Meet Stephen Dunstone

We’re excited to welcome Stephen Dunstone to Harp Column Music! We’ve just uploaded four of Stephen’s works for harp ensemble at the advanced beginner level. With catchy melodies and clever titles, we think they’ll make a great addition to end of year and summer program concerts. Look for more of his works in the coming weeks. We asked Stephen to tell us more about what inspires him…

What kinds of things do you like to compose?

Original harp ensembles, mostly, though I really enjoyed writing a collection of pieces for various wind instruments with piano, for friends. I also had a lot of fun writing and performing a rollicking song called “Birthdays Galore” to celebrate the major birthdays of three generations of one family.

Dunstone conducting
Conducting the Children’s Harp Orchestra of Oxford in a Christmas Nativity .

What’s the arrangement/composition you’re most proud of?

That’s like asking which of your children you prefer! However, I’m certainly very fond of Tubby’s Tango, and the jazz piece Harpy Ever After always goes down well. And there was an occasion when I found myself very moved on hearing my Rêverie for Flute and Harp being performed. It’s probably very bad form to be moved by your own compositions, but that one certainly got to me.

What new works have you published recently?

New in 2015 are the harp ensembles North Island Ramble, The Risen Sun, Skeleton Crew, Tubby’s Tango, Valse Triste, and Strolling Albert (harp + 2 flutes), as well as a book of 38 solo pieces for intermediate level harpists – Harpo Four.

What arrangements/compositions do you have planned for the near future?

I don’t exactly plan to create compositions unless I’ve been asked to provide something for a particular occasion – generally I find a melody coming into my head and I have to get it on paper before it disappears.

Can you give us some background or details about any of the works you have listed on Harp Column Music?

Quite a few of the ensembles started life as very short (16-bar) solo pieces intended to develop pupils’ reading or technical skills. What often happens is that I then find myself thinking “Hm, a nice bit of harmony would go down well here”, or “This would be great with a counter-melody”, and before you know it a whole ensemble has appeared. This was the case with Aces High, Prairie Dogs, Tubby’s Tango, Valse Triste, Viennese Waltz, and Waking Early amongst others. Harpy Ever After came about because I had to provide a piece for a school concert of combined harp and guitar ensembles, and I thought “I don’t want this wrecked by a load of guitar pupils who haven’t practised – what can I write that they’ll be able to strum along with easily? Ah yes! A 12-bar blues sequence!” Then I had fantastic fun creating harp parts for a wide range of abilities, and the guitars weren’t necessary at all. (But don’t get me wrong: I do love a well-played guitar…)

Where do you look for inspiration?

It can strike at any time. The melody for “Coming Home” just arrived in my head while I was walking my dog before going out to teach. I had to make all my pupils play it so I didn’t forget it before having a chance to write it down. The tranquil duet “The Forest Pool” came to me when I found myself all alone in an unexpectedly deserted and silent Music Department waiting for a pupil to arrive.

Concentrating at a wedding reception

Are there any composers/arrangers who particularly inspire you?

I get inspired by a huge range of composers and genres, often quite unexpectedly. What usually happens is that I’ll hear a piece of music on the radio or in someone else’s house and I’ll suddenly get this clutching feeling inside, and I think “What is that? Who wrote it? Play that bit again, I want to make sounds like that!” Sometimes it can be just a single chord or short progression. I remember the very first time I heard Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro many years ago – it was in a concert, and I had to rush out afterwards to get a recording so I could recapture some very specific moments where the harmony made me gasp. I haven’t actually written anything like Ravel’s music – maybe I’m scared that it would be a pale imitation! Much more recently I watched the film “Brave”, and was so excited by some of Patrick Doyle’s soundtrack that I had to sit down afterwards and write my own exuberant celtic piece.

What’s your most favorite harp work to play?

The Loch Tay Boat Song. Simple, but it’s such a serenely beautiful mixture of contentment and melancholic longing, I love it. 

What’s your most favorite harp work to listen to?

That’s hard – my taste varies hugely with mood, but a couple of the pieces that have excited me are 4 Girls, 4 Harps playing “Saraswati” complete with percussion, and Savourna Stevenson playing “Tickled Pink”, which I found inspirational way, way back when she first recorded it.

What other music do you enjoy listening to?

The range is huge: 16th century choral music / solo guitar / jazz piano / big band / Mozart / Bach / Flute concertos / Simon and Garfunkel / Capercaillie / Bartok / Elgar / Pink Floyd / Rachmaninov / Chopin, to name a tiny fraction of what I like. Three indispensables are Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

Dunstone at home
At home.

What do you do when you’re not being a musician?

I write fiction. That is to say I’ve written twelve radio plays and had a stage play about Emil Nolde and Hermann Göring performed, but my current projects include an adult novel and several works for children. I love reading Children’s Literature (I wrote a dissertation titled “Otherworld” on the Supernatural in Children’s Literature as part of a post-graduate teaching degree). For relaxation I love walking, theatre and cinema.

Give three interesting facts that you think people would like to know about you:

One of the most exciting parts of my teaching work has been running a percussion group.
I used to be a tap dancer.
I also play the hammered dulcimer.

What are some other interesting facts you think people would like to know about you:

I love Border Collies, and I would like to live in a house by the sea with no tourists anywhere near. If anyone has such a house they want to lend me, please let me know!

Listen to Stephen Dunstone’s works on Soundcloud.


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