I’ve always been musical since I was born! I think we always had music on in the house, and my parents were really keen for me, my brother and my sister just to try different things. So my sister played piano, recorder, and saxophone. My brother played violin and piano. My dad plays bits of guitar. They’re very supportive and all love listening to music anyway.
We have home video footage of me as a very young baby just rolling round the floor trying to bang a drum or get closer to a tape player. I then started playing violin at about 3 or 4 years old, and then piano at the age of 7. I think I showed a fairly natural aptitude for rhythm and just went from there really. My violin teacher taught me largely by listening. My sight-reading isn’t the best but my ears are pretty good.
Nowadays I study a lot of music for my degree, and I’m still involved in Musical Theatre, popular music, Classical music…pretty much anything! I think music is so important to me because it reminds me of home, and I have a lot of emotional connections to the music I listen to. For example, if a certain album was on in the car on the way to a certain place, or if I listened to a certain artist around a specific time in my life, I’m immediately transported back when I hear it. I find it incredible that music can do that! It really does remind me of home, too; especially Christmas music.
I also think that I’m so lucky to be able to make music with other people. It’s such a great feeling and it does amazing things for peoples’ happiness. I think that growing up learning to play/sing in front of people has also done wonders for my confidence.
Hmmm…there have been a lot of great times performing music! Singing-wise, if I think of times in choir, probably my highest point was singing in the carol service with Caius choir in my first year. That was very special because I loved the music, loved the people, the standard was really high, and I think it was the first time my parents had watched me in chapel choir. Playing-wise…I have lots of great memories from playing in school, and doing the school music competition each year. We played so much music! With regards to listening…there are just so many. Me and my dad have a special connection through listening to music. We can sit for hours just playing each other new stuff that the other hasn’t heard. I also have amazing memories of duetting with him at home. I think music brings us together as a family. Although not all of us play/sing, we’ve all supported each other. My mum and my aunt don’t play, but they’ve always been the biggest supporters of everything musical in my life.
Cambridge is renowned as a musical city although if I’m completely honest, I don’t think I’ve taken advantage of all Cambridge has to offer musically in my time here so far. I was so involved in music through school and on my gap year that when I got here, I was really keen to try other things (as well as doing chapel choir). I find it an inspiring city largely because of the people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting here. I don’t class myself as a composer. In the music degree, you’re only really classed as a composer if you write a load of ‘High Art’ music, or things that are quite edgy and exciting in the ‘classical’ world. I definitely don’t do that. I know how to compose a song, and that’s what I did with the Christmas song ‘Christmas is Here.’
The Christmas song came about as there seemed to be so much bad news circulating and I’m a real believer in surrounding yourself with positive people/things. If something is acting as a bit of a drain in your life, get rid of it. For me, I think the news is such a drain on us. Nobody seems to report the great things that happen every day, but we hear endless stories of death and destruction. I just figured that when I see a video on You Tube that cheers me up, it takes me away from all of that. So I wanted to give people 2 minutes of happiness in their day. Also it does seem that it’s becoming fashionable to complain, whether that’s about the weather, or your commute into work, or whatever. So I wanted to share some unadulterated happiness instead!
I have asked that if people enjoy the song then it would brilliant if they could donate whatever they could afford to a good cause. I chose Save the Children as the cause because I think they are doing amazing work at the moment, with both the refugee crisis and also across the globe helping to teach children to read, and doing simple things like making sure children have shoes to walk to school. I thought they would use the money really well. Plus the UK Government are matching anything we raise, so the more we can make, the better!
So going back to composing the song …this was my strategy; I sat down and thought, ‘okay, what is it about all these great Christmas songs that get played year in and year out? What makes them tick?!’ I then analysed them as I would a piece of ‘classical’ music, and figured out various aspects that kept on cropping up. I then pieced these together to make my Christmas song. It sounds quite dry and mathematical when I write it like that, but it was a lot more fun than it sounds. I cannot tell you how much I love Christmas music – so this was an absolute dream task!
It took me overall about 3 days to write the bare bones of this song. The lyrics took a while longer, but the actual harmonic and melodic structure were fairly speedy. I knew I was looking for a catchy earworm that would stick with people, so it was just a case of playing around on the piano until I happened upon something. Then going from there. If you have a basic knowledge of harmony, melody, and rhythm, it’s just a case of keeping on trucking until you find something. I don’t really know how to explain it better than that!
It also helps to have some inspiration from other musicians. Nothing can come from nothing in music, I don’t think. So for example, the beginning of the song has no accompaniment. This is loosely based on Carole King’s “Chains”. Over summer I had a big Carole King phase, and just loved this track. I also took inspiration from Phil Spector’s Christmas album and his ‘wall of sound’.
