Interview with Dame Evelyn Glennie

Autor:in - Shirley Salmon
Themenbereiche: Kultur
Textsorte: Artikel
Releaseinfo: In: Musicworks Vol. 15 Nr. 1 Sydney 2010 ISSN 1320-078X p. 9 - 17. First printed in German in Orff-Schulwerk-Informationen. Nr. 73, Salzburg, Winter 2004. (Orff-Institut,University Mozarteum,Salzburg/Orff-Schulwerk Forum Salzburg,Frohnburgwerg 55, A-5020 Salzburg, Austria)
Copyright: © Shirley Salmon 2003

Interview with Dame Evelyn Glennie

Shirley Salmon (ShS): I'm interested in your musical development. What were the most important things in your development as a child that have influenced you today?

Evelyn Glennie (EG):I was brought up in the northeast part of Scotland so therefore music in the home as far as scottisch traditional music was concerned was quite important. So the actual creating of sound and participation within the home first and foremost was very important. However that was simply done through traditional songs. So it was basically the use of the voice. And then when I went to primary school from the age of 5 - 11/12 years old we had music lessons once a week for which.

The school was tiny so the maximal amount of pupils in the whole school was 45. So this meant that the individual attention was enormous. And therefore the music teacher who came in once a week dealt with songs, she dealt with movement. We had to play recorder, we were able to play solos, work as a group. We were able to use the recorder with the voice as well. Many different combinations so it wasn't just this type of stereotypical image we have of recorder-playing and we grind through it. It wasn't that atall. And ofcourse we had very very basic percussion instruments - just these individual kids chime bars and things like that. They weren't hugely inspiring but it was more the use of them and the individual attention that you can have within such a small group. But then our musical efforts and little achievements were then displayed at school concerts and that was very important. A school concert is a big thing for a youngster and it was a chance for parents, friends, relatives (to listen).

and this enormous teamwork that again a small group of people can really feel. You're not getting lost in the system.

Then from the age of 12 - 16 I went to a much larger comprehensive school with about 1500 pupils. And ofcourse it had a different feeling there. However we happened to have 2 excellent classroom music teachers and then I also began playing percussion at that point and I had a lesson once a week from as teacher who visited many schools amongst the northeast part of scotland. That was a huge turning point for me because if the teaching was (had not been) good I would have got lost in the system. I feel quite sure of that. But because the teaching was first class and with this kind of extension of individual attention that's exactly how I work. Where I have to just be free as I'm sure everybody does - to really explore what't inside. Therefore with the percussion the teeacher did not allow us to specialize. So he made sure that we had timpani, auxilliary instruments, snare drum, drum kit, tuned percussion. And again the instruments were extremely basic - all raw and rough but nevertheless it was absolutely incredible what he did with those instruments. So what happened was that he treated us first and foremost as musicians and then instrumentalists. And this was the biggest - although I wasn't aware of it at the time but later on I suddenly realized what he had taught me.

Because it meant that every single pupil played in their own way, explored their instruments in their own way. The technique, the actual physicality of playing the instrument was always connected to something that "meant". So we weren't just running up and down scales because that helps improve your technique. Well I see a scale in a Bach prelude or a Bach sonata or in a bit of Rachminonov or Chopin so can I apply that scale to that piece of music. And so we would learn a piece of music and create exercises from that piece of music. Everything was related to music. We would then take a piece of music and improvise on that.

ShS: How many creative elements were in the teaching aswell?

EG: Alot. We never worked from a study book. He always wrote his own little exercises. He then asked us to write our exercises. The one thing I did do with the classroom music teacher was that he was extremely interested in scottisch traditional music. He would sometimes write pieces of music. So we had this little game that one week he would write a piece and the next week I would write a piece, the next week he would write a piece. And we would compare and discuss. So he might say "Evelyn, that's a very good piece you have there. Why don't you orchestrate that, write the parts out and we'll try and perform this at the school concert?" So I had to write the piece, I had to orchestrate it for string orchestra or full orchestra. I had to write the parts out. I was then given the chance to conduct. I had to sort out any mistakes that happened. So that in the school concert I did absolutely everything. And not just me but if other people were writing pieces of music they had to do the same thing. So you were involved in the whole journey and all the ups and downs within that journey. That was the most real thing that can happen really.

