Percussion masterclass with ENO’s Mick Doran

Principal Percussionist of English National Opera, Mick Doran, visited the RNCM on 16 October to treat percussion students to a masterclass on opera repertoire. We took the opportunity to sit down with him before the event to find out more about his career, teaching philosophy and latest projects.

Mick Doran with RNCM Director of Percussion Simone Rebello

What do you love about percussion?

I love being part of, in orchestral terms, what you could call the icing on the cake. When you get to the glorious moments in a piece of music percussion is often included to heighten the experience, and that can be a really exhilarating feeling coming in, joining in at points like that. I also like the flamboyance of percussion, whether you’re playing tuned percussion and non-tuned percussion in an orchestra or in an ensemble or solo, there’s a certain flamboyance or showmanship that can go with it.

What will your masterclass be covering?

It is specifically about opera repertoire, and I’m going to focus on four works: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Shostakovich, Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten, ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ from Salome by Richard Strauss and a little bit of The Barber of Seville overture. Hopefully we’ll find a different way of playing, a different way of listening and a different way of experiencing these different styles of opera.

What do you hope the students will get out of it?

Fun. I hope they’ll have fun even though it’ll be quite challenging. I hope they’ll learn to listen to what’s around them, both to their colleagues and the music we’re discussing. And I imagine quite a lot of them don’t go to opera very often. I’m hoping that they’ll walk out and think: ‘Well actually, I’ll listen to a recording of that opera, or if Opera North are in town I’ll go there.’ So I hope to broaden their horizons, particularly about opera.

What advice can you give to our percussion students?

If they want to be well-rounded musicians they have to go out and listen. They need to go to concerts, they need to go to shows. I don’t care if it’s pop, jazz, indie, it doesn’t matter. In a place like Manchester there is so much going on, I’m sure you could be out at a gig every night of the week. And when you’re a student it’s the best time to do it because it’s relatively cheap. So I would say listen. Listen to everything. And then occasionally listen to your teachers because sometimes there’s a pearl of wisdom to be learned. You don’t have to take it all on board, but absorb it all and then you’ll naturally lose the stuff that doesn’t fit you.

Mick Doran and Simone Rebello with RNCM percussion students

What are some highlights from your time at ENO?

In January I’ll have been there for 30 years. When Paul Daniel was director one of the more interesting things we did with him apart from the entire Ring Cycle, was to perform Act III of Wagner’s Die Walküre on the main stage of Glastonbury. After Paul was Ed Gardner. One of the best concerts I’ve ever been involved in was a Proms performance of Peter Grimes in 2012 with Ed conducting. I can still remember the hairs on the back of my neck sticking up, virtually for the whole three hours. It was just an extraordinary evening. We’re just about to welcome our new music director Martyn Brabbins who’s going to be doing something completely different, a brand new opera by Nico Muhly based on the Hitchcock Marnie film that starts rehearsals next week. So a complete voyage of discovery.

You’ve recently performed An A to Z of Orchestra Triangle Playing at various festivals. Can you speak more about this experience?

It’s a one-man show that I wrote. It lasts about 70 minutes and it’s just me and a triangle and a couple of props, so it’s a challenge but it’s something that I really enjoy doing. It is an irreverent, humorous exploration of what it’s really like working in British orchestras. And I use the framework of the rehearsal figures of a piece of music to go from A to Z. Each letter has a subject or a couple of subjects within it. And although it’s largely humorous there are more serious subjects, for instance I talk about drink and addiction; I talk about fear when you’re playing; I talk about illness and incompetence within the music industry. And I try at the end to sum up why we, the musicians, do it. And I’m not going to say why, because that would give the show away.

Any other projects planned for the future?

I’m doing the show again in Belfast in January and possibly in Surrey that month as well. I’m also developing something called A Young Person’s Guide to the Opera, and I’m developing a second one-man show because my first is going well. It has the working title Touring with my Triangle.

Mick Doran with RNCM percussion students

24 October 2017