Polyphony Arts is delighted to welcome Edwin Roxburgh to the Polyphony Arts team!
Distinguished composer and virtuoso oboist, Edwin has won numerous prizes and Fellowships. As a student, he was recipient of the Elgar Trust Award through a BBC Symphony Orchestra commission, as well as a British Academy Award for his Oboe Concerto, An Elegy for Ur, and a Cobbett Medal for Services to Chamber Music.
Edwin’s musical works encompass a broad range of instrumental setting, adventuring through a variety of sophisticated, fascinating sound worlds. His work Saturn, with a tribute to Holst, explores the mythical characters of its moons and satellites, in “an epic orchestral and electronic space-scape effortlessly blending Roxburgh’s understanding of Boulez and Stockhausen with a Birtwistle-like sense of ritual” (The Wire). He awaits a performance of his opera Abelard (libretto by Edwin and Julie Roxburgh), published by United Music Publishing under the auspices of a Leverhulme Research Fellowship. Other commissions include How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear, for narrator and orchestra, produced on ITV’s Aquarius with Vincent Price and Diana Menuhin as narrators. Recordings of Edwin’s works are available on various prestigious labels, including NMC, Naxos, Warehouse and Metier.
Beside his busy career as a composer, Edwin’s artistic activities include performing, conducting and teaching. He is currently a visiting tutor and researcher at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, where he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship, and has conducted numerous premieres – originally with the Twentieth Century Ensemble of London, which he founded, and later with several other principal orchestras of the UK.
Polyphony Arts is thrilled to welcome composer and all-round artist Edward Cowie! Described as ‘one of the most distinctive musical minds of our time’ (Observer), Cowie’s music frequently fuses his rich knowledge and interest in science, nature and the visual arts. Many of his works are preceded by pre-compositional drawings—many of which have been presented in numerous public exhibitions; in addition, studies and collaborations with leading physicists led to a body of new works that directly translate scientific theory and experiment into music.
Edward Cowie has been a composer in Association with the BBC Singers (2003-5), and the first Artist in Residence with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Among Edward’s prestigious successes as a composer, his numerous awards include a Gulbenkian Award to study at The Royal Ballet, The Radcliffe International Composer’s Prize and a Chopin Fellowship to study with Lutosławski in Poland. His work for television has included a major film on Edward Lear for Granada TV, and his acclaimed BBCTV2 film ‘Leonardo of 1986’. As an academic, Edward has held major professorships in two Australian and one British University; his reputation continues to grow worldwide, and new CDs emerge with high praise and appreciation.
“I’ve had to stop and restart my business three times. Every single time I start from scratch. If I’d had access to shared parental leave, my husband and I could have managed to keep both businesses going… My husband pays his taxes, contributes to society, so why on earth doesn’t he get paid paternity leave?”
Ella Jarman-Pinto, composer, talks about work/parenthood balance, the inequalities of freelance maternity and paternity leave, and how she can work creatively with other musicians and film-makers as well as raising a family.
How many children do you have and how old are they?
I have three children, two of them living. Marvellous would have been 5, Otis is 3.5 (threenager, argh!) and Vita is 13 months.
Tell me a bit about your work and how it is structured.
I help media and film producers by creating unique and timeless musical compositions, ensuring that their creative vision remains at the forefront. I find it fascinating that music can completely change the emotion of a scene, and my job is to unpick exactly what a producer or director needs and channel it into music. This is the perfect career as it means that I can work from home. My husband is studying away on a music therapy masters for half of the week, so it means that if the children are ill I can just work in the evening to catch up. The children are in nursery three afternoons a week, and my mum helps me for one evening when I have to teach. In addition I help people of all ages and experiences in the community unleash their inner creativity, whether that’s through singing or composing. My new singing group ParentSing, (Fridays, 1.15-2.30pm, Penrith) is for parents who need to take time for themselves but struggle with childcare.
Tell me about your work/parenthood balance.
It’s hard and it’s still evolving. We’re only four weeks into my husband’s two year course, so we’re adjusting as we go along! I think I’ve changed nursery days three times over the last two months. But I spend a wonderful amount of time with my kids. They’ve only just started playing together and it’s just amazing.
Have you had to turn down opportunities because of being a parent?
I don’t think I have, but I’ve been on maternity leave so much in the last few years that I have really been able to pick and choose what I want to do. I’ve felt more empowered with less time, because it means I have to focus. The work that I do is exactly what I want, and that means I write better music and am a better teacher. I do have to big up Harriet Wybor at PRS at this point, because I was invited to take part in the Wild Plum Songbook/PRS/Cheltenham Music festival workshops for female composers. Vita was only six months and exclusively breastfed, so I said I needed to bring her with me. Harriet didn’t bat an eyelid, organised enough food for my sisters who looked after her and arranged a room that I could care for her in. It meant that I could go and have this fantastic experience and I’m so grateful to them. Vita loved it too!
