Charlotte Botterill, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

It was mainly my love of music. I’ve always loved music and the arts, and at school these were the subjects which really held my attention. I didn’t know that I wanted to be a composer: I’ve never known which job I wanted to do, I’ve just always followed my passion. After leaving school I chose to study composition because it fascinated me and I wanted to have the skills to realise my composing ambitions. It was at university that I realised that how much I enjoy expressing myself through music, and I just sort of slid onto the composer path.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

I think my parents’ musical tastes have left their mark. When I was growing up, my mum listened to classical music, my dad loved jazz and he would play a lot of 50’s rock n roll records, so I was brought up listening to a wide variety of music. I still love jazz – the harmony, the rhythms – so that is definitely something which made a mark. In my early teens I discovered Queen and they really made me fall back in love with music. They made me realise that you don’t have to pigeonhole yourself in a certain style, you can write a song (or piece of music) in whatever style takes your fancy. I liked that sense of freedom.

My university lecturers had a big influence on shaping how I think about music, and opened my mind up to different approaches to creating music. While I was at university, a close friend who is a flautist introduced me to the works of Ian Clarke, and to extended flute techniques in general, which sparked my love for all contemporary techniques!

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

There are three main challenges for me: getting my work “out there” to be performed and for people to hear. Having enough time to work on my compositions. Writers’ block – there is nothing more frustrating than finally having time to write and being blocked!

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

The challenge for me is staring at an empty page, wondering what you’re going to write, and will the performer(s) like it, all the while time is ticking away! Having said that, a deadline is good for me because it means that I have to finish the piece and let it go – I can’t keep tinkering with it indefinitely. It’s nice to be writing for an ensemble which you know, and to be writing a piece of music which has a destination.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

You really get to know the players, what they like to perform, their strengths and weaknesses, so you can write a piece which will really suit them, and which they will enjoy performing.

Of which works are you most proud?

Whenever I come back to a work I always find something which I would like to change, so this is a tricky question! I am really pleased with Soho, my solo piano piece which is being published in the Trinity College London piano syllabus. I am also very happy with my two miniatures for solo flute.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would say it varies from piece to piece depending on who or what I’m writing for, but most of my works have full textured harmonies at their heart, and use elements taken from jazz and contemporary classical music.

How do you work?

This varies. Sometimes I have a tune or chord progression in my head and I have to run to the piano and write it down before I forget it! Other times I begin by improvising on the piano and writing the music down on paper. After that I move to the computer to notate it, listen back and check the balance of the piece. If I’m orchestrating, I like to imagine the orchestration in my head, thinking about the colour and timbre I want, before I notate it out. I like to have a theme, or subject matter, for my piece either before I start, or in the very early improvising stages. This helps me shape my piece. I often use landscapes, both rural and urban, to inspire my work. Sometime I draw a picture of what the piece should look like!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I love Chopin, Debussy, Satie and Gershwin for their use of harmony. I really like the way Chopin, Debussy and Satie create a mood, and I love Gershwin’s crossover of classical music and jazz. I’ve recently been listening to a lot of Hildur Guðnadóttir’s music which I’m really enjoying. It’s bleak but beautiful. And of course Queen and Bowie because they wrote great songs and were totally unique in their showmanship.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Having good a working relationship with like-minded performers who enjoy working with me, and I with them. Having the freedom to write the music which expresses myself.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Don’t compare yourself to other musicians. We all have different things to offer. Spend your time trying to find your own voice rather than copying others.

What is your most treasured possession?

Having new experiences and making memories are more important to me than possessions (hiking the Inca Trail last year is my most amazing experience so far!), but I would be lost without my piano and CD collection.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Exploring new countries, horse riding, and discovering new music.

Charlotte Botterill is a composer and musician from St Albans, England. Her musical output is varied, reflecting her own eclectic taste. Her compositions are without boundaries, often fusing several genres of music within one work. She enjoys exploring timbre, harmony, and music from other cultures. Charlotte is regularly commissioned by the Abbey Gateway Orchestra in St Albans. Her compositions are performed several times a year and are well received by audiences and the orchestra.

In 2019 Charlotte was one of the winners of the Trinity College London Young Composers Competition, with her piece Soho being selected for publication in the 2021-2023 grade 7 piano syllabus.

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