Helen Grime is a Scottish composer, teacher, and oboeist. Her compositions are steeped in a romantic mindset and bear the influence of early twentieth century Russian and French composers. She’s received numerous high honours from the international musical establishment, as well as commissions from major orchestras. (Check out The Voice Magazine’s review of her recording debut, Night Songs.) Recently she took the time to answer Wanda Waterman’s questions about her training and inspiration.
“The writing is finely textured, dense but airy, ornamental but never decorative. Born in 1981, this highly assured and distinctive composer has an expanding reputation: Night Songs was a BBC Proms commission in 2012 and she is now associate composer of the Hallé Orchestra. No wonder these musicians play her music so expertly.”
– Fiona Maddocks writing about Helen Grime in The Guardian
What’s Your School?
I definitely don’t consider myself to belong to any particular school or style of music. I think, like many others today, my style has a variety of different origins and influences and is something that is constantly evolving.
Classical Car Trips
I grew up surrounded by music. My grandparents and mother were music teachers and I can remember listening to recordings of classical music at a very young age, particularly on long car journeys! Although I heard pop music I was very much drawn to classical music, particularly Debussy and Ravel.
I was lucky enough to have attended music schools in Edinburgh from a young age, and my family has been very supportive. Their musical backgrounds made them aware of how much discipline and hard work is required to become a composer. I’ve always been quite stubborn and very determined, and I think these “qualities” have helped keep me going!
I was offered composition lessons as part of my education at the City of Edinburgh Music School from the age of twelve. I think it’s incredibly important that it was something that everyone did and was an essential part of musicianship.
There was also an arts organisation called ECAT (formerly Edinburgh Contemporary Arts Trust) that held annual workshops on calls for scores. This was an important part of my development as a composer. Hearing my work (at the tender age of 13 and 14) played by top professionals really inspired me to pursue composition.
When I first went to music college in London I was profoundly influenced by the music of Oliver Knussen.
Borrowing a Muse
As a composer my creativity is often sparked by other art forms, and often this is poetry. I wouldn’t say there is one writer who has particularly influenced me; it seems to change all the time although there are certainly writers that I return to time and again.
A Personal Process of Evolution
I write music that I want to hear and that I hope will also speak to others. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel but rather to carve out a very personal body of work that evolves and changes over time.
Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.