Jenni Pinnock is a composer based in South Cambridgeshire. I began by asking her what had led to the collaboration with poet Graham Palmer.
Aidan: Do you have any more collaborations planned?
Jenni: I first discovered Graham through Twitter. He was doing work with the Royston Arts Festival. We got together for a cup of tea, and talked about our shared interest in stories and local history and maps. And we decided, let’s try collaborating on a piece. No strings attached. And it worked wonderfully, which then led to our longer collaboration of Cracked Voices.
We’re currently working on a winter Yule song, and we’ve put funding bids in for some bigger projects.
An immersive installation in a hut
Aidan: Have there been collaborations with anybody else?
Jenni: Yes, I do quite a bit of collaborative work. Another partner I’ve worked with recently is the writer Elizabeth Lewis Williams. Antarctica is a big focus of her work because her father went out and spent time there as a scientist. A performer brought us together because I’d done some music circling around climate change as a topic. We’ve done some collaborative educational projects. And then we worked together on Deception Island, which is an immersive installation, set in an Antarctic hut, that’s toured the UK. It started in Norwich, it came to Cambridge last year, and it’s been all over the place.
Aidan: Not quite like the hut on fowl’s legs, but it moves around the country.
Jenni: Yes, it’s based on one of the Antarctic hut designs, and then the installation is projected. So, it’s a combination of her parents’ words, which we had actors record, and music, and then archival film and sounds – from penguins, from equipment working, from boats, and also from less pleasant things like the whaling industry.
Aidan: What’s the story of your Quangle Quadrille?
Jenni: The ‘Adopt a Composer‘ scheme paired me with the Quangle Wangle Choir back in 2013. We created Quangle Quadrille together and they performed it many times after. I am now a mentor on the scheme. So I don’t get to do the lovely working with leisure time ensembles but I get to oversee a music creator, to make sure nothing goes wrong.
Something new every day
Aidan: You made a creative pact with yourself in 2015, to write something new every day for the month of September. How does that fit into the story of your work now?
Jenni: Writing something every day was a really good discipline. Often, in those spaces in between times, when you’re not actually focusing properly, ideas come out. I had a really packed day on Monday. I had this musical theme in my head all day, and I had to go and sit down and work on it because it just was in there. This term is a bit different. I’m trying to make sure I play something every day by somebody else, as well as composing.
Aidan: Gustav Holst said, “Never write anything, unless not writing it has become positively inconvenient to you.” Like that theme that you had on Monday. Thomas Hardy, on the other hand, advised writing something every day. You spoke about a Hardy-type approach, but then, in came that little theme. Where would you see yourself on the spectrum between Holst and Hardy?
Jenni: I like the discipline of writing something every day. I do a lot of walking. And I often find that I have music in my head that just won’t go away – earworms of things I want to create or things that are in there that have to come down.
Aidan: What’s the best place online to hear more recent work of yours than you have on SoundCloud?
Aidan: What’s the largest-scale piece you’ve written?
Jenni: The longest was Cracked Voices, at just over an hour. And Revolution was a piece for orchestra about climate change – the concentration of different molecules in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide and methane and things like that. The proportion of these musical molecules changed as the piece progressed. Not quite improvisatory, but random repetition. And then, after the Industrial Revolution that caused a lot of this climate change, it went into an optimistic ‘This is what we’d like the future to be’ with solar and tidal energy. It was over 10 minutes, but I can’t remember exactly.
A composer in lockdown
Jenni: I had to spend a lot of time homeschooling, versus teaching the few students I had left online, versus composing. At the beginning of lockdown, I was very inspired to keep writing. There’s a piece called Musical Distancing, which Duncan Honeybourne has put in his latest album. And that was a piano piece where all the notes are musically distant from one another, with times of anxiety when they’re getting closer. I got funding from the Arts Council to finish a piece called Awakening, which was all about how nature started responding to the lockdowns. There was less carbon dioxide around because the trees were allowed to recover, and a lot less pollution everywhere. Nature awakened when people stopped invading so many spaces. And of course, there was also Buried Treasure. I wrote quite a bit, considering the craziness going on.
Aidan: Have you written any hymn tunes?
Jenni: No. I tend to stay away from writing anything too religious. I had very religious grandparents, and I had very non-religious grandparents. I’ve always felt I shouldn’t push anyone one way or the other in my work.
Aidan: If people in choirs or other ensembles feel that they’re drawn to commission a new work from you, how should they go about this?
Jenni: Send me an email. I really like working with leisure-time musicians, because they’re people who have their day jobs for whatever they’re getting on with in the world, and then dedicate their evenings and weekends to making music. I really love creating something that suits them, that they can take ownership of.
We have the impression that many East Anglia Bylines readers dedicate their leisure time to making music in the way Jenni describes. Would any of you like to take her up on her offer – take ownership of a Jenni Pinnock creation?
This article was lightly edited for clarity.