Do you have a partner, and if so are they also freelance? What effect does this have?
My husband is freelance as well. He has been doing a lot of peri teaching all over the county as it is a relatively stable income and has helped us while we had our family. However, September has always been a very scary time. One year none of his schools had confirmed, we were two weeks into the new school year and he was the main wage earner. I ended up taking on a lot of teaching on an instrument I didn’t enjoy in order to make up the shortfall. It was fab to start with, but we struggled with winter illnesses and nursery and lost a lot of money between us. By the time I went on maternity leave we were clear that I should pursue composition more as it meant I could work from home and be more flexible.
Do you have regular childcare, and if so, in what form?
We send our kids to a fab nursery with a beautiful meadow out of the back! The children spend most of the time outside and are really happy there. The nursery is as flexible as it can be, but we have had to rely on parents and friends a lot. We can’t afford and don’t want full-time childcare, so until now have split the remaining days equally between us. We also have a rule that whomever was supposed to be with the children has to organise the childcare if they then get work.
Have you performed anywhere that made the work/parenthood balance easier?
When both kids were tiny I’d regularly sing with them in slings on my back or front. A number of times they’ve made a grab for the mic or joined in!
What can promoters/venues/festival organisers do to help freelance artists who are parents?
Creche, quiet rooms, food(!), regular breaks, an understanding smile, etc.
Are there any organisations/venues/festivals etc that you have worked with that are particularly supportive of performers who are parents?
I mentioned PRS above. Love them. They were so so lovely!! Plus, Vita was the star of the show. Every break she would come out and everyone, mentors and composers alike, came to say hello. I joked I should do all of my networking with her with me.
Were you freelance before you had children? If not, what prompted the change?
I’ve been freelance for ten years. I worked in a couple of PAYE jobs straight out of uni, but I like the freedom and being my own boss. Having children has made me even more grateful to be self-employed. I can choose my hours, and spend time with my children. And I think my husband spends more time with them than he would as PAYE because he’s not stuck with the old patriarchal ideas that men shouldn’t be adjusting their hours at work.
How did being a freelance musician affect your parental leave?
This is a subject that I feel very strongly about. I’m a follower and supporter of Olga FitzRoy, who is campaigning for shared parental leave to be extended to self-employed parents. I’ve had to stop and restart my business three times. Every single time I start from scratch. If I’d had access to shared parental leave, my husband and I could have managed to keep both businesses going. I’m also so angry when it comes to KIT days. I work hourly. So telling me that teaching one lesson in a day (for example, if there are difficulties scheduling) counts as a KIT day is completely ridiculous when you compare it to someone else working a full day and getting paid three times the amount. It’s also ridiculous that PAYE parents can start a freelance job and not be under the same rules. Don’t get me started on paternity! My husband pays his taxes, contributes to society, so why on earth doesn’t he get paid paternity leave?
Ella Jarman-Pinto is a Cumbria-based composer and vocal leader. She studied composition with Julian Philips at Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Ella was one of six composers selected to take part in the Wild Plum Songbook workshops, a collaboration with PRS and Cheltenham Music Festival, with Everyday Magic, in March 2019. She was Composer in Residence with Streetwise Opera from 2016-17 and an RPS Young Musician from 2013-14.
Ella provided the original music score for award-winning short film, AstraZeneca’ The Attack’, with Maker Projects and Havas Lynx, that won a Bronze award at Cannes Lion for Cinematography in 2018. Other recent commissions include a short film with Maker Projects that won a Bronze award at Cannes Lion for Cinematography in 2018; Savage and Allan Jeffers for The Art of Change as part of their staged song cycle, The Reckoning, premiered July 2018; and Songs for my Children for Hull Urban Opera as part of Brain Jar Session #2, July 2018. Ella has been featured in BBC Radio 3’s International Women’s Day (2016) and BBC National Music Day (2015) celebrations with BBC Singers performances of Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep. She received a further performance and broadcast by the BBC Singers of Heigh Ho, The Holly!, in October 2016.
Ella writes for voice, TV and film; she teaches singing and composition in Cumbria; and works alongside BlueJam Arts to encourage children and adults to follow their creative impulses and to make music, whatever their experience.
Welcome to week 2 of our blog series on freelance musicians who are also parents. This week, meet Nina Danon, composer. She talks about managing the work/parent balance, and how it can feel like we have two sides to ourselves – something I think a lot of us can relate to!