ShS: Did that happen to all children or was it specially for you?

EG: No, if they were interested in doing that. I happened to be interested in the traditional music so he saw this and recognized this and immediately fed me with little challenges to keep that interest going. If someone happened to be interested in jazz or another aspect of music that would also be fed.

ShS: And was that when you first knew you wanted to be a professional musician? Or was it earlier?

EG: Well no. I decided to be a professional around the age of 15. And I mean I loved music and it was very important but the school really happened to have - although it was a normal comprehensive school - it happened to have a really strong sports department, drama, theatre. It had a good language department, it had a good art department. It was just a solid school for some reason. And so I was very interested in lots of different things really. And all of those subjects were connected. Somehow you could connect your music to art and art to language and language to sport. Somehow things were connected. And alot of the teachers actually played instruments themselves and so you found that in the school orchestra you were sitting beside your maths teacher. And in fact my maths teacher was actually a terrific pianist and he was heavily involved in the school shows. So he would play the piano for the school shows along with the orchestra and he used to do all the rehearsals for the school shows. I had a science teacher who played the french horn. I had a maths teacher who played violin - several teachers. So although you may have hated them in class for one reason or another. Actually they were human beings and you saw what they got out of music.

ShS: It was good example.

EG: It was. You saw they were prepared to give an hour or two hours after school to take part in all of this. So that was very important actually because then you felt this community spirit and also it was very important for alot of the young guys who might of thought "to play music - I don't want to be seen doing that". But if they suddenly saw a teacher doing this "not so bad".

ShS: I read somewhere that you favourite instrument is the snare drum. Is that true?

EG: It is. I like the snare drum. Nr. 1 it is compact so you can easily transport it. Secondly it is hugely demanding physically and technically and much more so musically. There's not a lot written outside the rudimental form for snare drum. And there are so many different styles of snare drumming and each style you can spend a lifetime studying. It's just a big challenge - it's a non-pitched instrument. You think, well how on earth do you create music from this? And that's the challenge - my recitals

As far as I'm aware there is only one snare-drum concerto with full orchestra. And I like to play that - and it's just a challenge to play really good straightforward snaredrumming. And I'm not talking about all the stick-clicking and twiddling of sticks although that's amazing. This is solid snare-drumming that you don't often experience without all the frills that is challenging.

ShS: You have instruments from all over the world. Which ones would you say have inspired you or excited you most?

EG: I'm not sure if I can really pick certain instruments because in a way each instrument has been aquired whether it has been given or borrowed or bought or found or picked up from a particular country. So there's a story attached to each instruent. So that makes them all in a way special. I mean if you look at the gamelan - and at home I have a 30 piece gamelan - well ofcourse that's beautiful to look at. Ofcourse gamelan is hardly ever used in a solistic form - it's always as an ensemble. So my challenge was to take certain pieces of the gamelan and incorporate that into my setup. So we had a new percussion concerto written by Jonathen Harvey a few years ago. And that was premired at a prom and he had marimba and vibraphone and several pieces of gamelan in the setup up and this was unusual. And I use other pieces of the gamelan in multi-media concerts I do. And ofcourse I had that made out in Indonesia and these people, they're grafting away with their bare hands making these things. So ofcourse that's rather special. In the same way there's a massive tam-tam I have - I think there are only 3 or 4 in the world - well ofcourse that's special too. On so on. Or my snare drum - I like that and it goes on and on.

ShS: I'm also interested in the difference between listening and hearing as I also work with children with hearing impairments or who are deaf. And in my opinion they don't get enough opportunity to get to know music or be involved in music. And I know that you have opinions about hearing and listening and that listening is really taking in, perceiving with the whole body.

