Meet Debbie Wiseman OBE, the award-winning composer of iconic music for film and television such as Edie and Wolf Hall to The Andrew Marr Show and Stephen Fry in America, plus many more - and Making Music's first female President.
What is the earliest experience of music you remember?
I saw a bashed-up old piano in the corner of a dining room when we were on a family holiday in Torquay. I was absolutely mesmerised by this piano and every day, sometimes even before breakfast, I would go over and try and bash away at the keys. I knew from that moment that I wanted to learn to play, and when we got home from the holiday my Mum found a way of getting us a piano at home, and I started to have piano lessons at school.
What sort of musical education did you have as a child?
I started taking piano lessons at school and then I went to the Trinity College of Music Junior Department on Saturday mornings which was wonderful - playing in chamber groups, singing, harmony, improvisation, piano and percussion lessons - all packed into a Saturday morning. It was bliss!
Which kinds of music influenced you the most when you were growing up?
I had a classical training, so I was learning all the standard piano repertoire, but a friend of my Mum's bought me a book of Beatles songs as a present one day, arranged for small hands, and I absolutely loved that book! It encouraged me to listen to all types of music...pop, jazz, classical, rock, world music. I could find something interesting in every genre.
Where did you train?
After Trinity College of Music, I studied at Morley College for my A-Levels in Music and English, and then went on to the Graduate Course at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama where I studied composition with Buxton Orr and piano with James Gibb. I studied composition and piano as a joint first study, which was great as I had these really wonderful teachers who expected high standards.
How did you first learn about music technology?
When I started to write scores for television it was obvious that I needed a way of sending demos to the director so that he or she could hear my rough sketches of the music. I had a very simple music software programme just to demo the music and as I developed I found I needed more and more advanced equipment. The upgrading of music software never ends now! It's a constant battle to keep up-to-date with the fast-moving world of music technology but I do my best!
When and how did you first realise that you wanted to write music rather than perform it?
I always found the idea of coming up with my own tunes exciting and from a very young age I would improvise and enjoy jotting ideas down. I think it started to really take hold when I started Trinity College of Music in their Junior department as the teachers were so inspiring and encouraged improvisation and composition.
How do you write music – on a computer, a piano or otherwise?
I write at the piano as I feel most comfortable there, but ideas can come at any time. I always try things out at the piano first before developing the idea though - it's definitely my musical office!
Is there any software or technology you generally find helpful?
I have a very old music software programme called Cadenza for Windows - it's not around any more, but I find it hugely helpful and have never felt the need to change it as it does everything I need it to do! I also use Pro-Tools which is standard software and extremely necessary for any film or TV work.
Your music is written for film or TV, but is often also performed live – how does that work? Do you make arrangements yourself? What do you pick for performance?
Some scores are more suitable for live performance than others, but I really enjoy performing live and having the opportunity of performing in front of an audience. It certainly gets the adrenalin going as there's only one performance, whereas in the recording studio there's always the possibility of doing another take! I will usually pick the main themes to perform live as they're generally the most instantly recognisable and if there are special arrangements required then I would do them with the concert setting in mind. We've done quite a lot of performances of my score for Wolf Hall Live recently which has been great fun, with Anton Lesser (who played Thomas More in the TV series) narrating excerpts alongside the music. It's been lovely adding narration to the concert as it adds another dimension.
Does composing for film/TV mean the process is more collaborative than composing without a narrative structure?
Film and TV composition is an extremely collaborative process. I'm working with a director, producers, editor, and a whole production team which helps to shape the music score. Writing a piece for the concert hall couldn't be more different - it's just you and your manuscript paper!
If you could invite three people to a dinner party, who would you ask?
Mozart for the sheer genius, John Barry for his effortless and memorable melodies, and Olivier Messiaen for being my inspiration at music college when I was encouraged to compose in a more avant-garde style.
What drew you to being President of Making Music?
Making Music believes that it's important to put music at the heart of our communities, and I share that belief. It's a great honour to spread the word and encourage music-making across all communities.
The President is the figurehead of Making Music and their role is to champion the organisation, acting as an ambassador for its members and the leisure-time music sector as a whole.
Past presidents of Making Music
1935-1940 Sir George Dyson
1946-1947 Lord Ashley, Earl of Shaftesbury
1947-1948 Sir Thomas Beecham
1948-1950 Sir Malcolm Sargent
1950-1954 Sir Adrian Boult
1954-1960 Dr Reginald Jacques
1961-1967 Sir Thomas Armstrong
1967-1972 Professor Myers Foggin
1972-1980 Sir Charles Groves
1980-1989 Sir David Willcocks
1989-2016 Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
2019-current Debbie Wiseman OBE