Keep Music Playing / 4
When your life is about collaboration, playing and finding inspiration with others, how do you adapt, how do you thrive in isolation?
As a professional musician, with an ambition to push the boundaries of classical music, cross the boundaries between genres and to find my own voice as a composer, this new way of living and working I hope will inspire new possibilities in how I create, perform and share music.
My time studying at the RNCM gave me not only the technical skills, but also the opportunity to meet some of the most exciting musicians working today. Many of those musicians I continue to work with in my role as leader of the Kaleidoscope Orchestra – a 21st century orchestra, bringing the worlds of classical and dance music together – which we started while still students at the College.
I’m proud we have found a way to keep working together, thanks to the wonders of the internet, (and a great arranger/video editor called Steve Pycroft!), performing and releasing music online in our lockdown sessions and hopefully bringing a bit of joy in to peoples’ daily lives.
I am absolutely blown away by the music the RNCM alumni community is producing right now. I hope you enjoy the selection below. It is gratifying to know we are all still reaching out, through all the negative noise in the world, to bring beauty and hope.
Keep well and keep listening,
Violinist / Leader, Kaleidoscope Orchestra
I hope you enjoy this link to the Kaleidoscope Orchestra’s lockdown session. We have always championed inspiring new audiences, re-imaging their favourite tracks in ways they’d never dreamt possible – working together virtually is the latest frontier to conquer!
So far, our videos have reached across the globe and made it to BBC Breakfast and BBC Radio 3! This week’s video is the most special yet; it’s our cover of Titanium by David Guetta/Sia.
With this one, we hope to use our reach to gather donations for our beloved NHS. Spreading joy (and not virus) is exactly why we do what we do.
As co-founder of Manchester Collective, with my sister, Rakhi and fellow alum, Adam Szabo, it simply would be impossible for me not to mention their wonderful work. They are a truly innovative ensemble, creating the most exciting, intense live musical experiences.
Their most recent project, Cries and Whispers is a haunting and intimate programme including Widmann, Britten, Gesualdo and Shostakovich. The last performance before lockdown, featuring RNCM alumni (including my soul mate in music, Caroline Pether – with whom I started the Zelkova Quartet during our studies) alongside current student, Jack Bailey on cello, recorded at the White Hotel in Salford – is now available to stream:
Both the players and audience went into this concert knowing it might be the last they experience for a while and spoke of a very powerful energy in the room. I hope you find it as evocative, beautiful and inspiring to watch as I did.
The amazing GoGo Penguin, who all met at the RNCM and now fill venues around the world, with their eclectic, electric, mix of jazz, rock, classical and dance music, have a new single out, Kora – on the classic label, Blue Note Records.
The band are another brilliant example of how RNCM students and alumni are encouraged come together, to fuse different genres of music and styles of playing, to create something very unique.
Pianist Chris Illingworth and I used to have lengthy conversations in the refectory about the necessity of exploration and creation. I remember being at his house for dinner years ago where he played us the first mix of their first ever album, and right away we knew they were on to something special. It’s amazing to see how far they’ve come. You can find out more about the band and their new single on their website.
Saxophone superstar Jess Gillam, who left the RNCM last year, following the hugely successful launch of her career, which has seen her album topping the classical music charts and establishing herself as the youngest ever regular presenter on BBC Radio 3, has characteristically thrown herself into new ways of working.
After her summer tour was cancelled, she regrouped and set up a ‘virtual scratch orchestra’. It’s available for everyone to join, young and old, amateur and professional. So far, the response has incredible.
Calling all musicians! 📢 5 days left to submit a video for the Virtual Scratch Orchestra! 5️⃣ 🎻 Thank you so much for all of the amazing videos so far 🥳 pic.twitter.com/hBxdspA6oZ
— Jess Gillam (@JessGillamSax) April 5, 2020
As well as continuing to find inspiration and making music, our alumni are also doing some amazing community work. A couple of weeks ago we shared the story of Janet Fulton, Principal Percussionist with Manchester Camerata, now working as a volunteer with Yorkshire Ambulance Service.
This week we share news of recent alumna, mezzo-soprano, Joanna Harries. Joanna should have been at Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam right now, but instead she has signed up to work at her local supermarket, covering hours that other staff can no longer do due to ill health, family commitments or self-isolation.
Not quite was she was expecting to be doing, but she reports that she does enjoy having a badge with her name on it! Joanna is still finding time to perform and share music – here she is with Jess Dandy, singing What Will We Do if We Have No Money? – a folksong transcribed from Mary Delaney, an Irish traveller who lived under the Hammersmith flyover during the 1970s.
"What will we do if we have no money?"
Definitely too close to home at the moment, but we couldn't resist. Here's a little arrangement of this folksong transcribed from Mary Delaney, an Irish traveller who lived under the Hammersmith flyover during the 1970s. pic.twitter.com/TAfZbzvGai
— Joanna Harries (@Joanna_Harries) March 18, 2020
Four Tet arrangement
There is one project, however, that is the closest to my heart. For the past few years, I have periodically taken myself away from the norms of daily life in order to delve deep, explore and create.
Something I created during this time away is an all string arrangement of a track by one of my favourite electronic artists – LA Trance by Four Tet. It’s been created to reflect the magical moments I have been lucky to share by myself on the Welsh coast and is one I hope can bring peace and tranquillity to anyone who listens to it.
The biggest challenge for me, and perhaps for us all, is to find those same moments of inner peace whilst being cooped up at home and to keep creating. One thing I am really appreciating right now is time. Time to stop, to breathe, to reflect. This has taught me one thing I knew already, but that has become so poignant during this crisis, and that is how unbelievably lucky we are as musicians to do what we love.
If there’s one thing I would encourage in this time of global reflection, it would be to take moments of the day to really explore and create. Take pressure off yourself, make mistakes, grasp that chance to explore the unknown and delve deep inside, you never know what you might find.
A heartfelt thank you from all at the College to Simmy for sharing her music, thoughts and recommendations in this week’s alumni-themed post. We hope it has given you an insight into the innovative, new and truly exciting music our alumni are producing. You can find out more about Simmy’s work on her website.
Thank you also to our wonderful community out there who are continuing to support our work and our students struggling financially at this challenging time. If you haven’t yet given, and are able to consider supporting us, we would be so very grateful. For more information please click here. Thank you.
9 April 2020