EG: I think that to listen is something that is active. It is something that you require all your attention and the involvement of all your senses - hearing, sight touch. The most important sense for a musician is touch. We have to understand there is a big difference between being a passive listener, that is being a member of the audience - and being a participator, that is the creator of the sound. And we're experiencing 2 different things. Or the person sitting in the front row is going to experience something quite different to the person sitting in the tenth row, or to the person sitting in the ninetieth row. So already we have every single person perceiving something different. So that's why it is impossibly to be able to say "you will be able to hear that". We don't know. And ofcourse you'll be able to hear that but to be able to listen to it is another thing. And that's something that noone can ever know. And even with all the modcon machinery that's around to test people's hearing does not mean that that person can listen.

So I feel that obviously as with any other kid - some are interested in music and some are not. Some like pop-music but don't like classical, some like classical but not pop. Some like folk but not Latin, some like latin but not jazz and so on. So we need to, I feel, just bathe all our young people in sound. And sound is emotion - that's what it basically is. And when that can be linked to so many other aspects - e.g. we put on a bach chorale that's maybe sung - then why not play the Bach chorale on a marimba? Why not play the bach chorale using a string quartet? And find what of emotion, what kind of feeling is this creating whithin each individual person. Why do they like the marimba version more that the string quartet and so on. And then think, well this was written by a man who had how many kids? 20 kids or something. So how on earth did he have time to write a Bach chorale. And things like this - oh, he wrote lots and lots of music. So what would they have eaten in those days? What would they have worn? Suddenly people who might be interested in fashion or might be interested in cookery or economics and so on. All these veins that come from this chorale suddenly ignite the interest of those who are maybe not so keen on music.

For me it's interesting having been brought up with two brothers - neither of them is musical. But one is tone-deaf so he can't actually tell if you play 2 notes, which one is higher than the other. Which is unusual and he simply cannot sing in tune atall - has no idea what the voice is doing. My other brother is much more musical but has no natural flair. But he's hugely interested in music history and that was where he excelled. So it wasn't in the practical playing of the trombone, in his case. But everything else he loved. So therefore that was fed. It's just kind of recognizing what sets someone on fire, feeding that all the time but meanwhile exploring other aspects and thinking "why is there a grey area hear?" and seeing of we can divert that grey area to the firey area that they are interested in.

ShS: And this infact is true for anybody whether they have a disabilty or not.

EG: There is no difference in my mind atall. There just isn't and this doesn't just apply to music either. That's why it is so important for kids to come along to the rehearsals, to come along to the concerts. I had a situation 3 or 4 years ago with the Kings Singers and I was touring with them in the UK And I received a letter from a school for the deaf asking if I would give workshop for the kids. And it happened to be a day when we were travelling to the venue, we had to setup, rehearse, give the concert and head to the next venue after the concert. So it was going to be a hugely long day. So I said no, I won't give the workshop this time but why don't the kids come along to the rehearsal, I'll keep them informed as to what we're doing - they'll see one of the greatest vocal groups in the world. They'll see me playing around, we'll be dealing with the lights and I'll explain what we're doing. And they'll see a concert come togther and then once they experience the concert they'll say "I know why that's happening".

So the school wrote back and said they would like a workshop. So I said sorry but I can't give you that time on this particular occassion. Please rethink the opportunity of coming along because you'll actually probably gain alot more. And they wrote back again and the teacher said "Please bear in mind that the children are deaf and they will not hear the voices." And I had to write back - I couldn't leave this be. And I said I'm fully aware your children are hearing impaired however this could be a great opportunty for them to really experience something they wouldn't normally experience. I said "it's a rather sweeping statement to say they will not hear the voices". And hearing, as we pointed out, is all about the use of every other sense. And that means the body gestures, the movement, the breathing.

