Interview with Emmy and BRIT nominee composer Sarah Class

Sarah Class is an Emmy and BRIT-nominated English composer and singer-songwriter who has worked for the likes of the BBC, Channel 4, Discovery Channel and Disney.

She puts together paradisiac melodies for documentaries and natural history TV films and composed music for a BBC series by Sir David Attenborough on which she had the chance to work with Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler.

Her EP titled Green Man and the album Natural High, both released in 2020 offered the opportunity to arrange this interview with Sarah Class.

Sarah Class ©️ to the owners

Sarah Class ©️ to the owners

Sarah, what achievements are you most proud of?

Sarah Class English composer classical music

Sarah Class ©️ to the owners

I’m very proud of Cantamus Aurora, a Warner Classics release with a 50-piece girls choir all aged between 12 and 18: the album was at the top of the classical charts in the UK for over three months and was nominated for a BRIT Award. It was also one of the most creatively exciting projects I’ve worked on, and the choir was just wonderful. A hugely popular BBC Africa series was also a high point in my career. I got to work with beautifully story-lead animal footage featuring an amazing variety of musical genres within the series. I loved the diversity and scope of the musical storytelling.

Why did you choose classical music instead of pop or rock?

My father always played classical music at home as we were growing up, and so my sister and I were used to it and I developed a real love for piano music particularly, and all that listening has certainly helped in my music exams! Although my upbringing was certainly classical, I have a great love for other genres too, as being a composer means that you have to be able to turn your hand to all things, and my first album releases have been as a singer-songwriter. For me, I have always been drawn to emotive melodic music whatever the style of music, and beautiful themes are key. It’s probably because of the multi-layered depth in lots of classical music that I am drawn back to because so often you create the picture in your mind with what the music evokes to you, and you’re not being dictated to by lyrics, and this is real solace at certain times. But like all music, one feels like listening to different music at different times. I just love so many lyrically-driven songs and this has fed into all the music I write. I’m probably a suppressed pop artist underneath! Thankfully, there are now radio stations like the new Scala Radio in the UK that have a very broad remit for classical music, and they play all sorts of amazing music coming out of La Scala. I think if broadcasters, on the whole, relaxed the playlist criteria and programming more to let new music which falls in-between genres – and let’s face it, a lot of good music does, classical music would be more exposed to a public who really love this music. Spotify, of course, helps people discover new music, but I feel there really could be a dedicated online site “movement” if you like, which could be the new hub for crossover genres, from folk to cinematic music and even classical pop. There needs to be a unifying link to feed cross-media outlets including the main classical broadcasters with people working together to promote this music.

What was your dream job as a child? Did you have a plan B?

As a child, I thought I wanted to be a concert pianist, with a dream of being the Young Musician of the Year. Later in my teens, I then wanted to be a jazz pianist, but I think the dedicated amount of practice it would have taken, plus the fact that I was always wanting to play my own compositions – probably put me off that idea. Plan B was either music therapy, or probably being a poet or an artist. I particularly love painting with watercolours.

Who are your main influences in music? 

I have so many! Mozart, Leos Janacek, Anton Bruckner, Vaughan Williams and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Are there any artists you would like to collaborate with?

I collaborated with a great Irish Celtic musician called Eimear Quinn on her album Ériu. We co-wrote the lead track, Hibernia, and we performed together on my album Natural High. I would also love to collaborate with Adele, with Greta Thunberg on some musical environmental projects, I would also like to collaborate with American operatic singer Josh Page who has an amazing tenor voice, and with a wonderful emerging artist called Imogen Williams.

How did you come up with Green Man as an EP title? Did you know this was also the title of Take That‘s Mark Owen’s first solo album in 1996?

No, I didn’t – but I’ll go and listen to it right now! For me, Green Man is a sort of environmental guardian, the keeper and protector of woods and forests and all nature. Green Man represents to me Spring, rebirth and renewal, and the vibrant spirit of Nature. I really wanted to try to capture this and the healing qualities of nature into my music, and the name Green Man kept popping into my head – so Green Man obviously wanted to be heard. Underlying this is a very tangible musically passionate energy channelled from what I feel is the universal spirit, some may call it God or the unification of the soul. It is a loving expression of many things we experience in our lives inspired by the natural world. I hope people will feel this when they hear my music. I’m also an ambassador for the World Land Trust, which is a brilliant charity protecting nearly one million acres of rainforest and other natural habitats all across the world. Sir David Attenborough is their patron, and I work with them through my music to raise funds and awareness for the incredible work they do. One of the biggest projects was the I Will Fight video with Sir David Attenborough focusing on the habitats and plight of orang-utans in Borneo.

What do you think of talent shows like The X Factor?

I have mixed views because, on one hand, it’s great to have a platform for people to discover a talent they may not have been exposed to before. But on the other hand, I feel it’s sad that it has to be contrived in certain ways and there seem only narrow criteria for new people to come up through: it’s not for everyone. I think it’s time for us to see an all-singing, all-dancing TV show dedicated to showcasing new artists and new music.

Sarah Class singer at piano

Sarah Class © to the owners

Pictures provided from Sarah Class’s private collection © belongs to their respective owners

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