Composing for Cumbria Calling 3

On 23 & 24 February 2019, young musicians taking part in our Cumbria Calling project had an intensive two days of composing workshops with Manchester Camerata musicians. As well as composing a piece for the project, the participants will be curating and programming a schools concert to be performed by Cumbria Youth Orchestra alongside Manchester Camerata players. We spoke to Emma (who plays drums, guitar, piano and sings) and Ombretta (who plays clarinet, piano and sings) about their experience of the project so far, and you can read a transcript of their conversation below.

Cumbria Calling is now in its third year, how have you found the project this time?

Ombretta: I’ve found it really good, it’s different to the past three years because we’ve based more of a story around the research that we’ve done rather than already existing tales [read about Cumbria Calling 2 – Tales of Eden here], which has been quite interesting to find out things about local areas like Brampton and so on.

Emma: It’s my first year doing the project and I’ve really enjoyed learning different methods of how to compose and taking from Andy and the musicians the sort of process of creating a story and then creating a piece of music to go with that story.

Ombretta: I found that as well and I’ve been more experimental with my stuff at school like GCSE last year and now A Level. Learning how to come up with ideas and finding ways of doing that has been quite interesting.

Emma: I’ve also found it really helpful with my GCSE music, even just the few sessions we’ve had. They came into school and gave us some advice on our pieces that we’ve done, and doing these workshops as well I’ve found it’s really kind of helped me with my composition skills and how to compose. But also meeting people who are musicians, because I’m not part of a band and I don’t play a conventional orchestral instrument, but it’s been really nice to be included in that sort of process.

Ombretta: Yeah there’s not that many people at my school who are that musical so it’s quite good to see different people that do similar things and are interested in the same things as you.

Emma: I completely agree. Even just my music classes are very small classes of people and we all play very similar instruments so it’s been really nice to meet other young people who play completely different instruments, but then also the professional musicians and talking to them about how they play their instruments and why they like to play their instruments, it’s given me a new interest and wanting to take up new instruments as well as the ones I’m already doing. It’s been really really fun.

Ombretta: I found it good because there’s been a couple where they’ve played different instruments, but even some of the ones that are just other woodwind instruments, it’s been quite good because they can show you different things that your instrument can do that you never even realised because they’re so much more experienced because they do it for a job. It’s quite interesting to see and you just never realise or think about what your instrument can do.

Emma: From my perspective it’s interesting to see what other instruments can do but also I’ve found as we’ve composed the piece they’ve always kept in mind that my instrument is slightly different to the orchestral instruments. The elements of what I play have been completely different. I play the bass part in places and I play the melody in other places and it’s been stretching the ability on my instrument. So for me, even though it’s not necessarily sort of what’s traditional and what we usually work with, it’s been really good.

Ombretta: Yeah I’ve found it quite interesting how it’s a complete range of different instruments, like we’ve got you on guitar and then we’ve got other more classical instruments and then we’ve got percussion which you get in all kinds of different things and it’s nice to see. And we’ve used it in different forms, we haven’t just stuck to classical music, we’ve gone with the calypso theme as well which I thought was quite cool how you can see how the different instruments fit in there.

Emma: I think seeing how different instruments make different sounds, and at the same time it’s very laid back – obviously we do a lot of work but at the same time you sit there and you’re having fun and you’re coming up with ideas and within two hours you’ve got one or two minutes of a piece. And it’s mad because when you’re doing it on your own it’s taken me months and months to write a two-minute piece and suddenly it all just pops together. But also the theory that we’ve done, we haven’t spent ages hammering at theory, we’ve spent ten minutes doing it and suddenly it makes so much more sense now from my point of view for composing.

Ombretta: Yeah because it’s the practical application of it, you realise how it actually fits into stuff.

How have you found the programming element of the workshops, choosing the other pieces for the concert?

Emma: I think programming a concert has been really interesting from the sense of you’ve got to think about your piece and then how you’re going to sort of centre the performance not completely around your piece but around what your piece stands for and what the story of it is. And keeping in mind who your audience is, what your audience wants, and how you’re going to keep it so the audience wants to keep on listening.

Ombretta:  Yeah I’d never really thought about themes and stuff before but when we were doing it earlier today it make me realise and think about past things that I’d done, how everything has a theme and it’s all related to something as a whole and thought that was quite good.

Emma: Even if you don’t realise it you’ve got the theme there and when you actually think about it you can link it and you can see the bigger picture of what the concert’s trying to represent. It was really good to be able to talk to a professional programmer about what he thinks about and what his process is and it’s helpful to see what kind of other jobs are available in the music industry as well.

Ombretta: It’s interesting to see how many different things and how many different roles there are and how much effort goes into one period of two hours or an hour or however long a concert is because it changes your perspective. It’s been really fun so far and looking forward to doing the show.


Cumbria Calling 3 will culminate with a performance of the new work on 9 July 2019 in a concert programmed and performed by the participants, Cumbria Youth Orchestra and Manchester Camerata. Find out more about previous Cumbria Calling projects here.