I started The Song I Came to Sing by searching for text and loved the evocative language of Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali. The poems are profound, yet light and colourful. I played around with the words out loud, selecting those that I felt I could work with musically, and that could provide material for three contrasting movements.


The first movement/poem expresses the sense of having a purpose in life that is not yet fulfilled, as well as the hope and optimism of knowing that it will come. The second conveys a yearning for an encounter with God and one’s own soul, while the third communicates an experience of at-one-ment with God and all life.

I won JAM’s President’s Commission following their Masterclass Series with the VOCES8 Foundation. I knew this Commission would be premiered at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street with other works for choir, brass and organ; I couldn’t resist exploring this whole new sound palette. I also had the wonderful acoustics of St Bride’s in my mind. JAM’s online tutorials on writing for brass, organ and voices were a useful resource, especially on those instruments I hadn't worked with for a while, or hadn't previously composed for.

I’ve always written quite instinctively and, probably like many composers, when a piece is finished I can’t really remember how I did it! I sometimes find the process excruciatingly hard, although the more I do it, the easier it gets. If I’m really stuck I’ll go for a walk or a swim and think about the music in a new light. The Song… process seemed to flow quite well.

Other sources of inspiration are visual art (I have composed several pieces taking my late father’s paintings as a starting point, for example), the natural world and spiritual/philosophical concepts. On the other hand, some of my solo piano and electronic pieces have come about through improvisation.

I’ve had a wide-ranging musical experience so far, and my career has been anything but linear! Although I played instruments as a child, and enjoyed composing (my piano teacher helped me to notate my little pieces), I didn’t take music A’ level. I thought I wanted to be a theatre or film director. Music was my second subject on my Contemporary Arts degree but I soon realised I loved composing and ended up specialising in it. Later I knew I needed to train more but didn’t think I’d get into a conservatoire without a music degree. I’d always been really interested in film so I applied to film school to study Screen Music. I love the collaboration involved in composing for film, helping to shape narrative and atmosphere.

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I worked for a while scoring some great films, but needed to find a steadier income, and finally retrained to be a secondary school teacher. I really valued the experience of teaching but found I was composing less and less, and missed it. A few years ago, I was fortunate to get some film work that allowed me to take the plunge and go freelance as a composer. Whilst I’d had a fair amount of varying experience, it felt like starting again. Almost by surprise I started writing my own music for concert alongside the film music — there was some interest in it and one performance has led to another. My lack of formal training has been a challenge but in some ways has allowed me to follow my own path. In the last few years I’ve worked with some brilliant musicians including the Hebrides Ensemble, Britten Sinfonia, Charles Owen and VOCES8, with performances in festivals such as the St Magnus International Festival and Leicester International Concert Series.

I’m very happy to have had a ‘second chance’ and I find composing enormously fulfilling. I’ve gradually gained in confidence and have had help along the way – some short courses, a couple of wonderful mentors and for the first time, composition lessons, with Morgan Hayes. I’ve also participated in a composing residency with Wild Plum Arts at the Britten Pears Foundation, Britten Sinfonia’s Opus 1 Scheme and of course, JAM’s Masterclass Series. I think schemes like these help a lot to diversify intake, for example, by removing application fees. And there is a growing recognition of the gender disparity in concert programming. Many schemes have removed upper age limits, realising that there are many reasons why you might be an older 'emerging composer'.

Prior to the JAM Writing for Voices Masterclass, I had composed a few short choral pieces and welcomed the opportunity to delve further. Six composers were invited to have our musical sketches workshopped by VOCES8 during the JAM on the Marsh festival. International composer Paul Mealor led the day, and I received positive input from him, VOCES8 and the other composers at this draft stage. The finished pieces were performed by the VOCES8 Scholars last October at St. Bride’s; I loved hearing how they had all developed. I was surprised and delighted to be awarded the President’s Commission, and to get the chance to write for JAM’s Music of Our Time concert!

I am very much looking forward to hearing my piece for choir, brass and organ performed by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College Cambridge, Onyx Brass and Simon Hogan (organ), conducted by Michael Bawtree. During the concert, JAM will launch its 2023 Masterclass Series with the Sacconi Quartet, focussing on writing for strings. Composers, go for it!

Hear Tara’s premiere on 21 March, 7:30pm, at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street. Information and tickets via www.jamconcert.org


Photo: Jenny Lewis