Tag Archives: Music

Interview with composer Debbie Wiseman

Debbie Wiseman (c) Michael Leckie

Image credit: Michael Leckie for the Sunday Times

Have you ever listened to a music album obsessively on repeat? I am normally a fussy listener, taking advantage of the ability to pick and choose tracks in the digital age. Last weekend, however, I found myself captivated by the Debbie Wiseman’s soundtrack to the BBC series Wolf Hall. Its music is highly original: urgent and timeless at the same time, mixing traditional Tudor era instruments with the drama one would expect from a contemporary TV series. The soundtrack, released in March 2015,  went straight to #1 on Classic FM, staying in the top ten for weeks thereafter.

I have been dying to interview Debbie Wiseman MBE ever since I had listened to her interview with Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs. Debbie is one of Britain’s most successful classical musicians, composing, conducting, teaching and presenting music. Her music credentials in film and TV include Wolf Hall, Flood, Jekyll, Father Brown, Haunted, Land Girls, to name a few of her 200+ music scores, composed over the last 20 years. In 2004 Debbie was honoured with an MBE for services to the music and film industry. She has been awarded Honorary Fellowships at both colleges where she studied, Trinity College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

With such a diverse portfolio of works and roles, I asked Debbie: “What brings you most joy?”

“Writing, sitting at my piano, finding an idea and then exploring it until the magical moment when it feels just right – that’s priceless. Of course, it’s not always easy, but the sheer love of writing music means I enjoy every step of the process.”

While writing is typically a solitary process, the collaborative nature of composing music for TV attracted Debbie to film and TV projects. It’s a different experience working together with the director, the editor, executive producers and sound mixers. For a creative person, it helps a lot to be able to ask someone you trust: “What do you think?”

BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies was Debbie’s sixth collaboration project with BAFTA Award winning director Peter Kosminsky. Normally, TV deadlines are tight and you only get 3-4 weeks to get the score ready. With Wolf Hall, Debbie had a lot more time to experiment and try things out. In fact, she wrote a couple of pieces before Kosminsky started filming. The director had the music playing on his mind from the first day of shooting. Then Debbie wrote music for the specific scenes, feeding off first rushes. They spent a year working together to produce the series and the music to the public and critical acclaim.

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Be brave, be positive, be tenacious. Look after yourself and everybody around you. Once you find that special something that you love doing, all other questions fade away, and everything else falls into place. [By the age of 15, Debbie already knew that she’d wanted to be a musician and was becoming interested in composition.]

What are you good at? Creating something from nothing: time and time again I come up with something that previously didn’t exist. On the other hand, I am not very good at practical things:  shopping, cooking, directions… Luckily, my husband is very good at the day-to-day stuff!

If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? I’d still not attempt to cook! The possibility of failure is actually a good thing: it drives you to do your best.

What is your greatest achievement? The ability to do the job that I love.

Who inspires you? Many people have been inspirational to me in life: my mother, my Dad, my composition teacher… I am always inspired by the films that I work on.

Currently, Debbie is working on the score for a new 10-part drama series called The Coroner for the BBC and also the series 4 of the BBC’s Father Brown drama series, starring Mark Williams.

Wolf Hall is available on iTunes or from Amazon. For Debbie Wiseman’s full discography, please visit her website.

Leap of Faith, a Ladies Who Impress celebration

Leap of Faith was the 7th(!) Ladies Who Impress event, celebrating courage and ingenuity of women who brave new territories, once discomfort with the status quo overweighs the fear of the unknown. We’ve talked about entrepreneurship, but also eyewear, travel and opera..!

Nadine Mortimer-Smith, Claire Goldsmith and Marianne Cantwell

Here are the highlights of the celebration…

For Nadine Mortimer-Smith it seemed the most natural thing in the world to write a business plan of how she would become an opera singer. Indeed, even with the most dramatic career changes, it pays to play to your strengths, and Nadine’s financial background in the City helped her find an investor to sponsor her for the first few years.