The King's Singers are so approachable. They could have the kids breathe with them. They could have them stand on stage. In the same way that sometimes when we give orchestral rehearsals and there are kids there we have them sit beside the french horn or the double bass or the timpani because their perspective is so different to being out in the auditorium. Suddenly they realize that infact all they're experiencing if they are sitting beside the french horns is french horns, maybe timpani and just the immediate little world. They can't hear the double basses, they can't hear the violins. And suddenly they're seeing the conductor's face and this is much more than is going on here (the arms), it's the face, they eyes. And they're absolutely fascinated. And then we ask them: "now you've had that opportunity, now go out into the audtorium, think about what you've experienced." Then they've described the difference. It's quite amazing.

ShS: So this way for children to be involved is perhaps much better than some of these typical children's concerts, where they just sit outside.

EG:Yes, although they're important.

ShS: Some children's concerts are probably very good but I've experienced some that really play down to the children and make it all very childlike and where you lose the quality of the music, which is a shame.

EG: You can play anything to kids: you can play Stockhausen, you can play Mozart, you can play Fat Boy Slim, Shiwaddywaddy, you can do whatever you want. It's incredible how you play the most extraordinary real squeakygate contemporary type of piece and they might say "That sounds like my dad's lawnmower." or "That sounds like a coke can opening". And you just think "Yes, you're right". It's just the imagination. So one of the things we did at school was to draw the pieces we were playing. For those interested in visual art this was heaven.

ShS: Did you do a lot of music and movement or movement and dance?

EG: No. That was one thing we didn't do. But I think it's very important to do that I wish it had been addressed much more. But I really see the benefits of linking the two togther. To open the body up and to think about breathing because so many times people play their instruments - and I've found it myself sometimes - and you forget to breathe. And suddenly everything becomes extremely hunched and mechanical. And so that's the great thing about percussion - you have to move. You can be in so many positions, the body can be in so many positions. And it's the one instrument where you're not actually attached physically So there's no mouthpiece, there's no violin stuck to your chin or cello, where you have to hold that cello. With percussion so many times you have the stick that is like the extension of the arm. But basicallly you are detached from your instrument in a physical sense. That's kind of unusual really.

ShS: Are you interested in other types of instruments, not just percussion?

EG: Well I play the great highland bagpipes. To go from one extreme of not being attached physically to the other extreme: you do have the mouthpiece, the bag under your arm against your chest and tummy, your upper arm. You have both hands on the chanter. You couldn't be more attached. You have the three drones coming right up across your shoulder, right by your ear, your neck, your cheek. I mean you're practically engulfed in that instrument. And that had been a very important instrument to me as far as breathing, as far as clarity, the percussiveness in the fingering, with all the little twiddly notes which are related to all the grace notes that happen in snare-drumming, which is directly related to the scottish country dancing which I did as a kid. So suddenly I've got all three main elements for scottish music that I had no idea were actually related until I picked the pipes up. And suddenly my snare-drumming made far more sense to me. The scottish traditional dance made heaps more sense in the relation(ship between them).

Because you often see a piper and a dancer. And I often thought "Why pipes? Why can't you have a violin, or something, or an accordion?" But now it makes absolute sense with this real percussive fingering. You have the melody but all the little twiddly notes connected with that melody. When you see the two together you realize that the footwork are doing the twiddly notes as well. And then of course the snare-drumming is exactly the same.

ShS: You're involved or associated with many different charities. And you also have this scholarship. That's in America, isn't it? How did that come into being?

EG:Well basically I spent alot of time over there and I found that America is so big that there are many different schools of thought. The main two elements across the world are whether to deal with deaf kids in an aural way or a manual way. I believe in kids being bilingual basically. I do worry when it's completely manual for which no voice and no stimulation sound-wise is used. But then again there are many schools and centres through out the US that are aural and really want to use music. And I just felt also in the more straightforward interviews that were happening, this real ignorance that was happening and I was getting a little frustrated. So I thought "Well, it would be great to have almost a type of scholarship that allowed hearing impaired kids to surface away from the system for which they basically play musical instruments."

