My journey in music began in early childhood, when I learned to play the piano, flute, and then the organ. I was always heavily involved in music and fortunately, it was something I had both a flair for and a drive to pursue.
I was first tasked with composing something myself during my music GCSE, and it was then that I discovered my hidden talent for music composition. It was a revelation that would set the wheels in motion for my choice of career – although I didn’t know it yet.
Igniting a passion
As a teenager I’d spend hours composing – there was nothing I wanted to do more. Following my GCSEs and A-Levels, I studied music at the University of Birmingham, specialising in flute performing and musical history. Increasingly inspired by the composers and styles of music I learned about, the desire to write engaging melodies of my own grew.
On leaving university, I began training as a classroom music teacher. I completed teacher training at Birmingham City University and, after teaching my first ever lesson in the classroom, realised I’d found my calling.
I took to classroom teaching instantly, spending the next 12 years teaching music in three schools – both state-funded and independent – and I loved it.
Before then, however, something happened that threatened to change my life, and the trajectory of my career.
A life-changing challenge
Just three months into my first year of teaching I became severely unwell and eventually, after exhaustive tests, received a diagnosis of MS – multiple sclerosis – an autoimmune condition that affects the nervous system.
I lost the use of my hands for a while, and feared I would never play the piano again. Later, I would also temporarily lose the use of my legs. In those first few years, relapses were fairly frequent and varied in severity. Finding the right medications and dealing with the side effects was a challenge, too.
Through physio, though, I was able to fully recover – even running the Manchester 10K on four occasions, a couple of times for MS charities. Having something to work towards – and the sense of accomplishment afterwards – felt so positive.
In my professional life, things weren’t so rosy. Because of how the condition affects the body, my doctors advised me to choose a different career path. But I had big ideas of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do: my passion had driven me this far, how could I possibly give everything up now?
I resolved to fight the good fight and to live as well as I could while still pursuing my goals in music and composition. I’m so glad that I did, because that passion went on to sustain me for all these years since I received my diagnosis.
Innovation and ambition
After 12 years in the classroom, and two children later, I knew I was ready to take my career to the next level. So, I poured my heart and soul into an idea that I’d had for some time: a music composition website for secondary music teachers and students, packed with accessible information and resources that I’d developed throughout my years in the classroom.
Having firsthand experience of teachers’ pain points, I created music GSCE resources and interactive composition courses that were easy to follow and implement. Each course includes an original composition that’s broken down lesson by lesson, so the reader can see how it’s all been put together.
I wanted to create music composition resources that teachers could use to inspire and empower teenagers, so that the next generation would feel that composition was accessible to them. It’s the kind of resource I would have loved as a student myself!
Realising the dream
ICanCompose.com was launched in 2018, and a month later I received the wonderful news that I’d been shortlisted for the Women in Business North West Enterprise Vision Awards.
Shortly after, I was also shortlisted for the 2018 Stelios Philanthropic Foundation Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs. Five of us went on to win a grant, which had two positives: it enabled me to keep the business going financially, and also inspired me to open up more about my condition – especially in relation to my profession. Music is for everybody and I firmly believe there should be equal opportunities for the disabled and able-bodied alike.
As such, I’m honoured to serve on the board of Drake Music – which exists to promote and support disabled musicians, and to have played in 2020 with the MS Orchestra for the BBC screening celebrating the life of renowned cellist Jacqueline Du Pre, who also had MS.
In 2019, I Can Compose won the Award for Outstanding Music Education Product at The Music Teacher Awards for Excellence and in 2021, Collins Music published my first book – How to Teach Composition in the Secondary Classroom: 50 Inspiring Ideas.