60 seconds with ... Evelyn Glennie

Dame Evelyn will appear in November 2018 with Trio HLK at the Hampstead Arts and EFG London Jazz Festivals.

What is your earliest musical memory?
Playing the TV advert music to McEwans Younger Special Beer by ear on the piano and having my parents recognize it!

Who has been the most influential person in your career and why?
My peripatetic percussion teacher at school, Mr Ron Forbes, because he helped me to discover another way of hearing sound through the body rather than only through the ears.

You have played in venues all over the world but make time for smaller grassroots events / festivals.  What are the highlights of playing in such an environment and why is it important?
At the beginning of my career I played at many music clubs and festivals throughout the UK and overseas which allowed me to gain experience in programming and performing. I am indebted to each and every one. Without the dedication of the many volunteers who make these events happen our artistic scene would have quite a different landscape. Music clubs and festivals target the immediate community so there is a real sense of connection.

How did you break away from the main stream classical format to carve out a successful 'solo percussionist' career path?  Can you talk us through the thought process and the practicalities of making it happen?
I wanted to be a solo percussionist and made people aware of that aim. I have never thought of myself as a particular type of musician, such as classical or otherwise but simply a musician. I commissioned composers to write pieces for me; I put percussion recital programmes together; I grasped any opportunity to perform; I played in amateur orchestras as a student and always spoke to the conductor to ask them to consider programming a percussion concerto; I basically saw solo percussion in the same way as one recognizes a concert pianist or concert violinist; I treated every piece written for me as through it was the best piece in the world; I tried and tested ways of dealing with the logistics of being a solo percussionist; I put together a team of people who could help with the administration/negotiations and fan base. There are many other things that went on but basically it was respecting percussion and respecting my audiences.

You've often cited Eminem and Kate Bush as being on your musical wish list as non-classical collaborators.  What is it about them and their music that inspires you?
They both have strong identities and both are strong and in control of their own paths and career choices. What goes on off stage and how one directs the career has a direct bearing on what goes on on-stage. Their artistry is amazing but I am more intrigued by how they control and pace their careers.

You're a patron of 'Able Child Africa', how did you get involved with this particular charity and why?
I was simply asked to be involved. The organization resonates because it is all about inclusiveness; giving children equal rights, support and education to ultimately follow their dreams and be valued members of society. I know the importance of inclusiveness due to my own hearing-impairment. I had wonderful support from my family and school. Many children in Africa are not so lucky and therefore have huge mountains to climb just to get basic things.

What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome in your life thus far?
There is no one particular challenge as all challenges have been relevant to particular times of my life. For example, learning to hear and listen in a different way, creating new works for solo percussion, finding efficient ways to travel globally with percussion, dealing with agents and managers and so on. All of these and more have been challenges with huge learning curves and there will be more to come in the future!

Being a woman and someone living with a disability, have you experienced barriers in the classical music world because of gender or having a disability?
Not really. I don’t confine myself to the classical world as my work and collaborations are so diverse. The only challenge I had was being told what to wear in a particular country as that is how they expected female musicians to be portrayed. I politely said that it was impractical to play a drum kit or to move from one percussion station to the next at speed in a long frilly dress! I needed to be in control of my own story right from the start and I feel people realized and accepted that quite quickly.

What has been your greatest musical achievement to date?
Every project and event are building blocks therefore they are all highlights; each is important and relevant. Nothing can be taken for granted in this industry and one must always be reanalysing and reinventing. The greatest achievement has been continuing to feel inspired and curious, having a willingness to step outside of one’s comfort zone.

Your achievements and career are well documented.  Do you still have unrealised ambitions?
My main goal now is to realise the Evelyn Glennie Archive Collection for which we have 4 volunteers doing a sterling job of cataloguing and to create a physical centre devoted to ‘listening’ and to realise my ‘Teach the World to Listen’ mission.

Which actor would you like to play you in a story of your life and why?
Julianne Moore because she is so thorough in the research of her roles. I adore her as an actress.

Tell us one fun fact about yourself which people may find surprising.
I used to ride motorbikes and I speak the Doric tongue which is used in the North East of Scotland (ok, that’s 2 facts!)

If you were to have a dinner party, which 3 people would you invite (dead or alive) and why? Also, what would you feed them?
Shakespeare because I’m currently writing the music score for Troilus and Cressida; Beethoven because of how he taught himself to listen through his body; Jo Brand because she is such a laugh and knows the power of listening and caring through her experience in the health service. I would have to feed them haggis, neeps and tatties being Scottish!