The standard to this point I don't think has been high atall. The first time around it was extremely low and we were having applicants who could play a scale or something. This is not what we're looking for. We're asking for kids who really can play their instruments. We're not saying "Hey, isn't this good but he's deaf." And so the standard has risen, so the kids have to send in their hearing graph and so on. So there has to be a certain level of deafness there. And it's really quite interesting. So we're getting alot of pianists and pretty good pianists as well. We're not looking for the next Ashkenasy. We're looking for people who love music, who have a passion to play an instrument, who are really benefiting from playing this instrument. So it doesn't matter if they go in for music or not. The whole point is that they will always have had that experience of going through the mill of learning an instrument.

ShS: I think probably the trouble is - and I know it from this country (Austria) - that most children with a hearing impairment don't get any opportunity for music. It's not in the school curriculum mostly. And nobody is going to be offering to teach them an instrument and the parents don't think about it. So I think there is probably alot of work in trying to involve people and to say "They need music as much as anyone else does, if they're interested."

EG: Exactly. That's probably one good thing about the UK - it's taken time and it has by no means reached it's peak atall - but nevertheless. But it's really recognized - the need for music. One very worthwhile organisation is "Music and the Deaf" that's run by Paul Whittacker, who studied music at Oxford, he's profoundly deaf. He also does the signing for Westend musicals and things like that. But he does alot of good work, his organisation does alot of good work in bringing music to hearing impaired kids. The Beethoven Fund for deaf children aswell. All the work the danish man, Claus Bang does, that's interesting, that's more from a therapy (point of view).

ShS: I was going to say this is a functional therapy to use the voice.

EG: Exactly. But it's really getting the kids to see the orchestras and for the orchestras to be flexible enough. I know it's hard because of time, concerts to be prepared and so on. But if it is possible for the kids to have that opportunity to just sit beside a double bass. That can be one of the most incredible things. Or if any member of the orchetra wants to spend 5 minutes after a rehearsal. "This is Bessie the bass. Come and see what she's capable of doing!" Because the intersting thing is, that you can leave a gitarre, a normal acoustic guitar. And you can say to a kid "Play around with the guitar.". The Guitar might be standing upright against the wall. So they won't immediately pick this guitar up and put in in a position. They'll sit facing the guitar that's leaning against the wall and they'll start maybe plucking at it or sliding their hand down the neck or scraping the hand, like this or whatever.

And it reminded me so much when I saw that of my percussion teacher who said "Their's a snare drum. Take it away for a week and do what you want with it" without saying "here's a pair of sticks, please hold them like this, feet apart, please stand so many inches behind the drum" and so on. And so I had this thing, so I was using my hands and nails and scraping away and making all sorts of sounds. And so he would say "Please create the sound of thunder". So yes, I've experienced thunder. Or "please create the sound of a very calm sea" or "please create the vision of the sun, really shining bright" or "we're in a wood, a spooky wood - dark and creaky sounds." So the imagination was the one tool that is that is something that simply cannot be taught. But you have to nurture that. You're not going to find that in a study book. You're not necessarily going to find a teacher who has the time to do that. But if it's just poked at then, if the pupil or student just realzes "Wow, I can do anything with this instrument" then they will take that off themselves.

ShS: And you need a teacher who thinks that's important.

EG: Definitely. When I became a full-time student from the ages of 16 to 19 at the (Royal) Academy (of Music) in London that to me was the most stunting part of my growth because everything I did (had done) was no longer possible to do. It was no longer possible to do solo work, whereas at school as a kid I was able to play solos in the school concert, percussion ensembles within the school. I could conduct, I could orchestrate, I could do this, I could do that. I wasn't allowed to play a piece of Bach on the marimba, I wasn't allowed to learn any concertos, I wasn't allowed to do jazz vibes (vibraphone) or drum kit. Nothing like that. It was entirely orchestral playing which was very benificial but to go from that to then this was extraordinary. So in a way those barriers meant I had to then leap over this while still doing as much as I could within the system.

