- Post date:
- Thursday, 12 April 2018
Alexia Sloane started composing music when she was 12 years old. Now, five years later, she is one of the country’s most talented young composers. She is the first female to win the Cambridge Young Composer of the Year and is the only blind member of the National Youth Orchestra. Here, she explains her story.
“I was born fully sighted, but I’ve been totally blind since the age of two when I was diagnosed with optic nerve glioma (a type of brain tumor).”
As well as her eye condition, Alexia has synaesthesia, a neurological phenomenon that means she experiences senses in an unusual way. When she hears a sound, she sees a colour, and increasingly, she also feels a texture too.
From an early age, Alexia was aware of music. She said: “My dad listens to a lot of music and so from day one I’ve been raised on sound of all different types.”
When she was four, Alexia started singing in her school choir and from the age of nine, she sang in the Girls’ Choir of Great St Mary’s Church, University of Cambridge.
“I wrote a choral piece which the choir performed. Coincidentally on the same day that it was performed, my first instrumental composition was commended in the Cambridge Young Composer of the Year,” said Alexia.
It wasn’t until Alexia was 12 years old, and in a workshop writing a song in a foreign language, that the idea of being a composer first came up. “The person advising us remarked: ‘I think you have the makings of a composer, do you have lessons?’”
Last year, Alexia was one of seven young composers to be commissioned by Classic FM to write a piece of music to celebrate the radio station’s 25th birthday, which was played by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Alexia wrote her piece for flute, harp, clarinet and percussion.
However, hearing her music being played by talented musicians is what Alexia finds particularly enjoyable.
“In the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, we have our pieces performed in unconventional places. Last summer we had our pieces played in the Tate Modern which was strange but so exciting," recalled Alexia. “I had a piece performed with quite a substantial cello solo. The cellist who played the part was just extraordinary. I was enthralled by her and at the end of the performance she came over and said how much she’d enjoyed playing my piece. We’ve been corresponding ever since.”
On her website, Alexia attributes the inspiration for her music to a wide range of philosophical, Buddhist, environmental and synaesthetic themes.
“Personally, I’m very inspired by concepts, so I might read a poem or see something in current affairs and then the music comes out. My synaesthesia is not the most important factor usually. It’s more like a kind of helpful tool to get from concept to music.”
Alexia writes the pitches down in braille music notation and then dictates them to an amanuensis, or artistic assistant, who transcribes them onto a notation software.
“I’m not a very good public speaker, and music just happens to be one of the ways in which I react to the arts.”
Even though Alexia has an exceptional talent for writing music, she doesn't always believe in her ability. “I have a chronic lack of confidence and I don’t actually believe I am a composer at all, so I just take other people’s word for it that I am,” Alexia said.
Her ambition is to study Music at Cambridge University and complete a postgraduate degree in Composition. As well as pursuing music and poetry, Alexia would like to be a therapist or an environmental correspondent for the BBC.
“In a completely ideal world I would spend my career as a composer and poet and do very little else. However, in the reality, commissions don’t come every day and no one’s probably ever going to pay me to write poetry, so I will need to have something else as well. But music and poetry will still be my main focuses.”
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of Connect Magazine.
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