John Brunning: Composing For Katherine Jenkins

Most people know me from my “day job” as a Classic FM presenter, but I also write music and I have written a piece for the singer Katherine Jenkins.

My ideas always germinate from “tinkering” on the guitar, the instrument I taught myself to play as a child. 

My other essential tools are my black labrador Whisper, a MIDI guitar and some sophisticated software. 

The former helps me when the ideas aren’t flowing – I take the dog for a walk to break the impasse; while the latter gives me access to a broad palate of instrumental sounds: strings, woodwind, percussion, even sampled choirs; enabling me to “play” these various instruments from the guitar, and build an electronic picture of how my music will sound when it’s performed. 

I used to regard deadlines as the enemies of creativity, but experience has taught me to embrace these torments. There is nothing more terrifying than sitting with a blank sheet of paper waiting for the muse to strike, yet nothing more intoxicating than the moment when it arrives – if it arrives. 

Years ago, when I was playing lead guitar with Mungo Jerry, I wrote a song called Brand New Pen about precisely this conundrum. 

It was only relatively recently that I began to compose in a more classical idiom. When I was commissioned to write a piece for Katherine Jenkins, my goal was to create something that had the appeal of a pop track but was also classically credible, and that would suit the sonorous richness of her voice. 

The song I came up with was Ave Maria, though I decided not to use the full Latin text, framing it instead around those two words. Katherine’s voice is also very impressive in the upper register, so I wrote a descant that floats over the top of the main melody. 

You can hear Ave Maria on Katherine’s CD, Daydream. She describes this, her eighth studio album, as her most personal to date, and the recording with which she returns to her musical roots.