It also made me far more determined and it meant that you really had to listen to yourself because noone was there to say "Yes Evelyn, that's great" or "that's intersting, why don't you do this?" No guidance - so it meant you literally had to rely on your own instincts which was all about what (had) happened in school. You were so individual because you were using your own imagination. You weren't doing what the teacher asked you to do. Or if he said "Please stand like this" - he wouldn't do that. Yes, he probably coached you along without the pupil realizing because we ended up with very solid basic techniques which I realized later on.

But I found that 4 th year students were working from the same book as the first year. They were playing the same excerpts for 4 years. And I thought "I don't want to do that". And by all means experience playing in the orchestras - and the biggest experiences of all were when we had these new music festivals where Tippet came in for a week, Lutoslawski, Penderecki, people like that. Of course the parts were extremely busy and interesting. I was very happy with that. In the same way that I loved playing timpani in the orchestra. It was something for me to do. Otherwise I just couldn't - I was so used to expressing myself that I couldn't then work in any other way. Maybe that is something that isn't quite right, I don't know. But that's the way it is.

ShS: Your time at school was obviously incredibly important.

EG: Hugely - very important. And meanwhile in those days the country was full of teachers who were self-taught drummers and that was dangerous. Because you had a whole generation of people playing percussion with extremely bad basic technique, limited in what they could do. But ofcourse those teachers have now moved on and (there are) many younger people who are teaching and who have been taught well. So the standard is definitely coming up much much more. So there's a pretty good standard in the UK.

My teacher - he just happened to be a good musician. The sad thing about all of this is he retired about 10 years ago. And I don't know what the education system is like here, but he hasn't been replaced. So there are countless schools - he probably went to about 30 different schools in the northeast (without his instrumental instruction). Imagine the amount of pupils who are not receiving the opportunites I had. I could be one of those, I could have been one of them and never known that percussion was of interest to me.

That's scary, so myself, James Galway, Julian Lloyd Webber and Michael Kamen, the composer - we've created this educational consortium that is basically lobbying the government to say "Right - enough is enough now" We've had such a good system in place. We've really (got) one of the best amateur scenes. We've got a huge amount of music clubs, music festivals and so on for which non-professionals can take part in, which is extremely important because those are the people who are the mums and dads of kids. I know what music means, please have an opportunity to learn an instrument.

But the thing now is that the kids are having to pay in order to learn instruments. If you have 2 kids going to school and one plays piano and perhaps something else and another plays something else, well that's 3. It mounts up and for the average family it's not possible. And I received my percussion lessons through the school system and absolutely free. And every kid had the opportunity to learn any instrument they wanted. For piano I had to have private lessons because there weren't any piano lessons within the school system, believe it or not. But every other instrument, yes.

But now kids are having to pay and sometimes there are just no teachers in their schools to provide instrumental tuition. And that is criminal, so therefore the interest in classical music especially - it's kind of a minority anyway - is so low it's unbelievable. We had a survey which was done at the end of last year asking kids between the age of 9 and 14 to name one opera singer, or they were shown a picture of a violin and a cello and asked to name which one was the cello. The percentage was less than half. Their opera singer was Britney Spears. Scary stuff. And we were so shocked by that and even the government kind of bulked abit by this: something needs to be done here. And that's when we decided to start this thing off. And we received a letter from Tony Blair at the beginning of this year. And that's the first time that any british prime minister has ever written directly to us, expressing his concern as well. It has always been done by another means. It's a very good step - whether it's because he has children himself and he has baby now, where he's thinking "we want to be sure that our own kids....." (profit from music).

ShS: Thank you very much for the interview.


Shirley Salmon: Interview with Dame Evelyn Glennie

In: Musicworks Vol. 15 Nr. 1 Sydney 2010 ISSN 1320-078X p. 9 - 17.

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