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Violin and piano at seven and a songwriting dad: The making of a Young composer of the Year

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The Highlands, her parents and French composer Olivier Messiaen are some of the things that inspire budding musician Jenna Stewart.

The 17-year-old from Westhill, Aberdeenshire, has been lifting the lid on her musical ambitions after being named BBC Young Composer of the Year 2021.

Jenna saw off competition from hundreds of other entries to win the competition’s senior category.

She will now work with a mentor composer on a project with the BBC Concert Orchestra.

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Jenna admitted she was “stunned” to have won the prestigious musical honour just a few weeks after leaving St Margaret’s School for Girls.

Jenna Stewart, who has won BBC Young Composer of Year competition.

Her winning song, Lost Times, looks at the theme of the changing landscape in the Highlands.

Jenna said that the Cairngorms are “close to my heart” and it was “easy” to write about something that inspires her.

She said: “I compose about things I am passionate about.  One thing I love is the Scottish Highlands.  I was brought up to be adventurous and to explore.

“The Cairngorms was a place close to my heart and I wrote a piece of music because I find it inspiring.

“It is an easy composition when you are inspired by things.”

Family’s backing helped musician on path to success

The Cairngorms provided Jenna with inspiration.

Jenna comes from a musical family and started playing guitar and violin at the age of seven and she wrote her first piece of music with her dad when she was eight.

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She said her dad wrote songs as a hobby and this was key for her pursuing music at school.

Jenna said: “My mum and dad were musical and they always encouraged me to learn an instrument so I learned violin and piano at school.

“My dad used to write songs and that inspired me to start composing.  St Margaret’s were really encouraging in terms of using the skills  I have too.”

Teenager with eclectic music taste

Singer Jorja Smith is one of Jenna’s current favourites.

Influential singer-songwriter Carol King and Jorja Smith, who released her debut album in 2018, are among the artists that Jenna enjoys listening to.

She also likes French composer Olivier Messiaen and , like him, can see colours when she composes music.

Jenna said she admires Carol King’s music because it is “authentic” while she hopes to take inspiration from 24-year-old Jorja Smith’s approach to songs.

She said: “I love her music because it’s just so her.  There is something about where she puts everything into her music.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit too raw and it doesn’t matter how emotional it is.  She is just so authentic in her composition.

“Also, more classically I would say Messiaen is a real inspiration to me because of his process of composition.

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“I can relate to it in the sense I have synaesthesia so I use colours to compose.  I use inspiration from a lot of things as well and finding something to draw out that creativity.

“My music taste changes quite a lot, so currently, I am enjoying Jorja Smith.  She is an R and B artist and I like the sound of her music.

“It is interesting and real.  It is not hidden away by synthesisers but is a blend of electronic and acoustic which is something to aspire to.”

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