Sir James MacMillan shares composing expertise with Scotland’s National Music School Pupil

By January 11, 2018

Leading Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan, a regular visitor to St Mary’s Music School where he is a Vice-President, shares his composing expertise with a seventeen-year-old pupil in a new film which highlights the personal achievements and frustrations encountered by the young composer as he develops as a musician.

Tom Aitken, a piano and composition pupil at St Mary’s Music School, discusses his life as a budding composer in Composing, the second in a series of four short films which focuses on the journeys of pupils as they move towards mastery of their chosen instruments and music creation.

Tom, an S6 pupil who has been at the school since 2012, is seen working with Sir James MacMillan on one of his musical compositions and playing piano with fellow pupils.

Commenting, Sir James MacMillan, said:

“St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh is one of the most precious jewels in the musical ecology of Scotland. I’m delighted to have a close association with them, and especially with the young composers who are being nurtured in the school. This film gives a wonderful glimpse into the creativity and imagination that is being cultivated in this special place.”

Tom, a Peeblesshire teenager from Cardrona, in the Scottish Borders, has already received recognition for his composition work. Tom was only fifteen years old when his Piano Quintet No.1 was performed by the RSNO ensemble and pianist Julia Lynch at the official opening of the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen in July 2015.

Tom said:

“It was a great inspiration to work with someone so highly regarded in the compositional world. As a teacher and educator he gives so much, communicating his passion. I loved it.”

The series of four films brings the advice of one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era to life, taking inspiration from the book Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians Revisited by Steven Isserlis.

Schumann’s book, first published in 1850, received a modern focus when updated in 2016 by Steven Isserlis, the internationally renowned British cellist who is also a Vice-President of St Mary’s Music School.

The book provided the inspiration for the school to highlight the most important aspects of being a musician; it follows the sections in Isserlis’ revisit where he describes the processes of practice, composition and performance. The advice has been updated by Isserlis’ own commentary, making the volume an inspiring read for aspiring young musicians.

The first title in the film series Practising was released in November 2017 and a further two titles, which will be released in 2018, are entitled Playing and On Being a Musician.

The commentary in the four films has been provided by one of St Mary’s Music School’s most famous past pupils, television personality and singer, Alexander Armstrong.

Commenting on Composing, Dr Kenneth Taylor, Headteacher at St Mary’s Music School, said:

Composing highlights the work of one of our S6 pupils whose journey is likely to be of interest to all budding composers and all young people who are interested in learning how music is composed.  We are fortunate indeed to have Sir James MacMillan as one of the school’s Vice-Presidents and it was a wonderful opportunity for Tom to have the opportunity to work directly with him.

“The films are available to view online on the school website and our first film Practising has proved very popular, with over 20,000 views since its release in November 2017.”

Members of the public who would like to hear St Mary’s Music School pupils perform in concert are warmly invited to the school’s next public performance which will take place on Tuesday 16 January at 6pm in St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church, George Street, Edinburgh.  The hour-long chamber music concert is free, non-ticketed and all are welcome.

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