When I was four someone gave me a plastic recorder. As soon as I’d worked out which end was which I was using it to make up witch music, panda plays and troll epics, mostly in the back of the car, much to my parents’ dismay. So I’ve been writing music for a very long time. Pandas even played a passing role in my most recent EP, INNERVATE. And yet I’ve never studied composition. So being selected for the ECSA/AEC (European Composers and Songwriters Alliance/Association Européenne des Conservatoires) mentoring and development scheme was a surreal and very proud moment!

After months of anticipation, I found myself on a packed Eurostar heading to the very first event, held at the Creators’ Conference in Brussels. Alfonso (AEC) and Tatiana (ECSA) welcomed us with warm words and the yummiest non alcoholic cocktails I have had the pleasure to experience for our very first evening together. Meeting so many other amazing musicians and composers all in one go was intense! From LA based film composer and songwriter Helene Muddiman, who has created music for everything from Happy Feet to Skin, to my mentor Sorana Santos, whose musical and academic work encompasses the shared syntax of music, mathematics and language, the accomplishments on display were truly awe inspiring. 

Sitting down at a table with people who have achieved so much in music and beyond could have been daunting, but instead I was struck by the degree of support and mutual respect in that room. Everyone there knew the level of sheer determination and talent of the others present, because everyone there had faced those same prejudices and barriers. Not only that, everyone around that table had thought ‘To hell with it!’ and gone and done it anyway. This was in itself a rare and precious experience. In all my years working in music, never before have I been in a meeting where the majority of the people present are not white cis-gendered men.

From L to R: Wike Schippers, myself, Hélène Muddiman, Valentina Fin, Jill Mary Thomas, Tine Surel Lange, Rotem Aberbach, Aija Puurtinen, Lia Meier, Sorana Santos, Sharareh Sheikhan. And in spirit, Rebecca Ferguson! Apologies to AEC for leaving a hole in your decking with my over enthusiastic mid photoshoot jumping around!

As a young child, I once entered a songwriting contest where I was told that my song was ‘too good for me to have written it myself’. To be accused of cheating, rather than praised, had a huge impact on my decision at the time to focus more on performing than on writing music. I can’t help but think that if I’d been a boy, the response would have been very different. Yes, it’s important to believe in yourself, but none of us can create without the support of a network of people. That is what this scheme gives us the chance to create. Already I have been given so many opportunities that it is almost overwhelming. 

Seeing the strong leadership of Helienne Lindvall at the conference throughout discussions on Artificial Intelligence, buyouts and beyond was incredibly inspiring. She also took the time to extend a warm welcome to all of us. Orphy Robinson, President of the ECF Committee for Art and Contemporary music, invited me to sit in on their meeting, where I met Zahra Mani, the committee’s Vice President and an incredible musician and sound artist. I was inspired to hear that she had started writing music about thunderstorms as a child, and uses field recordings of storms in her music to this day. It’s the child inside all of us who yearns to create and play. I’m glad I never lost my inner panda. I remain so, so grateful to ECSA and AEC for creating the space for us to connect and come together. Who knows what may happen next?

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