Amanda Feery: A conversation on Choral Sketches

Amanda Feery is one of the participants in this years Choral Sketches project, a unique partnership from Chamber Choir Ireland and the Contemporary Music Centre providing professional development opportunities for composers wishing to develop their skills in writing choral music with mentoring from renowned composer Tarik O’Regan. We talked to Amanda about her participation in this project and the resulting affect on her work:

The first piece you wrote for choir was Changed Utterly which won the 2016 Seán Ó Riada competition. Now you are once again composing for a chamber choir, what has drawn you towards choral composition?

A lot of pieces I write are inspired by literature, so I always have phrases and bits of text lying around that I’m interested in setting for vocal pieces.  These texts could interest me because of their sound, rhythm or meaning. I also like the immediacy of composing for voice, because I have my own voice to experiment with ideas!

You have primarily composed for instrumental ensembles and individuals, have you found the process of writing for a chamber choir has differed from your usual process?

I’ve noticed I’m usually happier when working on vocal pieces! Again, this is to do with immediacy. I can record my voice and layer ideas and listen back to a hint at what a piece might become. I get frustrated when working on pieces where I might not have direct access to the instrument to hear an idea or experiment with other ideas.  I like to have some real-life demo, (no matter how badly performed!) to get excited about moving on to the next idea.

What attracted you to the Choral Sketches project and what do you hope some of the outcomes will be from the project?

I think every composers dream is to have access to a group or ensemble to try out ideas before they complete the finished product. The Choral Sketches project feels like this rare luxury, almost like I’m being spoiled. There are some specific ideas that I have been thinking about, that I have re-wrote and re-arranged, almost like viewing the ideas from different sides of a looking-glass, so it will be interesting to see what sides will be the most effective.

How do you think it will enhance (or otherwise!) your choral    composition approach in the future.

As part of the project, Tarik O’Regan has been mentoring   and guiding us through our sketches. After one call recently, Tarik mentioned 4 or 5 things that, on further thought, completely blew my head open about my approach to choral writing. So that call alone has greatly enhanced other ideas for my piece and was/will be a huge help in future vocal works.


What do you hope to get out of having a choir try out your ideas – how does that inform your process knowing that you will have access to that resource.

I think I was adventurous with the sketches  and included ideas I’m very curious about. Sometimes as a composer you can worry about the practicalities of rehearsal and performance too much. This time it was a liberating feeling to not worry about what can and cannot be done.

Tell us about your sketches – how have they developed thus far and how do you anticipate them moving forward?

My sketches for the workshop are based around one movement within a larger work of 2/3 other movements. I chose this movement because it includes all the ideas that at some stage will come up in other parts of the work as a whole.

What are you working on currently external to the Choral Sketches Project?

Apart from this piece I am working on a piece for RTE ConTempo String Quartet and Uilleann Pipes.


Choral Sketches from Amanda Feery, Michael Gallen and Seán Doherty will be the focus of a public workshop led by Tarik O’Regan with Chamber Choir Ireland and Artistic Director, Paul Hillier on 24 February, 2017 in the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin at 5pm. Tickets are available via HERE

The workshop will also include an insightful interview led by Irish Times journalist Michael Dervan in conversation with Alice Goodman on her writing process as a librettist