The choir Granta Chorale ran a competition in the autumn for composers aged 11–18. A-level student Claire Middleton entered with a setting of words by John Keble (1792–1866). Claire is from a musical family. Her sister Anna won a similar competition in 2015, and is now studying composition at the Royal Birmingham Conservatory.
I interviewed Claire by Zoom recently, and her mother Kathryn was also of the party. I asked Claire if she was involved in any choirs or bands.
Claire: Yes, I sing, and I play low brass. I’m in every single ensemble that will take me at school! Outside of school, I’m in Junior Prime Brass, and I sing with the National Youth Choir, as well.
Aidan: How did they take the news of your prize?
Claire: They were all very excited. The most exciting part was, I was singing with Granta Chorale at the time of the competition. But nobody knew I’d entered except for my mum and the competition organizers. And everything was judged anonymously. And so having to sing the piece with them and get such a positive response from everyone was so lovely, especially as a lot of members of the choir also do composing alongside singing. It was really cool having all that feedback from everybody.
Aidan: What led you to John Keble’s text?
Claire: I was scrolling on the Hymns and Carols of Christmas website. And it just came up to me and I loved the idea of church bells. And that line really stuck with me – it’s
“Long may that soothing cadence ear, heart, conscience win”
and I thought that was such a beautiful line. When you do music, you’re surrounded by church music, even if you’re not religious at all, it’s such a key thing. And that really resonated with me and I thought I could evoke the sound of bells in my music.
Your interviewer here let himself get sidetracked into praise of his go-to resource Hymnary, and hymn tunes named after places, and Kathryn volunteered a suggestion of a tune to cover in the East Anglia Bylines series about such things. But the digression was quickly brought under control.
Aidan: What do you plan to do next with this particular carol?
Claire: Christmas time is over. I’m currently in my school’s production for Sweeney Todd. And after that is A-levels. So currently I don’t know what’s going to happen with it. But I’ll always look for opportunities for it to come out again.
Aidan: What do you plan to do next with your composing in general?
Claire: I’m looking to study music and sound engineering at university. I’ve been getting some offers for that. I’m still waiting for everything to come in, though. I’m just trying to focus on getting my A levels right and taking my trombone Grade 8 and a singing diploma. But I’m still open-minded about whether to go for sound design, recording or composing or whatever.
Aidan: That pretty much answers my final question about what career plans you have.
Claire: Anything to do with music! For my work experience I did some sound design with Cambridge Youth Opera’s new production, The Little Black Cat. That was composing, but nothing to do with set notation, it was all about creating the sound and the space to be performed live and an opera. I got really enthused with that!
Aidan: Is there anything that we absolutely need to tell our readers?
Claire: Go for the competition, because it’s such a cool opportunity!
Granta Chorale plans to run the competition again in 2024! Do we have readers who are composers still at school? Or whose circle includes composers still at school? Granta Chorale would like to hear from them.
Claire’s portrait is courtesy of Granta Chorale — thanks.