|(c) Kenny Smith
Where are you from? Where do you live now? Do you think this is relevant to understanding your music?
I was born in Coventry. Yet have lived in West Yorkshire since infancy where there is somewhat a tradition of choral music alongside brass band music. But then the rise of contemporary music in association with the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (HCMF) seemed like a breath of fresh air to me.
How will you approach writing your OPUS2016 composition for Britten Sinfonia?
Using the given instrumentation I am already thinking about the sound-world I want to write. Whilst I consider, in no particular order: texture, rhythm, pitch-class, note gesture, and extended performance techniques, my starting point is a structural plan.
Who have you worked with previously? What ensembles / orchestras / organisations?
Sounds Positive, Goldberg Ensemble, Firebird Ensemble, Huddersfield University New Music Ensemble / Richard Craig (flautist), Mieko Kanno (violinist), Philip Thomas (pianist) / Sound and Music, SPNM, Adopt-a-composer scheme (Aire Valley Singers), residency in association with Making Music.
What’s your earliest musical memory?
I must have been under the age of 5 and in church with my parents. Hearing rumbling noises
emanating from the bowels of the church organ filled my ears with a sense of wonder.
When did you first start to write music?
I think I started to write music as a young girl, in my head at least. I had piano lessons and could read/write music from the age of 7 or thereabouts. My teacher encouraged a more formal approach to music making, as did my mother. Yet I would secretly draw what I thought was music.
Describe your growth as a composer to this point. What were the pivotal points?
Studying composition at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels has positively contributed to my development. Through researching the work of contemporary composers, there has been a gradual move away from formal structures to a more abstract style of writing in my music. For example the music of James Dillon prompted a significant change to my way of thinking about the use of traditional instrumentation. I first heard Dillon’s Windows and Canopies (1985), before closely studying not only the global form but also the immense detail in his handwritten score.
Rebecca Saunders is another composer whose music ascribed for traditional instrumentation holds my attention. Saunders’ ethos of working with sound itself is more and more relevant to my thinking today.
Denis Smalley’s paper: ‘Spectromorphology: explain sound-shapes’1, more associated with electroacoustic music, enhanced not only thoughts about shaping sound in my music, but also influenced compositional methodology. I am more and more interested in drawing sound in time, prior to staff notation.
How do you start a new work/what is your composing method?
Always pencil. It really depends on what instrumental forces I am working with. More often than not my starting point is the creation of skeletal framework.
How do you feel about the opportunities that are available to composers?
Whilst there are a growing number of opportunities for composers, geographical location can be an obstacle. If, however, a particular opportunity is right for you it is always worth applying. Some opportunities, i.e. competitions carry age limits. Age is but a number. What is really important is putting your music out there.
What would be your advice to young composers today?
Be willing to learn. Be true to yourself. Write. Find your voice. Enter competitions, but be selective. Even if you are unsuccessful, see the experience from a positive perspective, i.e., the discipline of working to a brief, meeting a deadline, more importantly completing a piece of music.
What does the future hold for you? What are your next steps going to be as a composer?
Keep on writing. Hone my skills. I would hope to work more and more with performers. I would like to bring my music to a much wider audience.
1Organised Sound 2 (2) (Cambridge University Press, 1997), 107-126.
You can join Margaret and the other OPUS2016 shortlisted composers on 22 & 23 January 2016 for two days of workshops at the Barbican in London, with discussions and performances of the pieces these composers have been working on. Find out more and how to reserve your place here.