Meet Carmel: Composer and Music Facilitator

Carmel Smickersgill is an undergraduate composer at the Royal Northern College of Music who volunteers for Music Action International.

Since getting involved through her student volunteering placement, Carmel has played guitar in our Stone Flowers programme and put on concerts in aid of MAI. Intern Joel David Taylor speaks with Carmel about her gateway into composing, her work with us and music that is important to her.

What’s your story with music?

I started playing the tin whistle at 5 before I picked up the guitar at 7. From 12, I was performing in an acoustic trio in which I would arrange heavy rock songs of bands like Pulled Apart By Horses for me and two other girls, that was my gateway into arranging. Around that time I started playing flute in the North Leeds Music Centre as well. I have always had a maths brain so thinking about the systems behind composition and arrangements appealed to me as a challenge. But most of all, composition is my vocation, I feel compelled to do it.

Now, I study composition at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) whilst playing guitar in the SMUDGE, University of Manchester and MSC Big Bands. I have won the Terrence Greaves Award for Big Band composition, the 2016 Edward Hecht award and the 2015 Ludlow English song festival award. I also took part in Brighter Sound’s artistic residency at the Museum of Science and Industry and I have had my compositions played on BBC Radio 3. I compose all kinds of music and in the summer I am going to be tutored by Michael Finnissy at Dartington.

What do you do with MAI?

I am a student volunteer with Music Action International doing a placement through the RNCM. I’ve been doing some music support at Stone Flowers rehearsals, playing guitar and generally helping out in the office from time to time. A few of the other RNCM volunteers and I also put on a concert in aid of MAI at Leaf on Portland St in March where we raised almost £200 and performed with some Stone Flowers members. Soon I’ll be working in schools in Oldham with the Harmonise project as well.

The refugee crisis is one of the biggest issues in the modern world, so Music Action International’s work is so important in addressing it here in the UK. This is what attracted me to MAI for my placement at first, its not just for the sake of art, its for something more substantial, something social. It appeals to the community aspect of being a musician and I always get to meet interesting individuals and hear their stories.

How has music changed your life?

Music hasn’t changed my life so much as it has always been a big part of my life. It makes me happy and keeps me surrounded by good people. Music has been a way to communicate with people in my social circles, it is just another language. It is still a huge part of my vocabulary.

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free by Nina Simone is an important song to me. I’ve known and loved this song for years. It reminds me to be grateful for everything that I have, particularly the things that other people don’t have or have to fight for. It makes me want to do good for others around me. Finally, Nina Simone is just an incredible pianist, vocalist and performer.

Check out Carmel’s work on her Soundcloud page

Photo credit: Lorimer Macandrew