In lockdown, it’s hard to imagine bringing together hundreds of musicians to play in an orchestra. But rather than feeling despondent, NYO musicians are using this time to get creative and play music that might be a little further outside of their comfort zone. NYO bassoonist Eva met violinist and loop pedal artist Rebekah Reid, who specialises in combining classical string techniques with electronics, and our musicians explore the different ways in which music can be created through looping techniques. Here's what happened when Eva and Rebekah discussed creativity together.
Eva: What role did music play in your teenage years and musical education?
Rebekah: Good question. Music has always been a big part of my life. When I was a teenager, I performed in county orchestras and I went to the Junior Academy of Music at the weekends. I’m having to think back quite a bit now! I must admit, at that time, I hadn’t really branched out as much as you guys are now. Your understanding of music technology is really impressive!
Eva: When did you decide that you wanted to branch out from classical music?
Rebekah: I think it was actually when I left college. At that time, I was so wrapped up in what I thought I should be doing or what I should be achieving that I hadn’t really asked myself, ‘what do I want to do and what do I actually enjoy playing?’ It made me realise that I needed to create and do something that wasn’t ‘the norm’. The year that I graduated, I went to a jam that my friend hosted. I hadn’t really done anything like that before, but when I played, it was the most freeing experience! I really surprised myself with what I could do, and that moment inspires everything that I do now. I’ve always loved to listen to other different types of music like electronic music, for example, but I never thought that I could do that as a violinist. There were so many awesome things happening in the classical scene that I got distracted, but when I felt the pressure to make violin playing my job, I discovered something completely new. I’m glad it happened in that way. It meant that when I left college, it was a fresh new start. I haven’t gotten bored yet! I’ve been playing the violin for a long time and I’m still so passionate and still learning new things all the time.
Eva: Great, so what would you say your influences are then?
Rebekah: There are loads, from lots of different genres! A big part of my compositional awareness came from playing in orchestras. It helped me to think about how music is structured and how composer’s write. At the time, I wasn’t aware of it, but now, having more of an awareness and more experience, I realise how much of an important part it played in my development, so classical music will always be a big inspiration for me. I love jazz as well: Miles Davis, the jazz greats like him, Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders. Also, a lot of Soul, Hip-Hop and Broken Beat sort of styles, as well as electronic music: Aphex Twin, Four Tet, Jon Hopkins… I could go on forever! I love music that blends styles and makes you think ‘that shouldn’t work, but it does!’
Eva: As a bassoonist, I’ve always wanted to become an orchestral musician, but more recently with technology on the rise, I’m considering applying for a music technology course at University instead. What advice would you give to somebody in my situation?
Rebekah: Wow, big decisions! I think that’s a very intelligent thought process to have. I think, when I was your age, I didn’t have to think about those sorts of things! My main concern was getting a place at a conservatoire, but it’s different now. You do need to think wisely about these things now. Honestly, I think doing a performance degree is a good thing to do. You learn a lot of skills; it’s not all about performing, it’s academic as well which means you get a really full rounded education. Personally, I knew I always wanted to perform, whether it was as an orchestral player or a soloist. I wanted to be good at my instrument and that was always the driving force, for me. So, if you feel like you want to be great at the bassoon and study music at the same time, you’ll get that from a performance degree, but you won’t necessarily study the technology side. If you’re struggling to choose, perhaps you could think about doing a production or an engineering course on the side? Maybe that could fuel your passions, while developing your skills as a bassoonist and an orchestral player.
Eva: What is the one change you would love to see in the classical music world to renew its role in society?
Rebekah: That’s such a good question. I would love to see more diversity. It is happening, but I would like to see more of it. I love classical music because of the traditions, and that’s important to keep and to respect, but I think sometimes it seems as if things have to be certain way. If you’re playing a classical concerto, for example, it has to sound like your teacher performs it, or how their teacher taught them, or how it sounds on the recording. I just don’t always think that’s a genuine way of making music. We need to make mistakes, we need to do things differently, we need to change how things sound. That’s how things evolve. I think there needs to be room for that to allow people to be creative and to be expressive. Every classical instrumentalist has so many skills, but I think they’re not always encouraged to develop them or explore them. If they want to explore them, they have to say ‘I'm not classical, I’m jazz, or I’m pop’ and that’s a bit of a shame. Why can’t you be classical musician but also have another voice?
Eva: One of the things I sometimes struggle with, as a classically trained musician, is figuring out rhythms and freer playing styles from other genres, like jazz. Do you have any advice?
Rebekah: It’s just practice really! You shouldn’t feel embarrassed. That’s not how you nurture creativity, and it doesn’t have to be like that. We have so many skills and so many possibilities and I think you need to allow yourself to be free and to make mistakes. This is another thing that I think needs to change; this fear of being wrong or failing. It’s a hell of a lot of pressure! The moment I decided that violin playing was going to be ‘my thing’, I felt so much pressure. All the way through junior academy and music college, there was this pressure to be amazing and I felt in competition with my peers. I didn’t always enjoy it, actually, and I lost the joy for it because it became this thing that I had to do. I wish there was an hour a week where you could jam and play together, where you don’t even need to play your own instrument. It’s so freeing and ultimately it just makes you really good at your instrument because you have this awareness and understanding. If you can understand how a piece is written, you can find how it fits for you. Sometimes, we play patterns that feel weird or uncomfortable. If you understand the music, you can adapt it to your ability or physicality and make it yours. Once you know that, then you can literally do whatever you want. It doesn’t have to sound like someone else’s to be just as convincing and good. It’s really personal for me because I tried so hard to be like everyone else, and play the same way as everyone else, but the moment I used my ears and found my own way to do it, then that was it!
Eva: That’s really interesting. I go to a music school and quite a lot of my friends are saying that it’s almost like the ‘individuality’ of a musician is getting lost. What if I want to play a piece in a different way?
Rebekah: Exactly! Obviously, you have to learn the rules first. When I was your age, I said ‘I don’t want to learn the rules, I want to do my own thing’ . My teacher would say ‘No, that’s not right’ but for me, I couldn’t feel it the same way that they felt it; it didn’t sound right or feel right to me.
Look out for more interviews from our musicians as they explore music of other genres and how it can power up their creativity.
Photograph by © Axel Wolstenholme.