While you may not immediately recognize Helen Jane Long‘s name, chances are you’ve heard her inventive, versatile compositions for television and movie scores (including programs on BBC and Discovery Channel), her commercial work for brands like British Airways and Volkswagen, or you may be one of the scores of contemporary-classical music fans who’ve discovered Long’s stunning original compositions from her bestselling solo albums.
Long just released her fourth original solo album, ‘Identity,’ earlier this year, and is currently on tour with her string section, The London Players. Upcoming dates include engagements in Chicago on November 4th and at the San Francisco Herbst Theatre on November 16th. (Hurry! A limited number of tickets for her San Francisco show are available here.)
Long is a terrific friend of Musicnotes, and she agreed to answer a few of our questions regarding her musical inspiration, her collaborations (including as an assistant to Howard Shore on ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy) and how she overcame mild stage fright to share her beautiful pieces with live audiences.
Musicnotes: How does your creative process differ between composing commissioned pieces and solo works?
HJL: Commissioned pieces start off with a much more focused plan, collaborating with a director who has an idea of what they are trying to achieve, whereas for solo works, I have a complete blank canvass and it’s up to me to set down a style I want to pursue. They both reach the same end goal of a creative piece of music, however one gets there a lot quicker than the other.
Where did you draw inspiration for “Identity?” How has your creative identity evolved since your first album?
HJL: I drew my inspiration from who we are, our sense of identity. What makes you, you, what makes me, me. “Identity” is about exploring and going deeper into our emotions and feelings, how we react, what makes us different, what makes us similar. My writing has evolved as my experiences have grown. I have used larger string sounds, layered arrangements differently and continue to search at new ways of expressing myself through the piano. I have released my first music video this year, to the piece ‘When Angels Rise’. This definitely expresses my new inspiration and sounds.
You’ve worked with a variety of other applauded composers, including Jerry Goldsmith, Ron Goodwin and Howard Shore. Are there any additional artists and/or composers you look up to creatively? Do you have any dream collaborations?
HJL: I have been very privileged to share time with some amazing film composers, not only because they are so talented, but equally because they are such nice and kind people. Howard was a lot of fun to work with, very thorough in his process of composing and had a lot of funny stories to share. Jerry was a character, with all the huge success he had in Hollywood writing for so many movies, yet always felt very grateful for his success.
I miss Ron Goodwin very much. In my early years of scoring, I would go to his studio, he lived quite close to me, we would chat and have a cup of tea together and then he would send me away with new challenges, “write a fanfare’, “do a brass quintet’ . He made me do scores I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to do. He would force me out of my comfort zone. For this I am utterly grateful, as I love composing for brass instruments now, whereas before, I was much more at ease writing just for strings. In return I would sort his studio, organise his cabling which was always a mess and help when his computer when it didn’t work properly!
HJL: There are so many different people I’d like to work with but in particular, I have always been a massive fan of Dave Grohl, the American rock musician. He is fun, crazy and talented. To collaborate with him on a project would be a dream come true.
Do you enjoy touring? What are the most rewarding and most difficult aspects of being on tour?
HJL: Touring is something I have grown to like. When I was offered a record deal, a lot of the meeting was spent with me convincing the executives to get someone else to perform, I didn’t want to, I refused. I loved writing, but didn’t want to go on stage and play, because I get too nervous. There have been moments, seconds before going on stage that I have considered finding the nearest door and running out of it as fast as I can…. I haven’t yet, but that’s because I didn’t spot an exit door quick enough.
Anyway, the record company wouldn’t agree to it, so I was forced to play. Over the years it has got a little easier, I still get very nervous but I can manage the nerves a lot more. The audience make the difference, to know people are there because they enjoy my music, they tweet, Facebook, email and share their stories about why they like a certain piece and then let you know they are coming to a show, it makes it more personal, more like a family and that makes it all worthwhile.
The most difficult aspect is the organisation, I take my family with me, I do not like leaving them behind, so they all come too! There are many flights, hotels, schedules that have to be done beforehand and during to make sure everything runs smoothly, this is tough. The weeks before the tour are the hardest, once I’m on the plane and know (because I’ve checked 20 times already that morning) I have the scores with me, and then everything else will be ok.
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A very heartfelt thanks to our friend Helen Jane Long, for taking the time to share her experience with us. Be sure to check out ‘Identity’ on iTunes, download & print her fantastic solo piano sheet music, and see her live in San Fransisco on November 16th. Tell her you, too, are a fan of Musicnotes.com :)