When Helen Jane Long is composing music, she wants to attain nothing less than tranquility. Not the tranquility of numbness or sleep, but tranquility through affirmation, through a music that aspires to an elegance and civility rarely found in this world. In other words, the music of Helen Jane Long makes you feel good.
How good? She was named to the UK’s Classical FM Hall of Fame in 2011 for her album, Embers. Her music is used commercially for Volkswagen, British Airways, National Geographic, Discovery, the BBC. But probably the most significant sign of her success is that there are dozens of musicians and fans covering her music on YouTube. “Expression” from the “Porcelain” album seems to be a particular favorite.
All of this is from a prodigy who was born in 1974 in sleepy Hampshire on the southern coast of England. Helen Jane Long began playing piano when she was four. Her older brother was already studying the instrument, but after his lessons were over, Long would slip onto the piano bench and replicate what her brother was being taught. He went on to become an architect, Long, encouraged by her parents, went another way.
Classical music was her path, but like many young composers, Long didn’t see many prospects for getting her music performed by classical ensembles, so she formed her own virtual orchestra. The idea came to her when she borrowed her grandmother’s Casio keyboard, an early digital instrument that allowed her to over-dub herself. Once she realized she could do it herself she began bouncing tracks on cassette players.
She solved the problem of finding other willing musicians by learning cello, violin and guitar. Her first cello was made by her father and she still plays it to this day.
On Intervention, Helen Jane Long included a string quartet of violins and cello, including cellist Nick Holland from the famed Balanescu Quartet. But she still composes in the same solitary fashion and the music still comes from a deeply private place. Many of her songs emerge from personal experience. “Finding,” from her album “Embers”, was written for her father when he was in a coma. “Intervention” was written in the wake of several deaths in her family, among them her grandmother.
“When I recorded ‘The Aviator’ in Air studios, the advertising crew were in tears at the emotions of the piece... Very real emotion. The weekend I wrote ‘The Aviator’ my Grandmother was dying. Monday scoring music, Tuesday Grans funeral, Wednesday British Airways recording...sometimes controlling emotions is the only way to get through stuff.”
And that’s what Intervention is. Music to get you through stuff, a sound that takes you away from your troubles, even while affirming your turmoil. Helen Jane Long’s music is the sound of hope.
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