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Talking Head: Derek Kirkup on The Music Collective and composers

Derek Kirkup, a film composer whose most recent short films include Hushy Bye and The Interrogation of Olivia Donovan, has set up a new networking initiative designed to connect musicians across the film industry.


Towards the latter end of last year I was contemplating where my composing career might go in 2017. I had worked with a number of new and exciting collaborators in 2016, creating work of a quality I had never produced before, and doors were beginning to open that I hadn’t realised were within reach. As 2017 drew near, I was getting a picture of what I could expect to aspire to in the new year, and in particular, some of the challenges I might face.

With it being likely that my projects would become more ambitious, the scope for any score I would create would also expand. It seemed likely that I would have the opportunity to begin working with small ensembles of musicians, and when working to budget with professional players, one has to be confident they are meeting professional and technical requirements in their writing. Of course, above a certain budget, composers can hire all the help they need, but producing an intimate, high quality, professional score on lower budgets, can land great responsibility upon the composer.

Hushy Bye / The Interrogation of Olivia Donovan

Stills from Hushy Bye and The Interrogation of Olivia Donovan.

Having not received classical training in music, I wasn’t sure how confident I could be in what I had taught myself over time. I began to wonder how I could experiment with live musicians, learning about their instruments, testing my knowledge and building my confidence. Looking to some of my heroes in the new-classical movement, I was intrigued by how these composers, many of whom had not been classically-trained, had nevertheless found the resources to begin recording classical music for release or for film. I imagined what kind of community they may have been a part of in their native countries that could facilitate such growth.

I wanted to find a similar community in London, and began exploring the needs of other composers and musicians here. Amongst an array of other industry events, there didn’t seem to be a dedicated resource where a composer could meet a musician, unless you were studying at an institution. And just as there were many composers who wanted to meet musicians, I discovered there were also musicians who wanted to find new and exciting work to perform.

So in November last year I announced the launch of The Music Collective, a new arts network seeking to empower creative connections between composers and musicians.

At our opening night in January, we invited composers and musicians at every level to network and collaborate. The idea clearly resonated, resulting in tickets almost selling out, and a room packed with smiling faces.

We received fantastic feedback throughout, and in the days that followed I was pleased to hear of several collaborations taking place, which we will be able to see the fruits of at future events.

The next challenge was to get people back again! I began wondering what could we bring to this format that would continue to develop continuity and a sense of community.

Several recent experiences came together to inspire the next steps. Until late last year, I had been running a regular music event in Barnes. Over the three years that I had run it, it had gradually transformed from being an event aimed at delivering entertainment to the audience, to becoming a valuable resource focused on our performers. Musicians greatly appreciated this regular opportunity to bond with fellow performers, checking in with the development of their work and gaining confidence. Meanwhile, having myself thus far been quite an insular and isolated composer, I had started hanging out on a regular basis with some new composer friends, chatting about our journey and challenges. I realised that perhaps creatives would value something in addition to networking, something deeper whereby they could become empowered on their journey.

And thus, our next Music Collective event will be the Composer-Musician round table on 14 March. At this event we will bring together a group of composers and musicians, to each share who they are, where they are on their journey, anything they’ve learned recently, and any challenges they face. It’s a very simple format, but incredibly powerful, helping to break through to the deeper journey inside each of us. The life of a composer can often be extremely isolated, and we can can fall into thinking that our struggles are unique. As we learn more about the journeys of our colleagues, we begin to normalise and take away the weight of our own fears and insecurities. There’s been a huge amount of interest in this format, so I am really looking forward to it!

A central part of my journey through life, has been the struggle to become more authentic and congruent. It has come out in my daily interactions, and it has come out in my work as a composer for film. I have found that the more authentic we can be, the more authentically we can connect with the depths of characters and their stories, and thus the greater value we are as a storyteller. And that applies equally, whether our specialism is music, writing, directing or any other facet of filmmaking. In the film industry we have a tendency to talk about every story other than our own. As I take the Music Collective forwards, I realise that I enjoy creating spaces where we can understand and celebrate the stories of the storytellers.


You can follow Derek on Twitter: @DerekKirkup

You can follow The Music Collective on Twitter: @TMCLDN

Tickets for the next event are available from Eventbrite: The Music Collective is on Facebook and Meetup.

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