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An interview with Harry Escott

Are there any composing/musical projects that you’re particularly looking forward to?
I have been asked to compose a song for someone I idolised when I was a student. She is a proper rock star with an incredible voice. I won’t say any more than that in case it all goes wrong, but I am really excited about it. I will be completely out of my comfort zone and, in my experience, that can either lead to disaster or something brilliant and special. I really hope it is the latter.

Have you come across any challenges in writing for vocalists as opposed to instrumentalists?
Techniques and practices of singing together in a group has not developed in the same way as it has for instrumental music and I find this fascinating. It is fairly simple to compose a choral piece that you know will sound pleasant. Choirs are very good at singing homogenous blocks of sound and blending with each other to make even a dissonant chord sound beautiful. It is far harder to compose something that works as effectively with rhythmic complexity or with harder, more angular or layered textures. This is partly due to the instrument of the voice itself but also, I believe, largely due to the way in which choral practice has developed through church music over the past few centuries. This is not the time to get into this in detail but I think composing music for choirs that is more sonically and rhythmically textured and intricate is a real challenge. I certainly haven’t cracked it but I feel sure that, together with a shift in performance practice, we will get there over the next few centuries!

Do you have a particular process that you follow in composing? Are you systematic or sporadic?!
I always start out with the intention of being systematic and organised, slowly chipping away and building a piece one brick at a time. That strategy has never worked out for me. What actually happens is that, after several days of not getting very far, something will just splurge out, almost always at an inconvenient time. Just when I am meant to be popping out or leaving for the day there will be a burst of activity and the fundamental building blocks for the piece will be in place, often within a few minutes. Once this has happened, then the “colouring in and filling in the gaps” part of the process can begin. I can be more organised with my time from this point onwards as, for me, I feel far more in control of the process at this point.

Are there any artists you particularly admire?
Of course, there are so many! Alberto Iglesias for his collaborations with Pedro Almodovar, Anna Meredith for her boldness, Francois Poulenc for his choral writing, The Aurora Orchestra for their ability to communicate passion and enthusiasm, Tom Waits – now, that’s a voice! There are too many, but, for me, any list has to be topped by J S Bach. His ability to compose so much mind blowing music whilst also producing 20 children, holding down a full time performing and directing job and still having a reputation for being a lover of life, coffee and beer should be an inspiration to us all!