On May 12th, Sheffield Music Academy (SMA) student Jacob Jordan was announced as the winner of the NCEM Young Composers Award in the ‘18 and Under’ category for his piece 'A Ceremonial Dance for Mice'. Congratulations, Jacob!
"What's good about composition, is that you can't really make mistakes because it's all just what you want."
In addition to attending school and studying at Sheffield Music Academy every Saturday, he decided to take a chance and bet on his musical talent and skills. He entered the NCEM Young Composers Award.
“When I entered, I definitely had absolutely no idea that I was even going to get to the final. I just did it because maybe I can write a nice piece and then maybe we can play it at SMA with some different instruments. It just took me completely by surprise.” - he recollects with a big smile on his face.
When Jacob got the email that said he was one of the four finalists, he could not believe it. Even though the competition winners would not be announced for a few weeks yet, Jacob could not help sharing the exciting news with his family and closest friends. Secret-keeping might not be one of his strengths, but music is!
The NCEM Awards
The annual National Centre for Early Music (NCEM) Young Composers Award was launched in 2008, offering young composers the opportunity to engage with the instruments and performance styles of early music and work with leading professional musicians. This initiative aims to support and nurture young composers and demonstrate that music from previous centuries is still relative today. Find out more about the scheme here.
Three acclaimed judges considered all shortlisted pieces: The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble (ECSE); Les Pratt, Producer BBC Radio 3 and Delma Tomlin, Director of the National Centre for Early Music. The criteria included skilful use of compositional techniques and imaginative composition fused with an awareness of effective writing for an early music ensemble.
Watch the awards ceremony livestream here.
Creating a masterpiece
Listening was the first step in Jacob’s writing process, which started in November 2022. One of the competition's criteria was to compose based on popular tunes from the Spanish 'Golden Age' of the 16th and 17th centuries; a music style Jacob had never heard before.
“It was really good - just listening to these different pieces is a new sort of repertoire. It was the harmonic language of it; the sound worlds of it. It is completely different from anything I've ever heard. It's really great.”
He quickly became a fan, and it was just the inspiration he needed to continue to step two: composing.
Writing music is one of the things Jacob enjoys the most and is something he feels confident and unafraid of pursuing. This is a passion he discovered at Sheffield Music Academy, during his Advanced Composition lessons with tutor, Daniel Saleeb.
“He's taught me a lot. He's really opened my eyes to lots of different things about composition. He's really good at introducing to lots of different styles of composition that you might not have come across. He is brilliant.”
Jacob playing at the Music in the Round 2022 festival.
For Jacob, writing music is a way to express himself and create more of what he enjoys listening to:
“It's like having ideas for music when you're playing music. Maybe you hear something that's really cool and wish for more people to do that. Or you're playing random notes and seeing what sounds good and land upon something that you really like. I think that's what got me started and then it really took off when I joined the composition class at Academy.”
Jacob recollects he has written five pieces that have been performed at SMA public concerts. Filled with inspiration and well-known skills, Jacob started composing what would be an award-winning piece:
“I think the first thing I did was I looked at the stimulus song ‘Ayo visto lo mappamundi.’ I listened to different versions of it, trying to work out what the melodies and phrases are like and how it all locks together. Then I did lots of little sketches from there. I tried taking a bit of melody and put it next to another bit of melody and see what happened. Stacking these notes on top of each other, taking rhythm from the piece, that sort of thing. I did lots of little different iterations until I got a more coherent and cohesive structure that was able to hold the piece together.
And then, it sorts of came together. I was inspired by the dance-like nature of the instruments. In a normal dance, you'd expect there to be about six quavers in each bar, but in ‘A Ceremonial Dance for Mice’ there are only five. So, it feels like it keeps going forward and bouncing along, bobbing, and jumping. I tried to add a mischievous element to it, and I tried to capture that in my music as well.”
Jacob is passionate about encouraging more young musicians to give it a go and try composing:
“Just try it. What's good about composition, is that you can't really make mistakes because it's all just what you want. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't be afraid to write things and then look back on it and think that sounds absolutely awful!”
This rising young star is hoping to continue studying music and is already looking at conservatoires!
“My dream would be to do a joint major in clarinet and composition - my two loves!”
All NCEM Young Award-winning pieces will have their premiere at the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble in a public concert at The Stoller Hall, Manchester, on Thursday 9th November. The concert will also be recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show on Sunday 26th November - be sure to check it out!
Intrigued about what Sheffield Music Academy can do for passionate young musicians?