Artist Residency at Hawkwood: Lydia Samuels & HOWL
"Wow, what a wonderful five days we had at Hawkwood! The residency was truly invaluable to HOWL, cementing us as a vocal ensemble and encouraging us to find our compositional voice as a group."
Wow, what a wonderful five days we had at Hawkwood! The residency was truly invaluable to HOWL, cementing us as a vocal ensemble and encouraging us to find our compositional voice as a group. We arrived at the residency with a clear agenda – we wanted to improvise together as a group, create songs from lyrics given us by two poets and develop pieces that we already had in our repertoire. In the beautiful surroundings of Hawkwood we were able to achieve all of these goals.
The pace of life of eight musicians working in London means we normally only have short rehearsals just before a gig or a recording session. At Hawkwood we were given the time and space we really needed to lock in with each other and develop our creative practice. We began each day by embodying our voices with warm-ups and games which led onto structured improvisation activities. These activities included using our bodies to conduct the group, drawing graphic scores inspired by the natural landscape of the Hawkwood grounds, and using “Deep Listening” exercises developed by the composer Pauline Oliveros. The improvising process proved very fruitful. Through play and experimentation we arrived at a shared, improvisational language. Several of the improvisations were clearly the beginnings of new pieces, which we began to score and define during our time at the residency.
We arrived at the residency with lyrics which HOWL had been given to set by poet Erin Robinsong and author and academic Robert Macfarlane. We began to weave their words into our improvising process, which resulted in the beginnings of several new compositions. Previously all of our compositions had been written by individuals in the group and then workshopped together; through our residency at Hawkwood we were able to find a way to compose as a group, an exciting new development. As Erin is local to Stroud we were lucky to have her attend the residency in the middle of the week. We showed her our new pieces and ideas based on her poetry which we had been developing. She was able to give feedback and provided further insight into her work, which was incredibly useful.
As well as working on new material It was fantastic for us to have time to work on pieces which we already had in our repertoire, focusing on dynamics, expression and pacing, in time for our concert at Kings Place London, which takes place 1 month after the residency. At the end of the residency, we discussed how we would take forward everything we had created over the five days. We made plans to work on any unfinished pieces, we decided which pieces would be ready in time for our upcoming show at Kings Place and we began making plans to record our new work later in the year. The residency has been a springboard for lots of exciting new developments for us; we are so grateful to Hawkwood for the time we spent there.
Nearness | Improvisation
Lydia Samuels is a versatile singer, composer, and arranger with a keen interest in traditional music, 20th-century contemporary classical pieces, and experimental improvisation. With a rich history of performance and touring across various ensembles in the UK, Europe, USA, and Mexico, Lydia’s musical journey has spanned diverse territories. Additionally, she contributes as a singing facilitator, engaging in both one-on-one sessions and group workshops.
Lydia’s expertise extends beyond the realm of music. With over a decade of experience in play and youth work, she has facilitated workshops across a spectrum of environments, encompassing schools, youth clubs, mental health services, and care homes.
Currently, Lydia is an active member of four distinct musical groups. In ‘Gone Under Sea,’ traditional British Isles music takes on an eclectic and experimental twist through her arrangements. The 12-piece ensemble ‘Down Is Up’ specializes in performing compositions by Moondog and other notable composers. As part of ‘HOWL,’ Lydia collaborates with fellow a cappella vocalists on original compositions, arrangements, contemporary classical works, and folk adaptations. Lastly, in ‘Yolk,’ a collective of voice composers, Lydia contributes to explorations of sound immersion, ritual, improvisation, and movement. With her multifaceted talents, Lydia Samuels continues to leave an indelible mark on the world of music and creative expression.
In 2021, Lydia Samuels co-founded the London-based vocal ensemble HOWL, a dynamic group known for their exploration of experimental and contemporary classical music, folk arrangements, and original compositions. In the spring of 2022, HOWL achieved a significant milestone by signing with Tardigrade Records, a new label established by musician and producer Cosmo Sheldrake. This collaboration led to the release of an EP in June 2022, produced under Sheldrake’s guidance. The EP prominently features several compositions by Lydia, in addition to Heloise Tunstall-Behrens’ “Deer Park Canon.” Lydia’s arrangements showcased on the EP are innovative reworkings of traditional women’s folk songs from the British Isles.
One of her adaptations, “He Mandu,” draws from a traditional Scottish waulking song. Waulking involved a unique process of making tweed by soaking fabric in urine and rhythmically working it on a table. The song was traditionally sung by women during the waulking process, often with improvised lyrics. Lydia’s version of “He Mandu” retains the essence of the original while incorporating English translations.
“Greenwood Side,” another of Lydia’s arrangements, revisits an 18th-century English ballad. The narrative revolves around a woman who births her babies in the woods and, overwhelmed by panic, tragically ends their lives. In a haunting twist, the departed infants return to haunt her.
Lydia also presents “Nobody Knew She Was There,” a song penned by Ewan Maccoll in the 1970s. This poignant composition pays homage to Maccoll’s mother, who worked as an office cleaner throughout his childhood in the 1930s. Through her arrangements and compositions, Lydia Samuels brings a fresh perspective to traditional folk songs while honoring their historical and cultural roots.