Talk about a gal gone wild for classical music…it seems that Helen Long wasn’t going to let anyone or anything get in the way of her becoming a classical artist, beginning at age four when she hopped up on her brother’s piano stool and never left. Her passion and determination have done her well.
Named to the UK’s Classical FM Hall of Fame in 2011 and 2013 for her albums “Embers” and “Intervention” while employing the same musical gift she has for stage composition in the creation of a commercial career as well, Helen has leant her artistic touch to campaigns for Volkswagen, British Airways, National Geographic, Discovery, the BBC, Avon, and many of TLC TV's programs. Probably the most significant sign of her success, however, is her mass following of musicians and fans covering her music on YouTube. If you've ever heard Helen’s breathtaking piece Expression (from the “Porcelain” album), you will understand why this young woman has been said to “inspire and elegance, tranquility, and civility rarely found in this world” through her melodies. All this from a prodigy who was born in 1974 in sleepy Hampshire on the southern coast of England.
Now, with a new album coming out on April 11th called “IDENTITY,” Helen will be sharing even more of her own – the same one that radiates a vibrance and energy which she infuses in all that she touches, including her hobbies (the lady’s a triathlete on top of everything else....SIGH!) That said, you needn’t wait for Helen’s newest masterpiece to get to know this great lady and virtuoso better. Begin with this interview below…then make your way over to Youtube to listen to the sounds that have made her a hallowed name in classical music among listeners of all ages.
What is your personal mantra?
“What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?”
Describe your process when composing a new song?
It’s quite methodical. It starts just as I fall asleep -- the time between falling from light sleep to deep sleep. The tune begins and stays with me, day and night, like an extra voice in my head. It develops over a period of weeks; then I start recording / writing ideas down. This part of the process takes over for the next months, until it feels like it’s near completion. I then walk away and revisit it, weeks later, for a fresh listen. By this point, usually, things stand out that need changing a little. I follow with scoring the strings and, finally, rehearsing with them. I usually change things again, depending upon the balance of tone and strings.
Share how your new album "Identity" will vary from prior albums.
My writing approach is the same, although, some of the pieces have a bigger sound. I think it has stepped forward, with my scoring being slightly different from my other albums.
Many of the stories in your background, your work success, and even your choice in hobbies (a triathlete) indicates that you look at life as a "series of challenges" to overcome. You live with passion and perseverance. Are these characteristics "natural" to you or were they taught? Explain.
I don’t think you can be taught a ‘natural’ reaction to a situation, but I watched and saw my parents. They showed me what hard work looked and felt like as well as perseverence and achievement. 'Positivity' is an infectious behaviour and something, I wish, everyone could catch. Learn by example. Obviously sometimes things are difficult, but you have to be optimisitic; it’s the only way to survive.
If you had not been a composer, what would you have become?
Two directions interested me….... being a pathologist or a Barrister.
I went to Chambers and shadowed Barristers and they said to always follow your passion and that was music. Pathology still interests me. I read scientific journals and I love the Gunter Von Hagen anatomy exhibitions. These give me my science fix.
Share the composition you are most proud of and why?
That’s a tough question! Most proud…. The Aviators I’m proud of because it evolved at a very difficult time and it is the piece I get so many emails, letters about. It touches people's hearts and hearing their stories is very moving.
Are you more comfortable composing classical music over commercial?
I’ve been told right from the start that my style of writing is extremely commercial. I don’t see myself as a 'classical' composer really. (I think I need to be dead to be classed as one!) I, hopefully, compose in a way that people enjoy whether they are into classical music or not.
Share your feelings regarding the value of each.
There’s so much utter snob-value in the classical world and it drives me mad. Music should be accessible to all; it should be about enjoyment -- taking you away from any stresses in life and taking you to a different world. Although I’ve noticed a cross-over with radio stations, like Classic FM (“Classic”) now playing music which is composed for video games. Is this classical? Yes, if on a classical station, but it’s also commercial as it’s on mainstream games.
The value of them is in their ability to make people like them or react to them on an emotional level. That’s the key to everything in life right?
What has been the biggest surprise in your career?
Getting a record deal and being a performer. I always thought I would compose but not be signed as an artist. I was trying to persuade Warner to let someone else do the performing and I would just write instead…. They said no!
"THE" dream in your head that you have yet to achieve?
I love film; I love composing 'to picture' and writing for films; I don’t think I could ever do too much of that.
Name the one person that you would like to work with most in your future. Explain why.
I would LOVE to work with an extremely talented US female singer and write an album with her. I have written a lot of songs and feel I would like to do more.
Share your secret in balancing both your personal and professional lives.
I have been balancing both since the day I was offered my record deal in 2006, which was exactly the same day I found out I was pregnant. It just requires organization and a willingness to be flexible and compromise. Sometimes I even squeeze in some sleep too!
What makes you "human?"
What makes me human is my children not caring what I do for a living but wanting a cuddle and their telling me about their day at school. We fight over the TV remote and as a household of 3 boys and myself, sometimes I even get to choose what’s on…. Sometimes…..!
Appreciating that I am in a very nice place when others are struggling with ill health and more worries. Not a day goes by that I don’t value my situation.
Do you support or are involved in a particular social cause or caused-based organization?
Not one in particular, but I do get involved with some.
When all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered?
As someone who cared about others and wrote music that touched people on an emotional level…and someone who always kept her promise.
Frankly, I love the explosion that occurs when passion and determination meet. All you need do is peer into Helen Long’s eyes to see the smouldering of her next great composition. Her music embodies the blessed power of a larger force captured and released through her own soul. It is no wonder she’s converted even the most unlikely to become classical music fans and Helen Long fans.
Many thanks to Helen Long and Karen Lee of Evolution Promotion for making this interview possible