don't know, but whoever it was should be dug up and shot !!
(See note above on the tedium of excessively repetitive music.)
Q. Is your name really Esmeralda Weatherwax ?
A. No. We took the name from Esme2's favourite literary heroine
(Esmeralda Weathwerwax is a bad tempered old witch in the DiscWorld
books of Terry Pratchett --- she is very similar in many ways to
Q. What is your real name ?
A. We're not telling you.
Q. Why not ?
A. Because. Anyway, you wouldn't have heard of us. (See note above
on lack of fame and riches.)
Q. Which pieces of Esmeralda Weatherwax's music were written by
each of you ?
A. We always write music together. At first we wrote music under
the name of David Griffith, because that was the name that we used
when buying the Harmony Assistant licence. Later we both went on to
write various pieces under the name of Esmeralda Weatherwax.
Myriad : Thank you for having
answered these questions.
Esme1&2 : You are very welcome, Mr Myriad. We hope that our
answers have been sufficiently revealing.