We had a chat with composer Emma Arandjelović, who features on our new Woodwind syllabus from 2022, about her journey into composing, her inspirations and tips for aspiring composers.
How did you get into composing?
My first attempts at composing were at school, for my GCSE in music. I remember being asked to perform a piano piece I had composed in a concert, and finding it so strange to see my name on the programme next to ‘real’ composers like Chopin! I went on to a career in Controls Engineering, and only took up pencil and manuscript paper again when I enrolled onto a music degree with the Open College of the Arts. That’s when I really got the bug for composing; every assignment was so much fun I just didn’t want to stop.
What do you most enjoy about composing?
For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of composing is hearing my pieces performed. That’s when they start to come to life, and it’s wonderful to hear performers bring their own musicianship into my pieces, bringing out nuances in different ways. I also love the initial stages of composing a piece, that buzz that you get when you have a new idea and the joy of exploring where it might take you!
Who were your early influences?
When I first began to explore composition as a teenager, I adored the French impressionist composers – particularly Debussy. I also enjoyed listening to jazz, and have always had a strong affinity with the beautiful lines of counterpoint in Bach’s music. As a composer you find your own style, but I think all of these elements have influenced me in some way.
How do you begin to compose a new work? What’s your process?
I almost always start with an idea of the instruments I want to write for, and from there I usually improvise on the piano, exploring new harmonies, textures or melodic motifs. Once I have the germ of an idea I then switch to thinking about the bigger picture so I can work out a structure for the piece as a frame to develop my ideas within.
What was the inspiration behind your pieces Changing Landscapes (Grade 6 Saxophone) and Leaving (Grade 7 Saxophone)?
When I wrote Leaving, I was imagining someone embarking on a significant journey – the thrill and anticipation of a new adventure. The ostinato rhythm in the piano part brought to mind a train leaving a station, and the syncopation injects some excitement and energy into the journey. Changing Landscapes continues the same theme but in a more reflective way; I imagined my traveller looking out through the train window and thinking about what the future holds. This piece uses the Dorian mode which has both major and minor qualities – hopeful and yet apprehensive at the same time, and the key changes also convey a feeling of restlessness.
Do you have any tips for aspiring composers?
I would say get to know the instruments you are writing for first and foremost; it’s so important to understand the capabilities and personality of an instrument so that you can write for it effectively. Then, try and find people to play your pieces! You learn an incredible amount from working with performers, and getting your music out there is the best way to find new opportunities.
What projects are coming up next for you?
I’m really passionate about music education and after I graduate I’m looking forward to a career combining composition with teaching. I’d particularly love to write for youth ensembles and get more young people performing new music!