Jilly Jarman Q&A: Composer and BlueJam Creative Director

Our friend and neighbour at Mostyn Hall, Penrith is Jilly Jarman, the composer/musician and Creative Director of community music and arts organisation, BlueJam. On June 15th, Jilly is co-hosting a Highlights music workshop for some of BlueJam’s music students, with one of our Spring touring Artists, composer and singer Zoe Gilby. Our Creative Engagement Officer Kate Halsall, talked to Jilly about her work.

Kate: Can you tell me something about your background, starting out in music. How and when did you first become interested in music?

Jilly: I started out playing the piano aged 4 and trying to write my own piano pieces soon after (I’ve still got a couple – hilarious!). All the composers were male for my piano pieces and the concerts my Dad took me to at the CBSO and I realised much later that I used to imagine myself as male whenever I composed anything – completely unconscious.

Kate: BlueJam has been running a fantastic diverse and inclusive range of musical activities in Penrith, for the surrounding community, since 2002. Can you tell us something about your motivation and musical aims, in establishing BlueJam?

Jilly: Don’t make assumptions about the instruments, genre or level of skill of a musician based on what they look like. Greet every person (of any age) that walks through the BlueJam door as a fellow creative and get ready to learn from them – it’s mind-blowing!

Kate: Your role with BlueJam is Creative Director but I know you as an established composer, as well as a teacher and workshop leader. How do you find the balance within this, to create space for your own creative work?

Jilly: Weirdly, the lockdown years have helped a bit with this, in giving me an enforced pause in the hectic day to day stuff – I even gave myself a ‘pretend’ sabbatical to try to finish off composition and recording projects – it didn’t really work out that way – I just started new projects involving learning new skills! However, at the moment I have three commissions on the go and am really enjoying getting stuck in.

Kate: Highlights has co-hosted a few workshops with you in recent times, including some online sessions during lockdown. Our Participate programme is engaging with more rural schools for face to face workshops again, across our three counties. What do you feel are the main challenges we face, in our large County of Cumbria, in getting our message about the value of the Arts and creative engagement out to young people?

Jilly: It is vital to design workshops that fit in with schools’ priorities (even if they don’t recognise that they do!) and it is hard to accurately read how schools are feeling at the moment, after the break in connection. I feel that everyone is shattered in some way and it is really important to recognise and respect that. So my own feeling is to ease back in with projects that are about participating rather than an end result.

Kate: Highlights programmed Zoe Gilby and her quartet this Spring season and she’s back here on 15th June, to meet some of your students. You’ve worked with Zoe before on different projects but what are you looking forward to about the workshop/master class she’s bringing to BlueJam?

Jilly: It will be fascinating to see behind the scenes to learn how such accomplished musicians ‘make it work’ – the decisions they make, how they move through the various creative stages of composition, arranging and performance. And get to hear some fantastic music in the process!


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