How and when did you become composer-in-residence?
I’d been previously commissioned to write a setting of the Salve Regina for the Cathedral Choir in October 2016 which was recorded as part of the choir CD of Marian music last year. Upon graduating in music from University of Nottingham in July 2017, I was keen to start out as a composer and write as much music as possible for live performers. As a composer himself and having been the Cathedral’s Composer-in-Residence before he became Director of Music, Alex was extremely mindful and suggested I write some more things for the choir. I was thrilled when he offered me the official position of Composer-in-residence!
What have you been writing for us as Composer-in-Residence?
My first commission was an unaccompanied Asperges me performed in November 2017, followed by my Advent carol I sing of a maiden for soprano soloist, choir and organ accompaniment. This was the first time I’d ever written for organ so I was very grateful to have the support of our organist, Robert Gower, who gave me full feedback and answered all of my questions about pedaling! I started off 2018 with a Nunc Dimittis and shortly after chose the text Salvator Mundi to set for Passiontide. I was honoured to write not only for the main Cathedral Choir but also the Youth Choir in my Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost for Pentecost, and then to set Rupert Brooke’s text The Soldier to music and have it performed in the Festival Mass during the Nottingham Cathedral Music Festival as part of the WW1 Centenary.
What did you get out of the Composer-in-Residence experience?
Having a choir whose sound and voices I know so well allowed me to experiment a lot. The longer-term nature of my post meant I could do more than just trial and error things in a one-off project; I could develop skills I wanted to improve on, such as working on my part writing. This has definitely enhanced the context for singers who’ve generously offered me feedback; all of which has been extensively valuable.
As a composer it’s also vital to be able to write for specific conditions, so writing for live services and real performers is an unquestionably useful skill and something I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to do. For example, composing Asperges me was a very attractive exercise as I had to incorporate optional restricted length and repeats into the music in accordance with its function and place in the service.
Are you writing for other choirs and ensembles outside of the Cathedral?
This year I’ve written several pieces for the City of Bristol Choir including a piece for male voice choir, organ and harp and a Christmas carol which was accompanied by the Bristol Ensemble. I was also honoured to write a couple of pieces for the University of Nottingham’s Viva Voce and Tour Choir. More recently I’ve had a commission from the RSCM which will be featured in their 2018 Anthems for Choirs book!
What have been your musical highlights with performances of your music over the past year?
Being able to sing my Salvator Mundi and Alex’s Missa Brevis with the Cathedral Choir as part of our trip to Westminster Cathedral in July was a real privilege this year, and I was also delighted to have the Cathedral Choir’s recording of my Salve Regina played on BBC Radio 3 as part of International Women’s Day back in March. That said, I’ve been so pleased with and so grateful for every performance and rehearsal of my music this year by Alex and the choir.
What does the future hold?
In September I’ll be starting an MMus in Composition at Trinity College of Music in London where I hope to specialise in choral writing, so I’m very grateful to have had this head start as Composer-in-Residence. Moreover, I’m excited to be writing my first Missa Brevis for Nottingham Cathedral Choir, which has been commissioned specially for the 175th Anniversary of the Cathedral and will be premiered in 2019!