As a big fan of classical music but always in need of guidance as to the history of the works, biographies of the composers and what to listen out for. I've often wondered who the writers who provide that guidance might me and here's one of them, Joanna Wyld of Notes Upon Notes.
How did you become a writer?
I’ve always loved writing creatively. As a child I’d doodle “Joanna Wyld: Athor [sic]” in large letters, expressing my ambition despite being unable to spell it. Then for a long time I wanted to be a composer, but the writing simply took over.
I was working as an editor for a record company, and one of our CD note-writers dropped out at the last moment. They called on me to step in, and I managed to produce a surprisingly convincing note on a 1930s jazz outfit called “The Cats and the Fiddle”, of whom I’d never heard. Before long I was combining the editing work with more and more writing, usually about classical music – about which I know considerably more – and the whole thing snowballed. Now I write about music for a number of wonderful artists and record labels.
What was your inspiration for Notes Upon Notes?
I’ve always loved both words and music, so I find the process of writing about music genuinely inspiring. I’ll never tire of it! I always feel an almost childlike excitement whenever I receive a new commission.
The most inspiring thing is imagining my audience – whether they’re children or aficionados – and trying to capture for them the joy of the music they’re going to hear. I aspire to write in such a way that the words themselves give pleasure. To me, really great music writing evokes something of the thrill of the music itself, either through a particularly fascinating quote from the composer, or through a felicitous turn of phrase, or through something musical about the language itself.
What was the trickiest element to achieve?
Notes upon Notes has evolved in a really enjoyable way, so the trickiest moments have been specific challenges, usually involving juggling commitments.
The most vivid example of this was when I was starting out. My daughter was all of two months old, and I was looking after her pretty much single-handedly. I was commissioned to write 17 CD liner notes in the space of two weeks. A very tight deadline for any writer, let alone one with a tiny baby! I would feed my daughter, put her in a sling on my front, walk around the table until she fell asleep, and then sit down, while she was asleep nestling up to me, and write a note on Beethoven’s Fifth or whatever it was. And then she’d wake and the process began again! I met the deadline and, surprisingly, I’ve read the notes since and they don’t give away just how tired I was...
Of everything you've done what have you been most pleased with?
A few years ago I ghost-wrote a book on human trafficking. I worked with an amazing team of people who research and campaign to raise awareness about modern-day slavery. In the space of a month I had to assimilate all these facts, figures and harrowing stories, process them, and then write about them in a way that was both emotive and coherent. It was painful, and I was under a cloud by the end of it, but the book is now used as a resource by the United Nations. To think that my words have contributed, even in a small way, to their fight against injustice, is humbling.
How much research do you need to do for each set of notes?
It depends on the commission and the audience, as some will expect a greater level of detail than others. But I always begin at my local library, get as many books, CDs and scores as I can carry, and then pack in as much information as seems relevant.
Who’s your favourite composer?
Impossible to choose just one! Elliott Carter is astonishing: to be writing music like that at the age of 103 seems almost miraculous. To relax I’d probably choose Sibelius, Richard Strauss or Debussy. I also admire Delia Derbyshire, who created new sonorities with real innovation and imagination.
What stops you from feeling listless?
Playing or listening to music, and hanging out with my daughter. Those things make me feel... listful?
Joanna Wyld writes Notes Upon Notes, which is also available on Facebook.