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 composing around the age of 14 after taking part in some free composition workshops with the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composers’ scheme (now called the BBC Young Composer scheme). I played the piano, oboe and saxophone and liked to sing, but I didn’t really know what composition entailed and I was interested to see how I might start writing my own music.
Through those sessions I developed a love for composing and decided to write a piece for my school choir - I’d sung with them since I started school, so it seemed fitting to write for them. I submitted the piece for a BBC Proms Inspire workshop with the BBC Singers and Judith Weir and it was selected. This workshop marked a turning point for me. I heard my music performed by the BBC Singers during the 2013 BBC Proms and working with a strong female composer role model like Judith had a big impact on me. This experience made me realise that composing is something I could see myself doing in the future.
What excites you most about working with the SCO, Anna Clyne, and Janis Mackay?
To me, both storytelling and music present opportunities for connection and communication between people. One of the things that excited me the most when I first saw the project was that it offered the opportunity to take the interest I already have in narrative and to explore how my approach to storytelling can be deepened in my practice as a composer. Using storytelling in my music is something that’s been valuable to me, in concert settings but also in diverse community contexts. For example, two years ago I composed a piece for Live Music Now Scotland for their Kimie Composition Award commission. This piece was for inclusive audiences of children with additional support needs, and I used storytelling as a way of connecting with the children by using the legends of different Celtic mythical creatures, which I represented in short musical pieces. This piece was performed in different additional support needs schools around Glasgow and at that point I saw that storytelling could not only allow me to develop new compositional processes, but could also enable me to connect with a really diverse range of audiences and to increase access to music for more groups of society.
Janis has a wealth of expertise with storytelling and it will be fascinating to be mentored by her. I’m excited to see how the project will help me to weave together the aural and written tradition of storytelling with composition and to work alongside the other two composers as they also respond to the theme of narrative.
I love the way that Anna Clyne works with many different media in her own composition such as visuals, film, and dance. I often draw influence from different art forms in my own composition and being mentored by Anna will give me a chance to develop this further.
Finally, the opportunity to work with professional musicians such as those in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra is such a privilege as an emerging composer. There is so much to be learnt from hearing great musicians play your music, and this scheme gives us that exciting opportunity. One of the highlights of my undergraduate degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland was working with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with their Creative Learning department. I trained as a workshop leader alongside the SCO musicians and we then delivered creative music workshops together in schools around Glasgow, so it is wonderful to be working with the orchestra again and composing new music for them.
The opportunity to work with professional musicians is such a privilege as a young composer.
I’m fascinated by the layers of stories and myths which exist in the landscape
Your biography mentions that your work draws on your interest in Scottish, British and international folk music and as well as themes of ecology and sustainability – how did these themes and interests come to influence your music, and how are they influencing your new piece?
The landscape of my home on the West coast of Scotland is the main influence on my music. My home is in a rural community on the Isle of Arran and it is through my connection to this landscape that I first began to explore themes of the natural world. I often represent visual and sonic details in the landscape that surrounds me, as well as patterns in nature and ecological processes. For example, in my ‘Granite’ pieces for soprano saxophone, cello and piano I depicted the fragility of the eroding granite in the mountains around my home on Arran (‘Delicate granite rock, crumbling apart in my hands’- BBC Radio 3 International Women’s Day 2018). I am currently exploring how I can depict specific changes in nature through instrumental sounds, and how my music can inspire emotional engagement with non-human elements of the natural world, presenting alternative hopeful futures for both humans and for nature. I’m fascinated by the layers of stories and myths which exist in the landscape and these often inspire my composition.
Folk music is connected to the land and to the sense of community here in the West of Scotland and all around the world. I am inspired by the way in which diverse international folk traditions reflect the land, nature and stories of the past and present in a particular place. The piece I am developing through the ‘New Stories’ scheme brings together folk influences from the two parts of my heritage, that of the Isle of Arran in Scotland and of the Island of Chios in Greece. Through my piece I am exploring the sense of place conjured by West of Scotland folk music and Greek folk music and the shared qualities that exist between these two folk traditions, not just through the musical tradition but also the storytelling tradition. The piece of music I am writing through the ‘New Stories’ scheme weaves together my own contemporary retellings of traditional Scottish and Greek myths, blurring the boundaries between different sound worlds, between my two heritages and between reality and fantasy, drawing influence from the universal values of storytelling. Storytelling, like music, is a form which brings people together across the whole world and ancient myths are told and re-told, developing with each generation. The timelessness and universality of the art of storytelling is inspiring my new piece of music for this scheme.