five senses from my world: errollyn wallen, composer

Five senses from composer Errollyn Wallen's world.

Errollyn Wallen is one of the country's most feted composers and is the first black British female to have a piece of music performed at The Proms. Raised in Belize, Errollyn abandoned her blossoming career as a dancer at New York's Dance Theatre of Harlem, New York, to study composition at Cambridge university.  She now splits her time between London and the Scottish Highlands but likes to remain close to water when working. For Errollyn, writing music is an abstract process that begins with pouring her life and surroundings into her work. Whether it's Errollyn’s chamber music pieces or her modern vocal songwriting, she always draws her audience into the infinite, swirling time of her textured soundscapes. While she favours the cello, for her, the human voice is the most arresting instrument.


Ella Fitzgerald’s voice conjures up humanity’s soul for me. Bach’s music conjures up humanity’s soul for me.

As a two-year old I woke my Mum and Dad singing When I Fall in Love by Nat King Cole. Evidently, as a baby, I sang more than I cried.


The most important of my senses when I'm composing is, my "inner ear" which also an "eye".

Composing music is a physical activity and involves all the senses. I trust my intuition. I trained as a dancer so for me the work must have a clear sense of movement as well as arresting sonic patterns.The best part of composing is when I physically disappear.


Sights, sounds and smells of my surroundings go into my work.

In London I live by the Thames and the river is full of sounds and often a strong smell of river. I explore the colour blue in sound. I can still remember the smell of a particular pudding we had at my primary school in Tottenham. I think that pudding may have been particular to Haringey Council. It had the texture of soft tarmac.


If I close my eyes and listen to music I see notes dancing.

Sensuality can be blissful solitude, or sublime togetherness. Sensuality to me means feeling absolutely free and in life’s flow.


When I begin a piece I try to create new textures, colours, moods and atmospheres.

Sometimes I imagine I am a Martian and am encountering music for the first time. That always leads to new discoveries. The inspiration of one of my earliest works came from trying to recreate in music, the texture of fruit cake.

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