Evelyn Glennie Sounds Off: The Cocktail Party

Evelyn Glennie, Dame Evelyn Glennie, Joseph Phibbs, Female Percussion, Classical Percussion, Experimental Music,
A panoramic view of the Dame’s new headquarters

I really enjoy saying this phrase, the word ‘cocktail’ conjures up so many mixtures of ideas, thoughts and creative juices. I recently premiered a work entitled Bar Veloce by the British composer Joseph Phibbs for the Cheltenham Festival.

He created the most wonderful collection of sorbets that needed juggling and shaking. One member of the audience said they felt intoxicated after the piece and I guess that is a great compliment! Joseph used a variety of names for each segment including Tequila Sunrise, Walking Zombie, Black Russian, Side Car and Manhattan, all invoking a rich cocktail of colours, smells and sounds and halcyon memories of warm evenings, a chink of ice and glass or two on the veranda!

When a composer agrees to write a composition for me I always make a point of inviting them to my studio. They walk in and their faces immediately light up as the room begins to take effect and they become almost childlike when they see before them what has been described as an Aladdins’ cave of instruments.

The next question is always “Wow! what sound does that make?” followed by wonderment and awe of seeing so many instruments in one place and wanting to try them all at once – a bit like the candy store of percussion! The next thing that happens is the composer often forgets the piece they might have had in mind as they are transported to a world of new experiences and I really enjoy seeing that process happen. Of course I have to remind them that nowadays it can be an expensive affair to hire or transport instruments around and they must try to keep the amount of instruments to a minimum for the piece they are about to write.

On Joseph’s first visit, his imagination was immediately stimulated in ways he had not previously considered and he went away and began to compose his piece with gusto. His ideas of using cocktails remained solid but now he had begun to see so many other possibilities for creating music to match his ideas and he really took on board the concept of using unusual items and breathing life into every day items such as bottles, cereal packets, boxes of matches and of course cocktail shakers.

As I have done many times I embarked on a journey of discovery and shared ideas with Joseph about how his music could come to life by adding my interpretation. This is a very special time for me, it can be very hard work and time consuming but the creative element always pay wonderful rewards and the audience and reviews were delighted with the piece.

When I see very young children playing with household items such as pots and pans, wooden spoons and tin cans it reminds me that we really do not need a whole gamut of expensive instruments to create intriguing sounds. What we do need is patience and the understanding of how to put those elements of sound together to bring out the melody, rhythm and timbre which is why we need education!

I am an enormous supporter of good education especially music education and I have campaigned all my life for children to have the opportunities – there minds are so receptive and uninhibited. They learn without prejudice and the experience offers them a chance for excellent social interaction as well as team work not to mention maths and many others cross curricular skills.

I am always delighted too when parents and schools bring their children along to performances so that they experience the organic production of music in all its glory. The sound of a gong drum with it’s lengthy sustain or the high pitch of one of Richard Waters’ waterphones simply cannot be reproduced on a computer or DVD it needs to be felt and time needs to be spent listening to its duration and wait as the sound bounces around the room. One of the most exciting things I used to experience as a child was to create echoes in a local cavern – my brothers and I would shout and bellow and listen carefully for the sound to return to us – why not try this with your children – you have my word it is great fun and very therapeutic!

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We are sad to say this is the last post Evelyn Glennie will contribute for her “Sounds Off” series. Her musings and wise words can be found on her own blog which we will disclose upon its creation. We highly encourage you to redirect yourself to her blog when that happens for it truly has been a pleasure to read everything she has contributed to Tom Tom Magazine. She is brilliant, she is compelling, and she in inspiring. Thank you to her for contributing to Tom Tom and thank you to you readers for being reading.

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