This is the last of my charity posts (at least for now) – a little series I envisaged a few weeks ago – and, in fact, it is this young woman’s post on her Facebook that inspired the whole mini-series in the first place.
I’ve left this one until last because Kirsty is a very good friend of mine and I wanted to be able to do a post all about her at the same time as flagging up the charity she has helped promote. The circumstances behind the fundraising this charity does is also very close to my heart.
Kirsty Devaney - Composer
First then, a little about Kirsty herself. This 22 year old young woman is a rising star in the British composing scene. She has already been nominated and shortlisted for the British Composer’s Award (others on the list included Oliver Knussen, Anthony Payne, Julian Joseph and Tim Minchin – for those of you who know your composers) and yet she has yet to complete her Music degree at the Birmingham Conservatoire.
She’s also a former music student of mine.
I remember when we first met at the school where I taught music for 8 years prior to working in Bangladesh. Kirsty was just 11 but it was clear immediately that there was a spark inside that was special. We got on like a house on fire and never looked back!
I took her through her GCSEs and halfway through her A levels before the call to LAMB grew too strong and I felt compelled to leave. Leaving Kirsty was one of the hardest things I ever had to do but I knew she was more than ready both as a composer and as a musician to go solo and start exploring new things with new people.
And, oh boy, did she fly!
As the only woman originally on her course, she held her own with all the testosterone flying around and has constantly worked on a multitude of projects – often outrageously impossible ones like organising an entire opera within 48 hours (something she’s done twice now) – and has been selling her original works and arrangements online for years alongside.
What pleases me most about Kirsty’s speedy ascendency is that she has not and still does not forget her roots from a middle-of-the-road state school and the gratitude for all the teachers who helped her develop. This expresses itself well in her educational work and I believe she will become a key educator in the UK over the next few years. Listening to her talk about her work, it is clear she gets as excited about workshops teaching young teenagers to composer as she does about her latest piece to be performed. I would love to believe that this is a little of my influence after many years of working together but I suspect it was always in Kirsty anyway.
The reason I feel unable to lay claim to such influence is because of the charity work Kirsty does herself and because of her background. She has not come from a highly privileged background and has battled several difficulties in her short life – including a hefty major operation on her back long ago. Her mother (who I am proud to call a good friend and one who does, from time to time, follow this blog) is an incredibly courageous woman and this has clearly passed on to Kirsty.
When a ‘close member of her family’ developed a cancer that gave him only months to live neither of them gave up but started fighting. First they fought for his cancer not to be treated palliatively but aggressively – and years later they were proven right as he is fighting fit! Secondly, they began running marathons to raise money for cancer research. Both Kirsty and her mum still do this today. I don’t know where they find the time nor the energy! I do envy their community spirit.
In fact, there is a real danger that Kirsty is going to eclipse me in every area! She is already a better musician than I, had more pieces published and performed (I suspect) and is contributing much more to the worldwide community in her 22 years than I have managed in my 41! There is only my writing left – except that she also has numerous websites and blogs up and running too, so even that area is not safe!
Incredibly though, from time to time and when in we’re actually in the same country as each other, she still asks for the odd lesson – on the piano or a discussion about a latest composition – and she is kind enough to keep me up to date with latest ventures and her dreams for the future. I don’t know whether this is out of loyalty to her old teacher or out of the mistaken belief that I still have anything left to teach her. Either way, I’m grateful and I remain her biggest fan: Kirsty has been so kind as to provide me with scores and recordings of all or most of her works to-date. Discussing music with her is discussing it with an equal (something I find seldom happens these days) – and more than that – a fellow traveller on the lonely road of being a composer.
Following the footsteps of musicians, composers and other artists throughout the centuries, we’ve been known to have more than one music session quaffing alcoholic beverages along the way. Kirsty, in this respect, in eminently more sensible than I.
Recently Kirsty contacted me and said she would “stock up on Amaretto” for when we next meet up. I hope not – her comment relates to a fantastic time spent being incredibly geeky together and getting overly excited about just about everything music-related but my head hurt like mad the next day after finishing the bottle she had brought with her in the early hours of the morning. Even the name now gives me a headache! Still, when she’s rich and deservedly famous, it’ll be one to add into the biographies and history books (remember you read it here first…)
So, on to the pages I want you to check out.
First comes her hauntingly beautiful piece ‘In Memory‘. Click on the title and listen to this minimalist-inspired piece which is very different to Kirsty’s normal works but one of which she is very proud.
Based on three simple chords which she describes as “seemed so simple, pure and beautiful and they had a very profound effect on me” they gradually unfold and expand to become quite different by the end to how they started. Yet the peace and serenity of the composition is never lost. It is simple yet enchanting.
If you enjoy contemporary classically-oriented music than I recommend this piece to you plus all the others on Kirsty’s site. Most are live recordings performed by her fellow students on the course so they still have that ‘rough and ready’ sound to them, but the compositional quality of her works shines through regardless.
The piece was first performed 15th July 2012 by NYOS Futures. It was recorded by students at Birmingham Conservatoire: Danny Fardon: Piano. Beth Bellis: Violin
I could tell you more about Kirsty’s works and give links but I’ll let you find them out for yourself. I want to focus on ‘In Memory‘ because this piece was dedicated to Jamie Devaney.
I was moved to find out the story behind Kirsty’s 4 year old cousin who died tragically at Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya on the 25th July 2011. His parents, like my family and I, were doing charity work. They worked in Uganda hoping to raise money for a vehicle for the Kisiizi Hospital and improve mental health care services in the community there. During their visit, Jamie became ill and deteriorated very quickly. You can read full details here:
I was inspired that his parent’s faith led them to fight through the despair they must have felt and to raise money for a new mental health ward at the hospital in Uganda. They have since passed the target amount they hoped to raise and are still going strong.
Such people are hugely inspiring to me – especially as it is one of my big fears that something will happen to wifey, Thing I or II because of being out in Bangladesh. I don’t know how I would cope if one of them died. Jamie’s parents do know and the positive action they have taken as a result is unbelievably kind-hearted and generous.
So, please have a listen to Kirsty’s piece written especially for Jamie, check out the charity page and then go look at Kirsty’s Facebook and other websites. If you like her music, sign up to the sites and keep in touch (she’s very friendly). Encourage her as she develops and be there as you (hopefully) see history unfolding. She’s one to watch or, more accurately, listen to.
Sites to check out:
List of works (up to end 2012)
Kirsty’s tumblr page - shared with four other composers