In 2021 Jenna Stewart, a former St Margaret’s School for Girls pupil won the prestigious
BBC Young Composer of The Year Award. Out of 529 entrants to six winners, Jenna was
one of two to win in her category at the annual competition which invites 12 to 18 year old
students who create their own original music. The winning composers are given the chance
to work with a mentor on a project with the BBC Concert Orchestra, culminating in a
performance or broadcast opportunity.
Inspired by her musical family, Jenna started playing the violin aged seven and remembers
writing her first piece of music at the age of eight alongside her father. Jenna knew from an
early age she wanted to pursue a life of creativity and as well as having a passion for
composition, has also performed on violin, piano, voice and guitar. The music which won her
the award is a piece for two sopranos with her own spoken voice and electronic effects,
called ‘Lost Times’ which explores the theme of the changing landscape in the Scottish
Highlands, one of her many works she wrote in the midst of the pandemic.
Jenna Stewart left St Margaret’s School for Girls in the Summer of 2021 and is
currently studying BA (Hons) Music at Edinburgh Napier University.
Do you remember when you knew you wanted to be a musician?
“Ever since I was young, I always enjoyed performing and sharing music with others.
Perhaps I was 10 years old when I decided I wanted to be a singer, and then later on in my
early teenage years I realised I wanted to pursue a career in creating and writing music
during the recording of my EP Show Me the Bumpy Road. I think with the culture of ambition
that St Margaret’s provides, I feel more equipped to step out and focus on pursuing a career
in what I am passionate about.”
You already had a keen interest in music when you first attended St Margaret’s, can
you tell me a bit about how this passion was fostered and what opportunities the
school presented to you in terms of musical development?
“I was a keen violinist and pianist when I joined St Margaret’s at the age of 8, and I believe
that since joining St Margaret’s, I was encouraged to experiment and create music in class
time. Later on in my school career, I was given the opportunity to join a composition club and
work on music technology, which harboured my love for composition and music production.
In these times, I learned the basics of using software and technology to create music, as well
as experimenting with the freedom to choose what I wanted to write. Due to the school's
connections with the Aberdeen music scene, I was then encouraged to take part in short
courses run by Sound Scotland which helped me develop my own compositional style.”
Since winning the prestigious award in 2021, can you tell me what you have been
doing and how your career has developed?
“Since winning the award, I composed my piece Unchanging Purpose for the BBC concert
orchestra to play at the Young Composer Prom at Battersea. I recently started studying
music at Napier University in Edinburgh, specialising in musical composition and production.
I also received another commission for the Sound Festival, for a short piece to be composed
by the local Aberdeen ensemble Any Enemy. Since my piece was performed, I have been
more inspired than ever to be proactive about my musical career, and have been searching
for further opportunities to help me network and gain more experience in the Scottish music
scene. I definitely feel that since the concert, I feel very much inspired to pursue creating
music as a career.”
You are now studying BA (Hons) Music at Edinburgh’s Napier University, how are you
finding it? Can you tell me about the recent piece you composed for the BBC concert
orchestra, what was your inspiration?
“I am definitely glad I chose to study at Napier University because of the culture of keen and
encouraging musicians around me. From the first week of freshers studying here, we formed
bands and learned vital skills of musicianship, and most of all had fun playing and
experimenting with music together. I’m excited to see what lies ahead in my university
“The piece I wrote for the BBC concert orchestra I named Unchanging Purpose. For this
commission, the other composers and I were given a brief to write a piece which celebrates
the BBC in its centenary year. I chose to write a piece which celebrated the diversity and
accessibility of a platform which the BBC provides to Britain. The musical concept of my
piece was to write a melody which could be reflected back into the music world 100 years
ago but also reflected forward into the 21st century. The title represents how although music
itself evolves and changes styles, the purpose of music is to serve others and bring light and
positivity to others.”
Your composition was aired on BBC 3, what was that like hearing it and also your
experience of playing live in concert at Battersea Arts Centre?
“The experience of the opportunity to share my music to the public was incredible. One of
my favourite moments in a compositional journey is hearing the music out loud for the first
time through instrumentalists. I had heard my piece being rehearsed and workshopped by
the orchestra, however when it was performed it felt like my music was being played out loud
for the first time again. The BBC concert orchestra was so vibrant and brought so much
personality to the way they played the piece, I feel eternally grateful to have been given the
chance to write for them. I also had the honour of being interviewed by Jess Gillam, where
she gave me the chance to share with the audience in Battersea and the listeners of the
broadcast about the motivation behind my piece.”
What does a typical day look like for you?
“With me, it is very rare to come across a day where I don’t write some form of music.
Whether this takes the form of sitting down at my laptop and composing, or writing lyrics and
a melody that came into my head whilst doing daily tasks. I find myself being inspired by the
environment around me, for new musical ideas, or lyrics to use, and so quite often I will take
a walk where I can mull over ideas and come across new things to be inspired by. As I am
now studying at University, I am finding myself more surrounded by music than ever, be it
sitting in a lecture about harmony, composing, or listening to music with my flatmates. I have
come to realise that music is a big part of everyone’s life, regardless of whether you would
consider yourself a musician or not.”
What’s next, do you have anything exciting lined up?
“I am currently composing a commissioned piece themed around colour and synaesthesia
for the Any Enemy instrumental ensemble, to be premiered during this year’s Sound
Scotland festival. I am also writing and recording more and more demos, to help develop my
musical style as an artist, so that hopefully I can take this further one day and begin to
branch out into the singing/artist industry. Currently I resonate with an R&B style of
For any budding young composers, what advice would you give them?
“I think individuality is key to composition. It’s important to write music how you want to write
music, because it’s when musical boundaries are pushed and reshaped, great music is
produced. I often write music about what is on my mind or what is important to me, or even
what is around me. I also believe that to create music, it just requires you to go for it and get
stuck in, and use what you have to create music.”