Blog: NYJO Artistic Director Mark Armstrong on his ABRSM Shine Commission

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This Friday, NYJO are performing at Shine – a full-day event at the Barbican organised by the ABRSM to celebrate music education.  ABRSM commissioned our Artistic Director Mark Armstrong to write a new work for the occasion with the same name, and the piece can be configured for all sizes and types of ensemble; from duos to symphony orchestras with chorus, and for beginners and professional musicians alike. We asked Mark how he approached this mammoth composition task:



I am excited to have been commissioned by the ABRSM to write some music for the SHINE event. The music for the day consists of a piece for jazz orchestra, which will be played by NYJO, and a reworked version of the same material for chamber orchestra and NYJO plus singers and three solo instruments.


I played with the word SHINE for inspiration in this. Firstly I liked the idea of “Sh…in E” – a piece that is (at least to start with) quiet and in E major. As a 5 letter word SHINE suggests 5 notes – a pentatonic scale. Added to this is the idea of making the music shiny: a very shiny bright sound is created by using the Lydian mode (i.e. the sound of the white notes on the piano played from F to F). I thought it would be good to then explore the idea of music moving from light to dark using other modes.


Apart from the challenge of blending all the forces together into one (very) large group another issue for me was text. I looked extensively for a poem that used “shine” and had some relevance to education and achievement in music and perhaps unsurprisingly I couldn’t find anything suitable! I realised I would have to write my own lyric and this is my first foray into this world and an interesting addition to the more familiar job of composing and arranging.


In future the ABRSM plan to use what I have written as a resource to support music teachers, providing a variety of arrangements for different sizes and abilities of ensemble. Of course the full big band version will also be available and I’ve made a version for piano and voices too. On top of this I hope I’ve written music that is colourful and energetic with a positive message and shown how the worlds of Jazz and classical music can come together based on shared musical ideas and principles and that in modern age grooves can be found in the orchestral string section as well as in the rhythm section of a jazz band.



Tickets for Shine are FREE but registration closes at 11pm on Tuesday 4 July. For more information, click here.

And look out for a video of the piece to be posted on our website after the event.

Photo credits: Guy Carpenter

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