A great man (I think it was Mr Miyagi from The Karate Kid) once said:

"There is no such thing as a bad student. Only a bad teacher".

Wise words.

And some that really make sense to me, having been involved in drum and music

education professionally for the past 10 years. In that time I have been extremely

fortunate to have met some truly inspirational teachers and I would like to dedicate

this blog/magazine - (you could call it either a blogazine or a blagazine, depending

on if you think I know what I'm talking about!) - to those drummers who have really

made a difference in the world of drums and drum education.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dame Evelyn Glennie Interview

Sitting in a small Café in Neukölln, Berlin on a snowy February afternoon, I made a telephone call to the UK.  I was extremely nervous as I was calling Dame Evelyn Glennie to discuss her life and career in the percussion world.

This photograph and "Snare Photograph" below courtesy of James Wilson/© Evelyn Glennie

Ms Glennie, if you don't already know, was the worlds first solo percussionist.  This is some feat.  Not only because of the struggle to convince the musical world that such a thing could be achieved, but also because of the fact that Evelyn Glennie is deaf.

The conversation started with an obvious question about Evelyn's early life...

Drumazine: How old were you when you first found an interest in music and percussion?

Dame Evelyn Glennie: When I was 8 years old I first started playing piano and at the age of 12 I found drawn to percussion.  The area I am from in North East Scotland and the schooling I had was deep rooted in traditional Scottish music.  The [secondary] school I attended had a fantastic music department and the teachers there really tried to find a connection with the children as individuals.  They really helped to bring out our potential and help us to find our creativity through music.

Dzn: So would you say that your early influence was from your teachers at school?

EG: Definitely.  My first percussion teacher, (a peripatetic teacher) - Ron Forbes, really inspired and encouraged me.  He taught me from the age of 12 to the age of 16 and treated me (and all his pupils) as musicians first and percussionists second.  Also, my classroom [music] teacher, Hamish Park,  really helped by, again, finding individuality in each student and encouraging our creativity.

Dzn: Your school sounds amazing!

EG: The teachers and the music department really were fantastic!  A lot of the teachers of the academic subjects played musical instruments and so were always performing with the school band and at school concerts.  I think as a young musician in this school, I really was lucky and found a connection with a lot of the teachers (even the ones not in the music department) who also found out more about me through music.  Every pupil was valued and inspired and there was a brilliant sense of  camaraderie and mutual respect.  This was invaluable and so I gained encouragement from lots and varied places and people.

Dzn: And so who inspires you now?

EG: Well, I wouldn't say that any one person in particular inspires me any more.  I gain inspiration from the things around me - it could be anything or anyone in everyday life which triggers a concept or thought process to a creative idea.

Dzn: So would you say it is a good idea to be open-minded in your approach to your career?  Not just musically, (playing many different instruments and styles), but also to have a diverse career and not just sticking to one thing [playing]?

EG: Definitely!  My first teacher [Ron Forbes] made a point not to specialise in any one area.  He taught me a good foundation of basics in many areas on the snare drum & drum kit as well as other percussion instruments such as the Timpani & the Xylophone.  These are tools which enable you to be a divers musician and it was so good to be exposed to so many different musical forms at such an early age.

Dzn: Being diverse in your career seems just as important.  You are not only [the worlds first] solo percussionist, but you also have a prolific career spanning several areas, including teaching, composing, motivational speaking, global consultancy and jewellery design!  Are there any particular areas of your work which you enjoy more than others?

EG: I obviously really enjoy all areas of my work, but I do really enjoy collaborating as a soloists with the orchestras.  I also very much enjoy other collaborations with, for instance, visual artists, dancers, narrators and so on.

Dzn: You are extremely busy!   There's also the jewellery?

EG: Well, I have been designing jewellery for about the last 4 years.  The first range was called "Percussion", however I am just releasing a new line in 2012 including some smaller pieces like handbag & mobile telephone charms and also some pieces which will play some music!  You will be able to find out more later in the year via my website. My new e-commerce site is currently being developed. 

Dzn: You have [in past interviews] described yourself as being "naturally stubborn".  Would you say you have a certain "drive & determination" which is instrumental in your success?

EG: I would say rather that anyone wishing to succeed in their chosen career should start by having a clear goal and visualising the aim.  You need to have belief in your own goal and create your own opportunities!

Dzn: Ok, so what would you say was your first success in music?

EG: I think my first long-term success was proving that I could survive as a solo percussionist, but I think every event or gig is a stepping stone, so it all depends on your perspective.  For me there have been lots of moments of achievement that have all lead up to this point in my life and my career.  So, for instance, up to a certain point there was one goal achieved and then up to the next point there was another goal achieved and so on...

