Kirsty Devaney – Founder of YCP
Role at YCP?
I set YCP up when I left the Conservatoire in 2013, due to noticing a lack of composing opportunities for young people in the UK. Although composing is done in schools I found it was often directed by examination requirements and these were restricting creativity. Therefore I wanted to create a place that young music creators could come to experiment and explore new ideas with limited restrictions but in an environment that was supportive and welcoming.
How did you get into composing?
I started arranging music before composing my own. I was in my school orchestra and noticed that the music wasn’t arranged very well for our ensemble size and the abilities. Therefore I arranged music that reflected the abilities of the individuals so that those who were confident could be challenged, and those who had less experience in playing could play something they felt confident with. This then lead to composing my own music for the group. I also started more through doing GCSE and A-Level composing.
What do you enjoy composing?
A lot of my composing work involves composing with and for young and non-professional ensembles. In 2011 I was shortlisted for a British Composer Award for music for amateur ensembles. I have also started to explore freedom and improvisation in my music, for example giving a performer the pitches but not the rhythms.
Minifact: I have a phobia of red jelly…
Joel Hall – Co-leader
Course/Year: Masters in Composition (2nd year)
What music are you currently working on? I am currently writing a musical entitled ‘The Last Vampire’ based on a book by my grandfather, Willis Hall. The story is about a friendship between young Henry Hollins and Count Alucard, a vegetarian vampire he meets on his family holiday and how together they overcome their differences.
What has been your most memorable musical/composing experience? My grandfather, Willis Hall wrote an evocative war poem entitled ‘Message’ which juxtaposed the formalities of war against its realities. As part of my first degree I composed a piece of music-theatre using his poem and received positive feedback from my peers and supervisors. This was the first time I’d had a piece of music-theatre performed and it gave me a real buzz of confidence to continue writing!
Minifact: I am a keen photographer. I recently undertook several creative short courses in photography at Nottingham Trent University and a BTEC in intermediate photography at Central College Nottingham. From this experience, I was able to get work as a freelance photographer – initially as a product photographer for a Nottingham based lace distributor and later as a second shooter for a wedding photographer.
Course/Year: Undergraduate 4th year
Hometown: Basingstoke, Hampshire
How did you get into composing? I managed to get my hands on 90’s and 00’s Japanese computer games whilst growing up which I would then try and imitate the music from using audio from old keyboard presets. I then began taking more of an interest in composition at sixth form college which benefitted me enough to be able to apply to conservatoires.
What music are you currently working on? I am currently working on my BMus4 final project which is a dual research and practical exploration into Post-Internet art/music/sound/composition.
What has been your most memorable musical/composing experience? Working with people or ensembles who really care about your work.
What do you enjoy about composing? What do you find challenging? Discovering and trying different approaches and solutions to problems. It is always challenging but extremely rewarding.
Course/Year: Undergraduate 3rd year
How did you get into composing? I started playing violin when I was 7, then piano shortly followed. I spent a lot of time playing in ensembles – my senior school productions, school choir and county youth orchestra. Then, when I was 12, I was given a guitar and started teaching myself, it was like a whole new world had opened up to me. I listened to a lot of rock/metal music and singer-songwriters, learning covers and singing in my bedroom every day after school. One day I realised I could put chords and lyrics together myself so I started playing at open mic nights. When I did GCSE and A level music and I started leading my local youth chamber orchestra, I was listening to film music, composing for other instruments and arranging for strings. It came from two different angles.
What music are you currently working on? I’m working on a couple of songs with more unusual instrumental line ups than I usually use. My comfort zone consists of either me, my guitar and some passive aggressive lyrics, or writing solely for an ensemble. I’m trying to step away from this by combining the two. One features baroque instruments, influenced heavily from my experiences playing violin. Another is for more of an experimental band setup.
What has been your most memorable musical/composing experience? I think it has to be a tie between two. The first was when I was about 15 and went to a local open mic night. There were quite a few people in this small but usually loud pub venue. I started playing one of my quieter songs and the audience were entirely silent, gathering around to listen. I was overwhelmed that one of my own compositions was able to draw the complete attention of strangers in such an informal setting. The second was during my first year of my degree, when I heard a large professional ensemble – a string orchestra – play one of my pieces for the first time. I was so happy with the result and, even though it isn’t my favourite piece of work, it still makes me happy to think about it.