Jana Bakunina with Nadine Mortimer-Smith

Jana Bakunina with Nadine Mortimer-Smith

Nadine also revealed that she had got her first role before she received any formal training – her audition was impressive enough. If you are holding back because you don’t feel you are qualified to do something, just give it a go. You may surprise yourself…

At the end of her interview Nadine challenged five people in the audience to stand up and take on new challenges there and then. Five enthusiasts came up with fantastic ideas in the spirit of the moment, and if they think everyone’s forgotten all about it by now, they are wrong! I’ve put their pledges on a post-it note and even framed it!

Pledges Leap of Faith

You may like to visit Nadine’s website and sign up for her newsletter.

Marianne Cantwell admitted that a ‘Free Range’ career may not be for everyone, but she is certainly making the most of it, roaming around the world and inspiring people, stuck in career cages, to build their own businesses, based on their strengths and passions.

Marianne advised to be honest with yourself and remember that ‘Free Range’ life is a journey, with its inevitable ups and downs, changes and even u-turns. Once you’ve taken a ‘leap of faith’, you will probably continue ‘leaping’ every week but you won’t feel stuck…

Please visit Marianne’s website to find out about her Friday’s Love Letter, her courses and her book  Be a Free Range Human: Escape the 9 to 5, Create a Life You Love and Still Pay the Bills.

Claire Goldsmith told a story of how she revived an iconic eyewear brand, worn by such fashionistas as Audrey Hepburn, Michael Caine and Grace Kelly. What’s interesting is that she made us think of a brand as a person: “No one likes arrogant or unpredictable people and the same applies to brands. Make yours likeable and consumers will follow.”

Claire certainly got it right for Oliver Goldsmith sunglasses, now worn by Kate Moss, Yoko Ono, Damian Lewis, Kate Beckinsale and Lady Gaga, to drop a few names…

Claire also asked the audience, whether they spend more money on shoes or optical glasses – it’s some food for thought, given that most people first look at our faces not shoes… If you’d like to invest in a pair of glasses, you’ll find some ideas and a list of stockists here.

Claire Goldsmith

Claire Goldsmith

It’s been another great celebration – thank you so much for your continuing support! If you are not yet friends with Ladies Who Impress on social media, please join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. It’s where I post links to interesting, relevant articles, updates on Ladies Who Impress I’ve interviewed previously and share thoughts and inspiration on a daily basis. All photos from the last week’s event are also on Facebook.

A story of Anita Balkham and Elderflower Fields

I met Anita at a friends’ wedding. She a clinical psychologist at the Great Ormond Street Hospital working with children with neurodisabilities such as autism, epilepsy and cerebral palsy. That’s pretty impressive but that’s only part of the story…

When I met Anita, she and her fiancé Stuart were busy planning a wedding cum music festival, a fun, different and a hugely ambitious way to celebrate their “big day”. Well, they wanted to have a blast and invite all their friends so … they pulled it off.

Next year, prompted by friends and neighbours, Anita and Stuart decided to do it again, and that time really everyone was invited. 

The idea behind the Elderflower Fields Festival is to make it local, cosy and family-friendly. Many families with young children are reluctant to go to festivals as they often turn into drunken and busy affairs. Elderflower Fields Festival, on the other hand, is focused on providing a safe and stimulating atmosphere for families with even the youngest kids. There are sport camps, arts workshops, story-telling groups, music workshops, dance classes, mountain biking, a cinema and even a mini train. Anita and Stuart work in partnership with local businesses to serve local produce during the festival weekend. Think artisan cheese, bread, scotch eggs, chutneys and even Sussex-made chorizo! 

I find it hugely inspiring when someone dares to dream big. Elderflower Festival has now been running for two years and is popular with musicians and guests alike. As Goethe said, boldness has genius, power and magic in it…