Dzn: Maybe now is a good time to ask a question from Drumazine! reader "Andrew Cox": "How did you feel when you got your first professional work/gig?"

EG: Well that's a tough one!  I can't really remember the first one!  I do remember however, when I was a student, getting certain opportunities;  I was asked to take part at an after-dinner performance which I guess was one of my first proper gigs, but basically I took as many opportunities as possible!  Another big moment for me was being asked to perform a percussion concerto with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra which was my first professional concerto performance.

Dzn: Having talked about successes, can you tell us about any bad times, failures, defeats or problems you have had during your career?

EG: Well, if we didn't have problems we wouldn't be human!  Everyone has ups & downs - that's just part of life.  Being reflective and taking time out is very important, so for me personally I use the down times to take stock.  Sometime not practising is just as valid as working hard...  I guess the challenge that I have faced was making people believe in "solo percussion" as a career.  It was very hard initially to find a repertoire or to find money to support commissions, so that really was the biggest challenge I have faced.

Dzn: Some more questions from Andrew Cox now: "How did you feel about proving yourself in a career usually pursued by people with hearing?"

EG: Ooh...  I'm not sure...  I'm not really a person out to prove anything to anyone.  Maybe I was more out to prove how good I could be to myself more than anything.  I think that is probably a much healthier way of approaching things.  It's interesting too how "disabilities" are perceived.  It's not really a negative thing; in fact I would say that it could definitely be used to revolutionise things like equipment or at very least the way music is approached and perceived.  As I said before, musicianship far outweighs the technique of playing percussion and so for anyone learning to play any instrument it should be more about sound creation and experimentation than preconception or tradition.

Dzn: Andrew also asks: "What was your most challenging gig and why?"

EV: That's really hard to say!  Every time you play a brand new piece of music it's a challenge.  I think the most scared I was on stage was the first ever time I played a full improvised concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.  At that time I thought "I will never do this again!", but now improvising is such an amazing way for me to be expressive - I really enjoy it and I give many improvised performances.

Dzn: (AC): What's your favourite percussion instrument and why?

EG:  Well, if I was stuck on a desert island and I could only have one instrument with me, then I'd have to say the Snare Drum.  I use the snare in nine out of ten concerts and I just love to play it.  It's one of the most challenging instruments to play and I don't think I could be without one!

Dzn: (AC): If you could play with any band, artist or orchestra (that you haven't already), who would it be and why?

EG: I would love to play with Eminem!  I like his work a lot and I would love to write a concerto and fuse it with rap and hip-hop!

Dzn: Wow!  I wasn't expecting that answer!  So, have you approached him?!

EG: Yes!  Although I haven't heard anything back yet...  As always though, you have to go through so many channels...

{Dzn: Maybe if anyone reading this knows Eminem, maybe they can pass on the idea!?  Back to the interview:}

Dzn: Something else I found out about you is that you made a film recently called "Touch The Sound".  How did that come about?

EG: I was approached by the director, Thomas Riedelscheimer, to make a film about sound.  The emphasis being on how sound is all around us and how we experience it.  I was the vehicle for the film.

Dzn: Another amazing fact about you is that you are "Dame Commander of the British Empire" (awarded in 2007)!  How did that come about?

EG: I have no idea!  Ha!  I received a letter in the post!

Dzn: Well, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you and a real insight into your life and career.  Before we bid you adieu, do you have any words of advice to aspiring young musicians?

EG: Well, I think try to vary your practice "routine".  Actually, the word routine is quite a bad one.  Being varied and as creative as possible is much more valuable.  Or at least try to get a balance between specifics [rudiments, score, technique], and improvising and creativity.  Try to explore different techniques, sounds and be as open minded as possible.  Try to get some experience writing music or "making something".  Have belief in yourself, practice hard, take opportunities and be creative.  Also, self analysis is important for improvement too.  Be really ruthless with yourself!  And finally, remember this about the music business:  Don't pander to it because without you, the musicians, there is no music business!

And there ends an amazing interview with a true inspiration.

For further reading and information:

Evelyn's Official Website
Evelyn Glennie has written some wonderful texts which you can read on her website here.  She also has some new releases this year, one with the Taipei Traditional Chinese Orchestra and also her work with composer John Corigliano.  New releases and a full discography can be found on Evelyn's website here.
She is also busy touring throughout the year which you can keep up to date with here.

Photograph courtesy of "Cambridge Newspapers Ltd"
Photograph "instruments" above courtesy of Eric Richmod

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.