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New Stories - Meet Gillian Walker

28 Dec 2020

News Story

You have been selected to join New Stories - our mentoring scheme for emerging women composers - can you tell us a little bit about your musical background and where your passion for composing first began?

I started learning music when I was in secondary school, as I was involved in a lot of bands and orchestras, and composition when I was accepted to the Junior Academy at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS). I was lucky to have composition lessons with Audrey McPherson for a term. My passion for composing really began when I was teaching in schools, as it excites me when I see young people developing the ability to express themselves through composition. Helping students find a musical voice and guiding them through that process is a real privilege and these experiences made me realise how fortunate I am to be in the position to write my own music. When I started having the opportunity to hear my compositions played by professional musicians it was incredible. I’m addicted to hearing my music come to life in this way now!

What excites you most about working with the SCO, Anna Clyne, and Janis Mackay?

As I just mentioned, it’s important to me to hear my music played by professional musicians, so the opportunity to work with players from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra is really exciting. As a composer, having time to work and collaborate with musicians is invaluable. I’ve also followed the SCO concert series since I started at the RCS so it’s nice to be working with the orchestra, who I’ve only seen on stage up until now. I’m excited to have Anna Clyne’s mentorship – working and learning from a working composer is such a useful insight at this stage in my career.

Now that we have done a couple of workshops with Anna and Janis I have to say that they have been incredible. Janis has a way of transporting you to a ‘zone of creativity’ with the story telling exercises we have been doing. I’ve found that the free flow writing exercises has been an insightful addition to my creative practice.

I’m looking forward to tutorials with Anna and exploring her influences as a composer whilst having her guidance around storytelling and narrative in music. I appreciate Anna’s commitment and interest to a wide range of music. For example, the list of music that she gave Georgina, Electra and I as a musical starting point, includes some rock tracks which I am also influenced by.

having time to work and collaborate with musicians is invaluable
I think there’s a really strong correlation between rock and contemporary classical music
Your bio mentions that your work is influenced by the visual arts and is driven by the visual aspects of new music theatre – how do these other medias enhance and influence your compositions? Which composers have influenced your work?

In general, I’m a really visual person and influenced by a lot of literature and art. These art forms help me conjure up images and feelings which I try to translate into music in an abstract way. Right across from my house in Ayr is the gallery where the Tam o’ Shanter set of paintings by Alexander Goudie are displayed. I used to go there a lot – the paintings are quite scary but full of detail. When I'm at university, I go to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery when I have time away from composing.

I’m influenced by composers who work in the setting of experimental music theatre, such as Heiner Goebbels and Georges Aperghis and I’m indebted to the way in which these composers use text, action and gestures in their music, as I work out how to incorporate these ideas into my own composition.

Alongside music theatre, I’m interested in a kind of ‘hardcore contemporary’ music and rock/progressive rock music, mainly because I was surrounded by it when I was growing up. I’ve always liked music with lots of energy and I continued to listen to all kinds of bands and composers who provided this feeling throughout secondary school and now through my undergraduate degree. It just seems to be something I can’t shake off! I think there’s a really strong correlation between rock and contemporary classical music. For example, one of my favourite bands is Genesis and they use complex modulations in their music, which when coupled with lyrics that cover everything from Greek mythology to social commentary contributes so many different musical colours to their albums. It interests me how they present their music with a strong focus on the narrative which takes the listener on a journey. Steve Hackett, the guitarist from Genesis, often talks about creating atmosphere with music and this is an idea I’m always thinking about when composing my own music – how can I make an atmosphere and take people on a journey?

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