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The Ethos of Ambition at St Margaret’s School for Girls

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

career.

“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.”


“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 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

songwriting.”

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.”

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