Canterbury Christ Church University Composition Inside the Machine

Inside the Machine Concert Part 3

What if? The Hansel & Gretel Tale

On the 28th April 2016 I put on a concert which featured a mixture of some of my favourite open-scored, chance-based, and quasi-composed/quasi-improvised pieces to both celebrate and summarise the three years I spent studying my Bachelor of Music at Canterbury Christ Church University.

Unlike the last two pieces I’ve written about, this piece does not revolve around language. Instead What if? The Hansel & Gretel Tale focuses on a different perception to the classic tale. Like all the pieces in this concert, this one was again composed for a task for university. The task: to compose a piece for a group called Splinter Cell, who were mainly a free improvisation ensemble. Therefore, I did not want to be too constrictive in the instructions. I was also at the stage where I wanted to try something new. For once, I wanted to compose a piece that didn’t involve dice (gasp), or numbers. I can’t write coherent plots for toffee so, inspired by a program I was currently watching (Once Upon a Time), I decided to take a well known tale, and put a small twist in it:

What if Hansel and Gretel were exaggerating the tale? What if the ‘Witch’ was really an average old lady minding her business, when her home falls apart because two children took it upon themselves to eat it? Of course she would have been cross; her home had been eaten!!

In discussing this with my then piano teacher Dr Sam Bailey, he went over to his shelf and passed a book: The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Betteheim (Penguin Books, 1991). In this book I found some amazing quotes about childhood and fairy tales, and how we learn and project our understandings of the world onto stories. These quotes were then put into the score, adding another, unanticipated layer.

As I have mentioned in another blog written for my university, using music to evoke emotions is not something that comes easy to me. Therefore, instead of dictating pitch and harmony, I went for a more generalised instructions. You could almost think of the score as a storyboard one would use to compose the full piece.

For example, as the children engorged themselves on the poor woman’s house they grew fatter, and fatter, and so the score reflected that.

The way I developed the score and the cartoonish descriptors of sounds I wanted the performers to produce, was strongly influenced by love of sound effects in cartoons like Tom & Jerry or Looney Tunes. Their use of audio to add to the visual elements made my tiny child mind boggle with excitement.

I believe it is necessary for us creatives to challenge ourselves every now and then. You don’t have to go running off a cliff, but you can dangle a foot over the edge. For me, using sounds to create an intended story and metaphor is one for me. Hence why I stayed with a well known fairy-tale, instead of something less well known and deeper such as a philosophical stand point (sort of). I had never tried before to create music that reflected a story. Previous pieces were methodical, statistical, experimenting with an idea. This time it was to experiment with how far I could challenge myself. My biggest part of this endeavour was could I create a piece where my sonic intentions and meanings be translated and interpreted by the audience and performers with little deviation? The answer remains a riddle, and I invite you dear listener to tell me whether that is indeed the case, or whether I was wildly wrong and missed it by a mile. Whatever the result, I hope you enjoy the recording.



The next entry in this series will talk about it takes all sorts. 


9th October 2018
Johanne-Bryce Hodgson
(formerly Jason Hodgson)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *