Jenny Jackson

I am a composer (yikes)

MitR Update… (P.S. I did rip it up…)

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Sometimes, the only way forwards is to go backwards. In the case of my string quartet, ‘Focus Pull’ (commissioned for Music in the Round’s upcoming May festival), I knew that I wasn’t happy with it as it was (and it was way too long), so something drastic had to happen.

Ripping it up doesn’t feel as disastrous/stupid/final as it used to when I wrote everything by hand (I must have at least twenty-five ‘versions’ of it on my computer to fall back on, for example) but it still feels like starting all over again because essentially you have admitted that, although it looks like a finished product, it really isn’t.

This is the problem: scores look so good on the computer (even when the music is completely unplayable!)… And, although it’s exceptionally easy to cut chunks out via the use of a ‘delete’ button, it’s not so easy to allow yourself to break up what looks like a solid piece of finished work. So I printed it out! I often find this helps because I can lay out the pages in a continuous landscape roll and see the entire piece at once, rather than seeing individual pages as discreet sections, and I feel much more free working on the floor/table with physical scissors, sellotape and a pencil. Especially in the middle of the night, when sleep is not a thing…

This activity definitely helped me to feel more positive about my piece (like I was taking back control!) but it wasn’t until I was forced away from my computer completely (for a long weekend of pre-wedding events (not mine!)) that I made myself think about the flavour of the piece that I wanted to create. And that’s when I realised that I had become too drawn in by the process of using the selected ‘tone row’ of pitches that I had found in the Haydn quartet (my companion piece) so that I was no longer writing my own piece…

I often do line drawings in the early stages of writing a piece to get ideas going: it allows me to work gesturally and expressively as I can quickly capture the essence of what my intentions are without worrying about the finer details. I like imagining the progression of sounds and often hear the instruments in my head as I draw, so that the results are instinctive rather than considered. In this instance, I produced shorthand representations of the types of textures I intended and, before I knew it, I had drawn out the whole quartet and created a distilled version of all the work I had done up to this point.


This provided me with the structural framework that I had been needing and a notational solution where I could more easily play around with my initial concept of pulling the focus in and out. So now I could apply the Haydn to my own work, instead of the other way round. As my PhD supervisor Dr George Nicholson once said to me; “remember you are dealing with sound”. Wise words! (i.e. ‘get away from the computer’)…

Author: jennyjacksoncomposer

Jenny Jackson is a composer of acoustic instrumental and vocal work. She is strongly influenced by a long-term interest in the visual and dramatic arts and often chooses to exploit the visual aspect of musical performance in her concert pieces. She has developed this to create two fully staged pieces of music theatre and has collaborated to produce multidisciplinary projects with visual artists, sculptors, writers and choreographers. She is a member of Platform 4 composers - a composer collective based in Sheffield.

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