You are revealing a part of yourself when you produce and perform music but, I don’t think exposing something personal is a downside – I see it as a way of learning more about yourself. It’s like they say re disguises: however hard you try, your costume is always a reflection of yourself. To be honest I think the biggest downside to being so into music is that you can get quite critical of other music, and how it is used. For example, I find myself getting annoyed when music is used commercially to draw people into shops and restaurants. If we’re constantly exposed to music all day every day, it’s going to make it less ‘special’ and we’re going to become almost immune to great music. I think it’s such a treat to be able to sit and listen to a cracking tune or a great album, but if we’re being hammered with music all day long, why would we want that?!
I don’t get nervous about performing as long as I’m well prepared. I think because I grew up performing from the age of 4 ish, it’s just something inside me. Plus, a side of my personality – a not very cool side, I admit – is that I like affirmation. Performing music is a very easy way of being applauded and told that you’re doing well. It doesn’t sound particularly nice, but it’s the truth, and I think if you asked any performers, they would say they enjoy the applause.
I sometimes fear criticism, but the longer I’ve been involved in music, the better I get at accepting the constructive aspects, and letting the pointless negativity just run off my back. I do believe in being realistic…so if I’m just not good enough to make it in a certain area, then I’m not going to kid myself into believing I can. Having said that, if my gut is telling me I’m good enough, I’m not going to give up. Thankfully, my family are very honest, and if I was going to make a fool
If you’ve never tried to do anything musical before then just give it a go! If you’ve never played an instrument, maybe have a taster lesson to see if you like it. Listen to loads of music to see which instrument would allow you to be in ensembles you actually like. E.g. don’t pick saxophone if you want to be in a classical orchestra. Don’t pick piano if you want to do string quartets. That kind of thing. I’d also be really honest with yourself about 2 things:
- Do you have any rhythm? Having an innate sense of rhythm really does make life a lot easier.
- Are you actually going to practice? If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need to practice in order to be able to join ensembles and play fun/good music. It can be frustrating but just stick with it.
There are loads of ensembles and teachers around – ask friends and family, search online etc.
If you’re at Cambridge, drop CUMS an email.
As for my my musical ambitions… Ooooooh I don’t know!
Hmm, I would love to play Elphaba in Wicked – even just for one night. I’d also love to write a Bond theme. And I’d love to produce an album for Michael Buble.
Cambridge is a great place. It’s quite an odd place as it’s basically a melting pot of a lot of people who are slightly obsessive by nature. Either obsessive about their subject, a sport, a society, or just obsessive in that you have to be in order to get in. We all work so hard to get here, that when you’re actually here, you kind of don’t know what to do.
Obviously it’s a beautiful place, and there are so many opportunities. Plus you get absolutely first class teaching from the people who wrote the books on your reading list; but because of that, it’s quite overwhelming a lot of the time. Work-wise it’s incredibly challenging, and you go from being quite a big fish at school, to an incredibly small fish in a very big ocean.
The people you can meet here are amazing. Everyone has their own stories to tell, and I’ve made friends for life. However, because of the nature of the place, people are often naturally quite selfish. Everyone has their own agenda and things to do, because everyone is so busy all the time! But that does mean that although it’s very busy, and a bubble, it can feel quite lonely. Plus there seems to be an ongoing competition for who’s the most stressed, and who has the most work to do. Answer; we are all stressed, and we all have a lot of work to do.
Having said all that, you can pretty much do as much or as little work as you want (ie, enough to get by), and as many or as few extra curricular activities as you want. Cambridge is what you make of it. But I would say to any students thinking of applying; don’t expect to get here and for it to be punting and May Balls and Formals every night. It’s quite a rollercoaster, with the highest highs but, also expect some pretty intense lows. Thankfully terms are only 8 weeks long. It’s a bit like being shoved in a washing machine for 8 weeks!
Getting outdoors is always a good free thing to do. It’s easy to get stuck in your room or a library, so just getting outside is great. Going for a run or a walk along the River Cam is always good to clear your head.
A funny fact about me would be that I cannot wink to save my life, nor can I click my fingers. I’m also slightly obsessed with puppies.
My personal ambition outside of music…I probably have 3:
- I love hearing peoples’ stories. I find observing people absolutely fascinating. So although it’s slightly relevant to music, I’d absolutely love to host Desert Island Discs one day.
- I’d also love to go on Strictly. I love to dance.
- I started my own novelty cake business on my gap year, and it’s still a big passion of mine, so I’d love to go on Bake Off. I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point in my life, baking became a full-time job – however temporary.