Emma Brown read Music at the University of Cambridge before moving to the Netherlands to study singing and composition at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. Specialising largely in church music, Emma’s compositions are published by Edition HH.
Bath Abbey Girls’ Choir and Lay Clerks sing Brown’s setting of “O Lux Beata Trinitas,” under conductor Huw Williams. Bath, England.
Emma began composing at an early age when she sang in Anglican and Catholic church choirs. She has long harboured a strong conviction that church music should reflect not only the composer’s interpretation of the text, but also the text as prayer in the context of the liturgy. Thinking of text as prayer involves considering when and why one would need to use words in prayer. This often means thinking about humility, vulnerability, or gratitude.
Furthermore, she believes church music should be accessible for congregations and for church musicians. Emma wrote extensively about her approach to composing church music in her MMus thesis, which can be viewed here.
Academic and conservatoire training
Emma’s training in composition began through ABRSM theory exams and school music exams. At Cambridge, Emma studied harmony and counterpoint and learned to write pastiche. Whilst studing for her BMus she composed for the Leidse Cantorij (Dutch United Reformed Church) and was the composer in residence for the Pancras Consort. She decided to take an MMus in composition because it provided more stimulating courses than the singing master’s and allowed her to continue singing as her second subject.
The Leidse Cantorij perform Brown’s setting of “O Nata Lux” at their annual Advent Concert. Leiden, the Netherlands.
Singing and Composing
For Emma, singing and composition come from the same source. A singer is a vessel for composer’s music; a composer gives guidance to a singer. However, live performances exist only in time. You can’t recreate live performance, even with the best recording equipment; it is very much an in-the-moment experience. Compositions – at least, a set of instructions on paper – exist as objects in space and time, even after the composer has died. Performers can use these instructions to realise the music encoded on the paper. It’s as if the sheet music is the ashes from which the phoenix rises. Composing gives Emma the feeling that she is creating something both for now and for the future, where as singing is only about now. They are part of the same process of generating and regenerating music.
Heaven is What I Cannot Reach, mezzo-soprano Emma Brown, pianist Isolde Troost
Emma’s style combines her love of Gregorian Chant, Renaissance Polyphony and Russian Orthodox music. Her music has been performed at venues in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, including, among others, Bath Abbey, Gloucester Cathedral, St. Mary’s, Nottingham, St. Barnabas Catholic Cathedral, Nottingham, Peterborough Cathedral, and St. John’s College, Cambridge, in the United Kingdom, and in the Hooglandse Kerk, Leiden, the Bavo, Haarlem and the Laurenskerk, Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.
Magnificat, Pancras Consort, conductor Hans Brons
Whilst Emma’s main focus was initially on church music, she has also written for solo voice and piano, orchestra and various ensembles. She has composed incidental music for theatre and didactic pieces for piano.
If you are interested in commissioning a composition, please do not hesitate to contact Emma here.