When my partner and I decided to try for a child, I had only recently reached a point in my career where I was financially stable doing only music related work. I was balancing running my own private teaching studio with developing my career as a composer and sound artist. I was working full time, mostly long hours, and the idea of adding a baby to that was, frankly, terrifying. Throughout my life, various teachers, mentors and colleagues, both men and women, had warned me against starting a family if I was serious about becoming a composer, and I was afraid that becoming a mother would mean having to sacrifice my career. Luckily, I have always enjoyed proving people who make assumptions about me wrong, and I had always known I wanted to be a mother, so my husband and I decided to go for it!
A few months before I got pregnant, I got accepted as a composer into BOOK Music and Lyrics, a series of professional development workshops for musical theatre lyricists, composers and librettists. The course lasts two years, over which participants attend weekly meetings and are asked to present a new song every three weeks on average. I was over the moon about this opportunity, as I had always dreamt of working in musical theatre but had only very limited experience in that field. The first term put my resolutions of finding a good work/life balance to the test, as I went through a miscarriage, a wedding, and the first trimester of a new pregnancy. At the peak of my morning sickness (which was definitely NOT limited to the morning!), I had to write and present 4 songs in 5 weeks, working with 4 different lyricists, and moving house in the process. I suppose that’s when I realised that I was going to be ok…
The rest of the pregnancy went smoothly, and I continued working until a few days before Maël, my son, was born. The second year of BML started three weeks after the birth, and for my first six months of motherhood, keeping up with the workshop’s deadlines to develop my first musical was all I was able to do. My husband is a freelancer too, so he was able to take a lot of time off and was a tremendous help. We were also fortunate to have my family close by to look after the little one in situations where both of us had to work at the same time. I made a point of not missing any single deadline at BML, no matter how hard finding the time to write and rehearse with a newborn son was! It was extremely difficult, but also allowed me to feel like myself again while navigating through the life changing process of becoming a new parent.
I still find it tricky to reconcile the desire to be my child’s primary caregiver with the need to develop my career. I often feel like I am two different people, the stay at home mother who wishes to spend more time with her son, and the composer who wishes to create all the time. Switching from one to the next is hard, and I am still experimenting with different ways to balance the two. When Maël was seven months old I began applying for opportunities again and developing new projects, gradually increasing my workload. The unpredictability of my schedule makes it difficult to stick to rigid timetables, so I tend to avoid jobs that have strict working hours over several days or that would require too many meetings in locations where I wouldn’t be able to bring my son or at times where I wouldn’t be able to find a suitable childcare option. Becoming a mother has forced me to revaluate my priorities, be more strict with the type of projects I would accept, and as a result I have found the work I have done since having a child much more rewarding. I have been lucky enough to work with several collaborators and organisations which were very understanding of the needs of a new mother, and made me feel completely at ease, such as Psappha Ensemble, and my colleagues at BML, but this is not an industry that was built with parents in mind, and too often having a child is seen as a disadvantage, rather than the huge source of inspiration and strength it actually is!
If anyone reading this would like to encourage freelancers with young children to apply to their opportunities, please hold meetings/rehearsals/performances in child friendly venues!
This includes having a comfortable private area for breastfeeding and pumping and holding breaks long enough to allow a mother the time to do those things. Also, let parents know that their children (and a nanny or family member to look after the kids) are welcome, and offer a bit of flexibility to allow parents to fit their work around their children’s schedules (which are always very rigid). Too often, parents will feel uncomfortable talking about their obligations and special needs (imagine being a young woman and having to discuss your breastfeeding requirements with your middle-aged male employer) or fear appearing unprofessional if discussing any child-related issue. So, if you want to help, be the one to initiate the conversation. Offer all artists you work with a more flexible schedule, ask them what their requirements are. You will make them feel heard and comfortable, and they will be able to give you their best work.
Nina Danon is a Franco-Italian composer, pianist and audio-visual artist. She regards music as something that can be experienced through all senses, and collaborates with artists from all disciplines to establish new connections between their creative processes and redefine the relationship between music and other forms of art.
Her work encompasses sound and audiovisual art, film music, musical theatre and multi-sensorial experiences for galleries and museums. Over the years, she has collaborated with artists and ensembles including David Friedman and the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg. Her music has been commissioned by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Zeni Winery and Wine Museum amongst others, and performed in venues such as the Museum of Oriental Art of Turin, the Criterion Theatre and The Place in London. In 2018, Nina was selected to take part in Psappha Ensemble’s Composing For scheme, writing a new piece for clarinetist Dov Goldberg.
Nina is a member of the Advanced Group of BOOK Music and Lyrics, a programme of ongoing workshops for the creation, crafting and development of musical theatre writing and related specialist skills.
Twitter: @ncdanon (https://twitter.com/ncdanon)