What do you enjoy about composing? What do you find challenging? I love the freedom of expression composing allows. I think a lot of songwriters and composers have a recognisable musical language because it’s such a personal art form. I sometimes feel like I’m handing over a little piece of myself when I give performers my music. I think that can also be quite challenging, exercising a certain amount of relinquishment of control over your music. That’s probably why I find it difficult to move away from performing my songs entirely by myself. The other thing I would say is that it’s hard not to be influenced by the opinions of everyone around you, especially when you start studying composition and your degree is being marked on it, or you aren’t a particularly confident or outgoing person. I think when I’m less bothered by what other students, teachers and current songwriters/composers are doing, and start writing music that feels right for me, that I do my best work.
Minifact: I like being active. I’m a 2nd dan black belt in Shotokan karate, the President of my university’s yoga society and I regularly go to the gym. I find it easier to concentrate on writing a piece of music or practicing an instrument when my body and mind are well looked after. It also helps a lot with stress!
Georgia Ruth Denham
Course/Year: Undergraduate 2nd year
How did you get into composing? When I was younger, I started to improvise vocally and liked to build up layers of music in my head. I didn’t really play anything and wasn’t from a musical background so, they stayed there until I bargained a Mars Bar with an older kid at school to teach me how to use Sibelius. Finally with something to get my ideas down, I started composing whenever I got the chance and eventually went to the Sound and Music Summer School, where I learnt all about conservatoires (and met the lovely Kirsty).
What music are you currently working on? Being a singer, I’m a little obsessed with vocal music at the moment – I’ve just finished a piece for the Juice Vocal Ensemble and am now working on a choral piece for SATB.
What has been your most memorable musical/composing experience? Before I came to the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, I was an Aldeburgh Young Musician and was lucky enough to sing for the Holocaust Memorial Day in 2015 at Central Hall, Westminster. We performed for HRH Prince Charles, the Prime Minister and even Helena Bonham Carter!
What do you enjoy about composing? What do you find challenging? I love the feeling when things are finally coming together during the writing process, especially if I’ve been struggling to work out exactly what I wanted for a while, which I’d say is my biggest challenge.
Minifact: Before the Sound and Music Summer School, I didn’t know that we could use accidentals in wherever we wanted to in music; it sounds bizarre, but I’d got it in my head that they could only be on the seventh degree of a scale and I thought I’d have to keep changing the key signature to use them!
Course/Year: Undergraduate 4th year
How did you get into composing? Just before I started my GCSEs my parents got me a copy of the student version of Sibelius which kick started my interest in writing and arranging music. I was then very lucky to have encouraging teachers who pushed me to explore composition.
What music are you currently working on? At the moment I’m working on developing a few new ideas for my electronic duo Just Ham, which I play in with my friend Tom, as well as starting work on a new piece for snare drum and electronics.
What has been your most memorable musical/composing experience? In my second year at the conservatoire I was very lucky to be able to write the music for one of Birmingham School of Acting’s shows (Romeo and Juliet), which was great fun and I got to play around with lots of folk music.
What do you enjoy about composing? What do you find challenging? I really enjoy the process of discovering a piece as I write it. Pieces never turn out exactly how I think they will when I start writing them, but I love finding out what the finished piece is like. Sometimes I’ll get stuck for ages on piece and it find it really challenging to find the approach or idea that solves the problem, though it’s really satisfying once I’ve solved it.
Minifact: I play in a Ceilidh Band
Course/Year: BMus 2 Composition
How did you get into composing? The short version of the story is that I was trying to impress a girl I fancied back in high school, somewhere along the line I just really started to enjoy writing arrangements for the swing band I played in and eventually started writing my own music! Never looked back.
What music are you currently working on? Right now I’m writing a performance piece involving ‘dabbing’ in addition to this I’m going back and finishing off some pieces I started earlier this year including a piece for 3 recorders and a solo soprano. There’s also a piece for the player piano I need to finish from last year, right now it involves stabbing a tonne of holes into a piano roll. I’m also in the early stages of writing a piece for Decibel which will be featured in a concert in March next year.
