With no rehearsals, gigs or studio sessions right now, NYJO has been using the lockdown period to provide professional development opportunities for our young professionals.
For the last month, Head of Professional Development, Roger Wilson, has introduced a range of industry experts to members of our Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Exchange. Whether it’s marketing, promotion, tax or funding, each speaker brings a unique set of insights and experiences ideally suited for contemporary musicians at the onset of their career.
We caught up with Violinist, Composer & Arranger Stephen Hussey, for a session about writing for electric and acoustic instruments. Check out the Q&A below, which covers writing music for different instruments to how he keeps the creative juices flowing during lockdown.
Do you think writing for an instrument has an influence on a musician’s relationship with it?
Yes absolutely. When you write for an instrument you approach it in a different way than solely from a players perspective. On top of knowing the basic elements of the instrument – range, transposition, sound, clef etc, having a good understanding of the more subtle characteristics and the role/place of an instrument in an orchestra or band is fundamental.
It’s like knowing what each of the different pieces can and can’t do in a chess game. For example, as a violinist myself, I know from my own orchestral and chamber music experience that writing for a string section or quartet involves an understanding of the natural hierarchies that exist within a string group and how to best utilise them in a balanced arrangement to give variation of texture, colour, dynamic etc.
Being able to play (even rudimentally) the keyboard or guitar is an essential starting point in understanding chords, voicings etc, but if you can add the experience of playing in an ensemble situation you open yourself to a world of interesting & diverse musical roles and characteristics, and extend your musical writing palette.
What are the main benefits for a young musician of writing original pieces?
Writing original music is the essence of music making. It scratches the creative itch and develops a musicians’ confidence, imagination, knowledge and musical empathy. As well as providing an important creative outlet energetically-speaking, it’s also where the money is in this industry. It’s the writers of the pop song or the composers of the film score who pick up the PRS payments – not the lead singer of the band or the musicians in the orchestra. If you get good at it, people come to you.
Be prolific. Write a lot. It doesn’t matter if you produce ninety-nine tracks only destined for the ‘friends & family chart’, but write one good piece that gets used and earns money – you win.
Have you struggled to keep creating during the lockdown? How have you kept the creative juices flowing?
I think retaining self-discipline has been the hardest thing for me during lockdown. Being stuck for weeks on end in essentially a couple of rooms has been difficult. But I have had several deadline based projects that have kept the creativity flowing. It’s amazing how external deadlines eliminate writer’s block. There’s nothing like the fear of under-delivering or missing a deadline for instilling motivation! But I’ve also enjoyed the freedom of doing some playing/practise, and that alone stimulates ideas and gets me in the flow. The most important thing every day is to get yourself into a position where flow can happen – lockdown or no lockdown.
You have worked across multiple music genres throughout your career. What do you think was your most ambitious project? And the most rewarding?
I always live for that moment, when I walk out of the live room where the orchestra or quartet has been recording, into the studio booth to hear it back. It’s at that moment that I hear the ideas and the music come to life. I loved writing and performing the music for the launch of the BMW 7 series in Munich – it was like writing film music, but the jewel in the crown for me is our ‘Classic Ibiza’ shows – it brings together everything we’re about – fun gigs, fantastic music, great shows and showmanship and ambitious arrangements and production – and I loved producing the 2 ‘Classic Ibiza’ albums – available now on all digital outlets…. (plug, plug!).
Stephen began his career with the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra and has since earned an enviable reputation playing, arranging, orchestrating and conducting successful and ground-breaking projects both in the UK and internationally. The long list of prestigious producers and artists he has worked with include Nitin Sawhney, Maxi Priest, Robert Miles, Mick Jagger, Annie Lennox, Take That, Destiny’s Child and The Script. He has written and arranged prolifically for film and television including music for the hit ITV series, Whitechapel and the award-winning docuseries, Human Planet.
We’d like to thank Stephen for spending the time to connect with us and hope to see him again soon. You can watch some of his work being performed on YouTube including Classic Ibiza, Luminous for BFI, BMW 7 launch, and much more!