Ahead of Edinburgh Concert Band’s world premiere of our Adopt a Composer piece at our Summer Sparkler Concert on 16th June, Petra and Holly (1st Bb clarinets in the band) met the composer, Gaynor Barradell, to find out a little more about her and the piece she composed for the band.
Tell us a little bit more about what led you to become a composer?
I’ve always been a musician, that’s always been a massive part of my life. Part of learning to play led me to start writing my own little tunes, even if it was on the recorder or the glockenspiel when I was a kid. But it was only later on when I started to learn jazz – that was quite a catalyst for me in starting to write. Because I was learning how to improvise and I wanted to write down some of what I was doing and I wanted a record of it. So I started to write down what I was doing and doing free improvisation, as well as more harmonic and melodic theoretical improvisation. This has led me to analysing music that I already liked and starting to think “could I create this myself?”. So it was quite a journey through jazz.
And how did you get involved in adopt a composer?
Well, I was aware of the scheme through Making Music and I had my eye on the program for a few years, but you can’t apply while you’re a student. I only graduated two years ago and felt ready to apply last year. You have to keep your eye open for opportunities and competitions that you can apply for which broaden your experience and I find working to a deadline or specific criteria quite helpful and quite challenging the same time.
I was told at University that it’s really important to test yourself in writing to order, to see if you can conform or compromise in what you want to write, as opposed to writing material people will want to play or be able to play, and learn to be marketable. So part of the Adopt a Composer Scheme was giving me the experience I felt I needed in working with a live, large, well-organised and well-established ensemble that was used to playing concert band repertoire to a high standard. Also, hopefully being able to fulfil part of their program for a concert and produce a professional recording to boot – it’s a big challenge for me personally.
How has your experience been writing for a wind band and how have you found the process of working with us at Edinburgh concert band?
It has been very challenging – I’ve never written for a wind band before. I did have a go at it a couple of years ago and found it too hard. Back then I thought “I will come back to this one day”. Now I’m here doing that journey, my first thought was- oh my goodness, there’s so many people! Also, where are all the strings – I’m used to having string sounds in my head that go down into the score first and all of a sudden I’m finding ways to compromise the sound I expect to hear with other sounds.
I’ve had to seek some advice from my mentor, David Horne, and my old tutor, Stuart McRae, and some of the other composers on the Adopt a Composer Scheme, as to how to achieve the sounds and effects I want, using the range of instruments in a wind band. I’ve had to study a lot of wind band music that I wasn’t aware of. I’ve spent hours and hours in the library looking at scores of wind band music, seeing how it’s written, analysing it, looking at the effects and techniques you can use and, ultimately, I’ve relied a lot on the players in the wind band to tell me what they need.
What would you say has been the biggest challenges you’ve had during the adopt a composer process?
Tailoring the composition to fit a wind band and highlight the talents and strengths within Edinburgh Concert Band has been a challenge. Much of the music written for concert bands is arrangements of orchestral music and I now appreciate the work that goes into changing the sound profile to make it fit a wind band. Pleasingly, the challenge for me just now has been to fit every project around each other. I’ve had three commissions going on at once, which are all very different. Geography comes into play as well, because you guys are over here on the East coast, I had another band over on the West coast and another group of musicians in Glasgow I’m working with, so it’s trying to remember what days I need to prioritise which commission. Once I got past the process of deciding exactly what I was doing and when, I’ve been able to concentrate largely on the music rather than the logistics, so that’s been a big relief.
It’s a pleasure, because as soon as you get somewhere and you’re making music with people who that want to make music, that’s just brilliant. You feel like, “oh I don’t want to leave the house today”, but then when you get there and you make that music, it’s really worth it. It’s always worth it.
So finally, how are you generally feeling ahead of our world premiere of “Step Up!” at our concert in June?
Well, I’m curious to see how the piece will fit in a program of established, popular and really well-known concert band repertoire, but I’m overall feeling really excited and confident that Sarah (musical director of Edinburgh concert band) and the band will play brilliantly!
Just do a great job and really throw yourselves into it, with all the panache and excitement I hope you’ll give it on the day. I’m just generally very excited now!
Thanks, Gaynor! For more about “Step Up!”, listen to this video to hear Gaynor’s inspiration for the piece.