Kirsty Martin, Composer

"I am delighted to be composing music for the Cycle of Songs - i've been discussing the historical sources with Helen Weinstein - and I'm commissioned to write a piece with Rowena Whitehead to celebrate the place names of Cambridge on the theme of riding bicycles round Cambridge. Also, I will be composing a piece for the Cambridge Choir called 'Women of Note' to record for the Cycle of Songs, which will be telling the History of Women to celebrate the ‘Unsung’ Women of Cambridge!"

To learn more about the pieces that Kirsty has composed and to hear demo versions of them you can visit the Sound Files pages below:

Unsung Women

Why We Ride


My piece is called Unsung Women, and has been written for Women of Note - one of Cambridge’s longest standing and well known and respected women’s choirs. It explores two very different yet equally controversial areas regarding women’s rights.

The first half of my piece is called The Spinning House, which was a house for ‘disorderly girls and unfortunate women' and was situated on the site of what is now Hobson House, part of Cambridge City Council. For hundreds of years, women could be arrested and sent to the Spinning House by the University Proctor and his sidekick, the ‘Bulldog’. Needless to say, these women were arrested for almost anything, and the Proctor had independent authority to arrest and drag any women to the Spinning House whose behaviour was deemed ‘ inappropriate'. This could be anything as little as going to the market, walking into town or talking with others. Conditions in the Spinning House were appalling. Women suffered and died from malnutrition, abuse and neglect. Shockingly, The Spinning House was only closed and demolished at the turn of the 20th Century.

The second half of Unsung Women segues into an exploration of the humiliation and frustration experienced by the pioneering women who attended Girton and Newnham Colleges at the turn of the century. Women were allowed to attend the university, but not given access to any laboratories, research facilities and libraries, and they were not even allowed to graduate! In 1897, the women’s syndicate petitioned the University Senate to call a vote for equal rights. Thousands of men, both current students and alumni, descended upon Cambridge and staged a huge protest, making an effigy of a woman on a bicycle (a sign of the modern, independent woman) and strung it up outside Girton House. The behaviour was highly intimidating and one spectator was heard to say ‘history will be ashamed of this’. Through intimidation, bloody mindedness and patriarchal power, conditions were not are equalised for women at Cambridge until 1948!

Historyworks conducted some wonderfully thorough, fascinating research on these issues and passed their findings onto me. I then read through their work (they also conducted research into Rosalind Franklin and the discovery of DNA, and Cambridge artist Gwen Reverat) and then crafted a piece exploring the issues that spoke to me most. I aimed to harness the palpable energy of injustice and frustration felt by these women (through scrunchy harmonies and unresolved chords!) and wanted to mention by name the individual women that might have previously gone ‘unsung’. 
The Spinning House starts with a graphic description of the horrors found within and the story around the women, and gradually rises in energy, until it bursts at the seams with the clarion call ‘Rebel Rebel Disorderly girls'! At this point, the piece segues into the Cambridge Pioneers, and the song changes tack, adopting a woeful blues vibe (I had, of course, the ‘Cambridge Blues’ in mind…) and ending with an actual song from the time - The Girton Pioneers (to the tune of the British Grenadiers.) - with a sense of hope in the air. At 4 minutes long, it is the shortest song cycle I have ever written!

You can listen to Kirsty's piece here

Kirsty Martin Composer

I am an experienced vocal musician and workshop facilitator based in Brighton. I am a founding member of the Natural Voice Practitioners Network and a qualified workshop leader - having trained in community music at Goldsmiths College, London. I am the Musical Director for Hullabaloo Community Quire in Brighton and Raise the Roof Community Choir in London, and have worked with Talking in Tune in Cambridge for several years.

I have worked with festivals, theatre groups, colleges and social service projects, and I continue to teach locally, as well as travelling throughout Britain, Europe and America to share my musical vision and passion. My inspiration comes from many forms of music - from mediaeval to motown, folk to funk, and doowop to hip hop! I aim to enable everyone to discover their natural and powerful voice, so that singing will become what you thought it always could be - creative, fun and personally liberating!

To find out more about Kirsty's work with Hullabaloo Community Choir

To view pictures of Kirsty's invovlement with Cycle of Songs click on the slideshow below:

Created with flickr slideshow.
Kirsty Martin, Composer


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