BMus (Hons), 2009
From Aberdeen to Award-Winning Composer
Your Time at Aberdeen
Why did you choose to study at Aberdeen?
My brother had studied at Aberdeen University and loved it! The music degree there also combined teaching, which at that stage is what I thought I would do.
Why did you choose your particular course?
I always loved music from a young age and Aberdeen was the only Scottish university where you could combine it with a teaching degree which is what I initially wanted to do. However, it soon became apparent that the more I studied composition and performing, the more there was to learn, and so I was keen to keep developing those skills, and switched to a major in Composition and Piano.
What did you most enjoy about your time at Aberdeen? Did you have any particularly memorable student experiences?
I loved studying music and performing in many different ensembles, including some musical theatre on stage. Living near the sea made for a beautiful surrounding and I spent many mornings running along the beach soaking up inspiration to write. One of my favourite memories was the night before my 21st in November; I gathered a group of friends to swim in the sea at 10pm and it was absolutely freezing but so much fun! Some of my best experiences were being part of the Christian union where my faith really grew and I made some amazing lifelong friends.
If you were involved in any clubs and societies as a student, what did you enjoy most about them and what benefit do you think they have for students?
Despite joining the volleyball team, I injured my thumb quite early on and was soon told to take up a different sport to keep my hands injury free for the piano. I soon discovered my love for running and swimming which were both great ways to switch off from a long day of study. I was very involved in the Gilbert and Sullivan Society and Christian Union during my years in Aberdeen. Both societies were great fun, a chance to develop as a person, and a place to meet great friends.
Did you hold any student leadership roles?
I was treasurer for the Gilbert and Sullivan Society and Vice-President of the Christian Union.
If talking to a group of prospective students, what advice would you give them to help them make the most of their time at the University of Aberdeen?
Make the most of being by the sea. Balmedie beach was one of my favourite places to escape the busy days of study. Societies are also a great way to meet friends with similar passions.
Your Time After Aberdeen
What was the title of your first job after graduating from Aberdeen?
I worked as a Piano Teacher and an Usher in Riverside TV Studios.
What did your first role involve?
After graduating from my masters I began freelance work as a private piano teacher, teaching around South West London. I also got a part-time job at Riverside TV Studios in Hammersmith which was a great way to see lots of live theatre.
What is your current job title?
Head of Classical Music at HTB London and Freelance Composer.
What is your current role?
I head up the Classical Music at Holy Trinity Brompton which includes over 100 musicians, including 2 choirs, a small chamber orchestra and organists for both weekly Sunday services plus special events throughout the year. I also work as a freelance Composer. I am currently working on my first Symphony commissioned to premiere in Montana USA 2022, and have just finished a setting of 'Ubi Caritas' for a choir to premiere in Hartford, Connecticut, USA.
What is your current location?
Describe the journey from your first job after graduating to where you are now.
After graduating I started working as a freelance piano teacher and got a job at a TV studio which was great fun and I was able to see a variety of theatre/stage work, films, TV shows and meet some interesting people. I then took a job as a PA to a TV Director which involved being more hands on in production and gaining skills working as a music script supervisor on some big arena shows. Meanwhile, I was also working part time as a composer on some small local choir commissions.
Keen to improve my orchestrating skills, I then moved into music publishing and worked as an editor alongside my composing which was a great experience arranging and assisting in orchestration. It was there that I got a wonderful commission to write 10 minutes of music to underscore a production of the Exodus at the Royal Albert Hall which was a real highlight.
I have had the chance to write music and work with many musicians in London including the London Symphony Chorus, Orchestra and was recently aired on BBC Radio 3 with the first a cappella choral piece I ever wrote whilst studying at Aberdeen - 'Unfailing Love'. Last year I was delighted to accept a publishing deal with Universal Editions and alongside that I love working at my local church, HTB heading up their Classical Music.
Was your degree at Aberdeen essential for getting to where you are now? If so, in what way?
Yes, definitely! I always wanted to be a film and TV composer, and still love the chance to write film score music for events/theatre, but in my final year I got to work closely with Paul Mealor who opened my eyes to the world of choral music and I never looked back since. I love writing for choirs!
One Top Tip
Never give up on your dreams - everyone's path looks different, but focus on your own goals and aim to do what you love!
Find out more about Joanna and her work at her official website.