Meet the Composer: Miriam Mackie

The Responses performed in this year’s Choral Evensong BBC broadcast were written by Miriam Mackie. We asked her a bit more about her process and what inspires her to write.

When did you start composing?
I was young – probably about age 7.

What made you start composing?
My father was always improvising on the piano, so it came naturally.

What (or who) inspires you?
Sometimes a non-musical idea is a seed; a phrase, a poem an image or piece of art. Otherwise, music! It was listening to Bartok and Schnittke’s piano concertos, and Morton Feldman, that convinced me that I could write one.

What drew you to involvement in the Festival?
Choral music had been a starting point when I returned to composition later in life. I sent a piece to the Festival in 2013, and it was choosing St Pancras himself as the subject for the Introits I wrote that encouraged me. Such an uncompromising young man, martyred for his beliefs.

What is your experience of church music?
I didn’t grow up in the Anglican musical tradition. But I had an epiphany moment outside Wells Cathedral in the 90s, listening to the choir and organ, and I knew what I should be doing. My own faith means that I am very happy if I can contribute to this rich seam of music.

Tell us something about your composition for the Festival.
I enjoy having a very particular brief for a piece – its duration, the occasion it is written for, a particular ensemble and so on. I then get satisfaction from finding my voice within these parameters. The template for the Responses for Choral Evensong is very specific. They need to be tightly integrated into the liturgy while, I hope, still maintaining their musical freedom, and maybe a surprise or two.

What’s next?
I have a large orchestral piece in progress, and later this year I have a composer residency for a month in Aldeburgh, staying in Imogen Holst’s house.