As BCMG prepares to launch its brand-new project, BCMG Young Composers, Nancy, our Director of Learning, takes a moment to reflect on the personal reasons why this, and other projects like it, are important to her and to new generations of young musicians.

When I was little, I remember my mum telling me not to mess around on the piano. To me, I wasn’t messing around but experimenting and thinking about the different colours I thought the chords and clusters of notes made. Not for a moment did it occur to me that this might be the beginning of composing and the kind of musical play that composers get to do every day!

By the time I was 11, I was busy playing cornet and trumpet in my local brass band and various jazz bands. It was a rich and varied musical life and I had many opportunities to travel and meet some fabulous musicians. The only creative music-making I knew about was jazz improvisation which appeared to me a kind of mystical art that only some people were good at. I had definitely never met a living composer or considered composing myself. A little like jazz improvisation, composing was something other people did – mostly people from the past, and mostly men.

By the time I got to my GCSEs, it was just the second year that composing was part of the exam syllabus. I found this exciting and remember attempting to set the words of the Jabberwocky poem for voice and brass quartet, creating a 12 tone serialist piece for the school wind band(!), and creating music involving the noise short wave radios used to make when you changed frequency. The results were quite strange but also quite conventional. Like many, I had been left to get on with it with little support, input, or real understanding of what I was doing. I’m not sure where my ideas came from, but I loved the freedom and playfulness composing gave me. After that composing didn’t appear in my musical life again for some time.

The excitement I had felt when composing was rekindled when studying 20th Century music at college and when volunteering on the Halle Orchestra’s outreach programme with primary school children in Hyde, Manchester. One particular project stands out, exploring the music of the 20th Century Polish composer Witold Lutosławski, where children were invited to compose their own music inspired by that of Lutosławski. Composer James Macmillan was leading the workshops with professional musicians from the Hallé Orchestra. It was the first time I thought, ‘wow! composing doesn’t have to be an elitist activity – this is something all young people can do given the right opportunity and support’.

Fast forward many years, to working at BCMG as their Director of Learning and working freelance as a musician in early years settings. Here, I was constantly amazed at the musical creativity of even the very youngest children I encountered and had the joy of making music with. It made me think, where does this joy in creating music go and why is it that we often solely focus our attention on playing the music of others? And, why isn’t composing and creating music at the heart of what it is to be musical and valued the same way as playing a musical instrument? Why had I not been encouraged or had the opportunity even to consider composing? The truth is that when and where I was growing up, these kinds of opportunities didn’t exist.

BCMG has worked hard for many years to create opportunities for young people to compose and create music together, young people who mostly didn’t consider themselves to be composers. BCMG Young Composers is our latest project to encourage young people to dip their toes into composing. The future of music depends on new and diverse musical voices being heard. Could yours be one of them?


Get involved with BCMG Young Composers