They say that what we endure in life, comes out in our music. Like many a great master before her, the great depth, the meaning and the feeling imbued in Shona’s work only affirms that sentiment.
With a delicate empathy for the wounded and the emotionally slain, Shona’s piano and orchestral pieces are awash with vivid imagery Chopin would nestle with. It was a pleasure to catch up with her and find out more about her life and stunning work.
At the end, listen to Shona’s “Memories of Warsaw” (Soundcloud link at the bottom).
Q: How did you become involved in music and what is your primary instrument ?
“I started playing the piano by ear. My mum played the piano very well, and she loved to sing. That drew me to the piano initially. My dad played the bagpipes – but they had the opposite effect on me.”
Q: Are you self taught, or did you have lessons ?
“From the age of three – I began top plead to go to piano lessons. Eventually my mum and dad sent me when I was eight years old – it is better to go from aged five years, as music is learned as a second language at that age. The older you get, the more difficult the challenge.”
Q: Have you been in any bands, or orchestras previously. If so, how does that differ from the more solitary lifestyle, or working environment as a composer ?
“I joined a folk band as a fiddle player when I was fourteen, I played in many amateur orchestras including Fife Youth Orchestra. It was such an amazing feeling to be part of the huge sound that a full orchestra produces. I played in many amateur bands and I also played with Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue. We were both at college in Dundee at the time and we gigged round the church halls. I then went on to play in a professional function band for over twenty odd years. The solitary life of a composer is so much different than being part of a band. You have to find discipline in your work. When I get stuck, whether it be computer related, or DAW related, I know having the company of others helps greatly, it can be very difficult working on your own.”
Q: When did the composing bug hit you. Any particular pieces of music which inspired you to pursue a path in composition ?
“The composing bug hit me when I was in my twenties. I was watching a documentary with my dad and it was all about a composer who worked from home. He had an old keyboard, a video player and a cassette player. He laid down notes as he went went through the film with the time code. It was so interesting, it opened my mind to the possibility, that perhaps one day, in the future, I could do that.
I composed music for children’s theatre, and I also composed music for a theatre company that I created in my capacity as a Drama Co-ordinator, for adults with learning disabilities, which was back in the early 1980’s.
(This is for you Pete!) – Several years later I had a strange dream. As I drifted to sleep I heard an orchestral chord being played. The chord hung in the air for so long, that I wondered why it hadn’t moved. Then I heard a voice say, ‘You are making this music. Move the french horns up a third and you will find out. After that take the strings and do with them what you will. I got so excited when I realised I was making the music. The next morning I couldn’t wait to tell my dad, his response was -‘Just imagine if you could actually do that!’ Years later I bought East West Symphonic Orchestra, and tears ran down my face, as I constructed a passage with it. I feel I need to have time to return to it, because it is something I really enjoy – orchestral music.
I loved Peter And The Wolf as a child, I would say that music inspired me, as well as the Peer Gynt Suite by Grieg – I loved the Hall Of The Mountain King, as well as other numbers of that suite. I love Bach, and I worship Chopin. I studied music for four years full time, beyond High School, and I was exposed to so many different types of music during that time. From huge orchestral scores to complex studies by Bach, who I also greatly admire.”
Shona’s wish to be able to compose for Film came true in 2018, when she composed for scenes in the Scottish indie film, “Their Dreams of Lisbon”, directed by Tim Fraser-Granados (below). The other video / piano piece is taken from Shona’s Youtube Channel.
Q: How long have you been composing for ?
“I have had my studio equipment for a few years now, but I have gone through difficult periods of ill health during that time, that pulled me away from the studio. On my return last April from a lengthy period off my feet, because I required a back operation – I composed thirty odd piano pieces. I will be returning to work with orchestral instruments again, as I have acquired more suites of samples and I can’t wait to get going in the studio this year.”
Q: What’s your DAW and what sample libraries are you using ?
“I use Logic Pro and my sample libraries and VST’s are listed below;
East West Quantum Leap , Symphonic Orchestra. Symphonic Choirs, Gold Grand Piano’s grand pianos: a Bechstein D-280, Steinway D, Bösendorfer 290, and Yamaha C7 , Spitfire Audio, Albion1 Drama Kit, Spitfire Felt Piano, Berlin Orchestral Collection Inspire 1 & 2, Heavyocity , Vocalise 1 &2, Aeon Collection, Aeon Rythmic, Aeon Melodic, Evolve, Punish, Native Instrument Massive Damage, Arturia, Analogue Laboratory, Waves, Reel ADT, Smack Attack Grand Rhapsody Piano.”
Q: What’s your studio set up, what does it comprise of ?
“27inch Apple iMac 27inch, Alesis monitors M1 Active M2, a Scarlett 6i6, a Presonus Fader Port, Roland A-88 midi keyboard, 3 external hard drives, one is a Sandisk Extreme 500 SSD, there’s a Seagate 1TB and SAMSUNG 2TB SSD. Beyerdynamic DT 909 Pro Studio Headphones. AKG condenser microphone. Tyros 5MX keyboard.”
Q: Do you plan to upgrade or expand your DAW / Sample Libraries / VST’s or gear etc ?
“I have my eye on the Korg Wavestate Wave Sequencing Synthesizer. Wave Sequencing 2.0 and extensive modulation with hands-on control. I want to spend time working in different genres, other than solely orchestral or instrumental. It’s a fine size for fitting into my stUdio.”
Q: What movie/s soundtracks have inspired you ?
Lord Of The Rings – Fellowship Of The Ring – Howard Shore
The Last Of The Mohicans – The Gael – Dougie Maclean
Out Of Africa – John Barry
Gladiator – Now We Are Free – Hans Zimmer
Indecent Proposal – John Barry
Q: Composing for Film, or TV, or Brands etc…which do you prefer and why ?
“I have only composed for film so far, but I am happy composing for anything required of me.”
Q: Do you listen to classical music, as well as Underscore/Soundtracks ?
“I frequently listen to classical music, I love Chopin, Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Debussy, and Brahms, and I particularly love the Elgar C’ello Concerto – it gives me goosebumps, it’s so moving.”
Q: What’s your process, for new pieces. Can you compose for yourself, off the cuff when an idea comes or do you prefer to compose for a “Brief”, which seems to focus and fuel composers ?
“I enjoy composing for myself and for a Brief. When you know exactly what the director wants, it’s exciting to get to work.”
Q: Is it mostly Piano/Orchestral you compose ?
“At the moment I have been composing mostly for Piano, because it’s something that I enjoy doing, but having bought some new samples recently I’m looking forward to composing in a wider spectrum, involving all kinds of instruments.”
Q: What’s planned for 2020 musically ?
“I plan to produce an album for piano. Beyond that, I’m going to get into the studio and start working on orchestral music again, and any other genre of music that I feel like at that time.”
Composer – Piano / Orchestral