Erin Thomson is a Scottish composer from Glasgow who thrives for education and community projects, a passion she aims to pursue further during her Masters in Music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
Erin recently took part in our annual development opportunity for composers' with Red Note Ensemble composing a piece of music for double bass and marimba which was premiered at soundfestival 2021.
What stage are you at in your career right now?
I am currently pursuing my Masters Degree in Composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Through this, I am continuing to compose, collaborate and build relationships with various ensembles and organisations across Scotland. In addition to composing, I have a passion for education and community projects and have most recently been participating in sound's Engaged Composer Professional Development Opportunity, where I am gaining experience in developing and delivering interactive projects within community groups.
When and what made you decide to pursue composition as a career?
When I was young I wanted to grow up to be a singer, and I used to try and write my own songs. I eventually found myself writing short pieces for piano and enjoying the composing lessons that were included in the school curriculum. I don’t remember there being a distinct moment where I knew this was what I wanted to do, but I remember going to an RCS open day for the music school and feeling very passionate about this being the place I wanted to study.
Tell us about a favourite piece of music that you have written.
One of my favourite pieces to date is one that I composed for solo violin and reverb, called Linger to Sea. This piece was a massive challenge for me as I stepped out of my comfort zone and explored some new territory, for example, graphic notation, live electronics and various extended techniques. My intentions for the piece were to create a ‘sea-scape’ and immersive sonic experience, which the performer Daniel Pioro embodied beautifully when the work was premiered as part of the Walter and Dinah Wolfe Memorial Award.
How have you been coping with the pandemic and how has this affected your output?
The pandemic was very hard-hitting at first and I found it difficult to try and continue being productive outside of my daily routine. However, the lockdown highlighted what is important to me, especially my family and relationships and being connected with nature.
Were you involved in any special musical or compositional projects during lockdown?
I tried to keep as engaged as I could through different opportunities. At the very start of the pandemic, I composed a series of miniatures for solo instruments as a response to the lockdown which were performed and recorded by fellow RCS students. Some online performances include a work I composed Red Note Ensemble as part of their Digital Noisy Nights series; a collaboration between RCS and St Andrews University for Exploration 2020: Intersections; and a short comical piece about my puppy for Sarah Watts’ Feed the Hound project.
What are your compositional aspirations?
After my Masters degree I aim to pursue not only my career as a freelance composer, but also gain my PGDE and become a music teacher, as I really want to get in to schools and support and inspire the next generation. There is currently no focus on composition in the Scottish curriculum and I think it’s important to encourage those who study music to explore this. I would have loved to have more support from my school and I hope to be an advocate for composition in students across Scotland.
What forces do you prefer writing for and why? (Instrumental, orchestral, chamber music, choral…?)
I have most recently enjoyed composing works for solo instrument or in small combinations of instruments that focus on exploring a unique sound world. Particularly when using various instruments, whether they be of the same family or more unusual combinations, I enjoy trying to use the multiple voices to create one sound. I am currently working on a piece for Symphony Orchestra and this is the largest scale of instruments I have worked with to date.
Which composer (dead or alive) has most inspired you and why?
This is always a really hard question to answer, especially trying to narrow it down to just one composer. When working towards completing my degree, I researched some orchestral works that explore landscapes and the notion of ‘Sonic Geography’ and discussed how these have influenced me work and I found much enjoyment from analysing Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s “Aeriality”. Thorvaldsdottir is so diverse in her creation of both large scale orchestral works and her solo works, she creates such depth and explores fascinating textures and has so much detail in her scores.
What would you consider to be a dream commission?
I would love to work with an ensemble or organisation to create a new work for few instruments exploring the idea of “Sonic Geography”. My passion lies in Scotland and so I would love to go to a unique location such as in the Highlands and Islands, or along the North Coast 500 to create a new work, potentially even creating an installation using live field recordings of the space. As an extension of this, I would love for the performance to act as a ‘sound-walk’ with either live performers or speakers installed along a nature route.
What do you do to take your mind off composing?
I’m a competitive Irish dancer and this is a massive part of my weekly routine, it comes with its own stress and pressure and is very physically demanding. I also started cross-stitching through lockdown and love creating these and framing them as gifts for my family.