Guillemots frontman writes piece for symphony orchestra

Now play like a hounded fox

Other things come and go, but there is something about the sound that people can make with bits of wood, metal, plastic and wire that somehow puts a meaning into anything for me. Maybe it's because music is the one art form where the end result has no basis in reality at all. All the other arts are made up of something visual, things that were once tangible. Music is just in the air - after that, it's gone.

I have been commissioned to write In Wait, an orchestral piece for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. I can understand how writing a piece for orchestra might seem a world away from writing pop songs for the Guillemots, my band, but it really isn't. In the band, we all feel the same way about music; to us, it doesn't have categories. What I love about orchestras is that they can sound so completely at one and at war within themselves, all at once. Both extremes are so rich. That can be true of a lot of music, but when it is done right in front of you, with so much detail, rather than being multi-layered and perfected in a studio, there is something very magical about it.

Maybe that's why I got carried away and wrote a half-hour piece instead of the requested 10 minutes. Not very clever, as that has probably blighted its chances of ever being played again, but it's my first commission; every little idea I've ever imagined an orchestra playing wanted to be in there.

The way In Wait sounds is probably closer to cartoon or film music than a lot of contemporary "classical" pieces, which can seem to be more about the patterns and textures being explored than the final result, to the extent where it's only other musicians who will get it. I adore jarring, dissonant, otherworldly noise, but I also love lush, romantic strings that make you well up, as well as dumb, repetitive marches that transport you to a universe of Studio Ghibli monsters, such as in the film Howl's Moving Castle. I have no time for snobbishness: an orchestra should move your heart and feet as much as your head, and you shouldn't have to analyse the music in order for it to do so.

What is daunting about scoring for an orchestra is that you don't hear what you have written until the first rehearsal, and then it's too late to make any big changes. All you have to go on is the sounds in your head, and your only means of communicating these is dots, lines and the odd written instruction, which in this piece is usually something along the lines of "play like a hounded fox". I have had some experience of scoring before, though nothing on this scale; I've written several choral pieces - arrangements for various Guillemots songs - and when it works, it's one of the most pinch-yourself feelings you can imagine, as you hear the dots become sound for the first time. It's like walking into a scene from one of your dreams. But you also have to accept the risk that what you are writing may sound nothing like you intend, which is sobering.

The concert will be one of the biggest nights of my life. Having half an hour of music played by an orchestra is a dream come true, but this is my home-town orchestra celebrating the reopening of Birmingham Town Hall - the first orchestra I ever saw, in the same venue. It's a real honour for me. But if this is just the first time I get to compose for orchestra, rather than the only time, I'll definitely be - as our drummer, Greig Stewart, is fond of saying - a very happy chappie.

· In Wait will be premiered by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra as part of Birmingham Town Hall's reopening festival on Thursday.

Fyfe Dangerfield

The GuardianTramp

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