What has been your most memorable musical/composing experience? I still remember the first time I ever heard my music performed in a concert. It was a solo flute piece I was working on with Rowland Sutherland called ‘Flit’. I remember being incredibly nervous both before and during the performance, performed by Dan Jones. The piece was well received and really well performed by Dan, but I’ll never shake that nervous feeling I get before a piece is being premiered, I live for it.
What do you enjoy about composing? What do you find challenging? I’ve got a love/hate relationship with composition. I love to subvert the ordinary and disregard convention. I really thrive off of the challenge to come up with an idea that’s both exciting and original. I deeply believe it’s a composers role to constantly push boundaries, essentially we’re explorers of sound.
Minifact: I spent the summer of 2016 in Nigeria chasing Pygmy goats and running education projects in a small rural town called Oke-Ode!
Regular Visiting Musicians & Composers
Joe Cutler – Head of Composition at Birmingham Conservatoire
Role at YCP:
Joe visits YCP 1-2 times a year to give composing masterclasses and small group tuition during the full scheme. Joe also talks to the students each year about studying composition in Higher Education and what to expect in a composition interview and studying at a music Conservatoire.
How did you get into composing?
Initially I just distracted myself with doodling in the violin and piano when I should have been practising, and that developed into composing actual piece. Then at University I really began to take it seriously.
What do you love about composing?
I love the moment when a piece you’ve been struggling with, suddenly clicks into place!
More info about Joe:
Joe Cutler’s music has been described as “propulsive” (BBC Music Magazine), “alluring” (Scotsman), “neurotic” (Re-Diffusion) and “the best thing to come out of Neasden since Twiggy” (Gramophone). His music has been performed in over 30 countries and on 6 continents including performances at venues such as Bang-on-a-Can Music Marathon (New York), Gaudeamus Music Week (Amsterdam), Opera City (Tokyo), Musik Monat (Basle). In recent year he has also written a number of orchestral pieces and has worked recently with the London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, The Orchestra of the Swan and the RTE National Symphony Orchestra. Since 2000 he has taught at Birmingham Conservatoire where he is currently Head of Composition.
Jack McNeill – Clarinettist & Songwriter
Role at YCP:
Jack has worked with YCP from the start as a performer and songwriting tutor. In 2016 we commissioned Jack to compose a work for the whole group to perform. The commission was funded by PRS for music Foundation.
More info about Jack:
Jack McNeill is a clarinet and bass clarinet player based in Birmingham and working throughout the UK and Europe. A Britten-Pears Young Artist in 2011 and 2013, he performs as a soloist and is also a member of Ed Bennett’s DECIBEL. His work as a freelance player includes the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Orchestra of the Swan, The Harborough Collective, Chroma Ensemble, and as an on-stage musician/actor with Sebastian Mathias’Danserye and Thom Luz’s When I Die. He completed the flagship AdvPgDip course at the Birmingham Conservatoire studying with Michael Harris, Tim Lines, Jo Patton and Mark O’Brien, gaining a distinction and was awarded the 2012 Conservatoire Principal’s Prize.
Sebastiano Dessanay –
Double Bassist & Composer
Role at YCP: Sebastiano Dessanay has work with YCP from the start as a guest performer and composition tutor.
For about Sebastiano:
Sebastiano is an Italian double bassist and composer. His music is highly informed by a strong sense of melody and attention to textural details. The double bass has often a prominent role in his research and elements of improvisation permeate his compositions. He regularly performs with classical orchestras, contemporary ensembles, jazz bands and collaborates with practitioners of opera, theatre, dance, film and visual arts world. He has also been involved in several community projects.
Mini Fact: Outside music, Sebastiano is a geologist and has recently become a genealogy passionate.
Judith Robinson –
Sound and Music
Role at YCP:
Judith works for Sound and Music, an organisation aiming to ‘maximise the opportunities for people to create and enjoy new music.’ Judith comes to visit YCP to talk to the group about how Sound and Music can support their composing development including the Sound and Music Summer School.