Interview with Evelyn Glennie
By Marianne Gilbert
You have had an amazing musical career so far. What first attracted you to the idea of playing in an orchestra?
At the age of 12 I was immediately inspired on my first day at secondary school in the north-east of Scotland by seeing the school orchestra perform to all the new pupils. I instantly said to myself that I wanted to be part of that group. My school opened up so many opportunities for us all to perform in so many different types of groups as well as solo. It was at the age of 15 that I decided to study music full time and embark on a career as a musician specializing in solo percussion.
Which percussion instrument do you most enjoy playing?
There are literally hundreds of percussion instruments. I truly enjoy so many of them but if I really was stranded on a desert island with just one instrument then it would be the snare drum. It’s technically very challenging to play, there are many different styles of playing the drum (Scots, Swiss, American, Irish, etc) with each style capable of taking a whole life time to specialize on and there are so few actual pieces of music written for the snare drum outside the rudimentary style of playing.
Your performances are full of imagination. What is the most inventive method you’ve used to create sound during a performance?
The human body itself is quite a challenge to play in order for the music to make sense. There is a piece I play called “?Corporel” by Vinko Globokar which is solely for the body with vocal sounds. It’s a great piece but very challenging. Perhaps it is the location that may be more unusual rather than the way I have performed on an instrument. For example, I have played in a hospital ward, on a farm, even inside a sewage tank! I have to keep a completely open mind in how I approach sound-making. The rule is that there are no rules!
What advice would you give to any children who’d like to become percussionists?
Explore, explore, explore! The main ingredient we all have access to is our own imagination. We have not yet reached the pinnacle of percussion playing and we do not yet have the equivalent of the Stradivarius Marimba or Steinway Vibraphone. We must all continue to push the boundaries and the only way to do that is to let our imaginations run riot!
Do you think there is enough music being taught in UK schools?
There can always be more and we can each do our little part to help. I received all my musical training at school free of charge with so many opportunities to perform within and outside of school. It’s a pity to know that many territories throughout the UK are not able to provide young people with the same support as I had. I was not privileged at all – this was completely normal for any child no matter what their background or circumstances were. If my parents had to support me financially then I know for a fact I would not be a professional musician today. Music really is our daily medicine.
What is your favourite instrument outside of the percussion section?
I play the Great Highland Bagpipes and the piano. I am so fond of both. The Bagpipes are quite percussive due to the clarity required in the finger work, and of course the piano is technically a percussion instrument.
In which country outside the UK do you most enjoy performing? Do you get a different kind of audience reaction depending on which country you’re in?
Each country is so different. I have just performed in Turkey whereby western classical music is still rather new there. The audiences were fabulous: so enthusiastic and attentive. There is no doubt that audiences can vary from city to city as well as country to country. To perform in Glasgow and Edinburgh are two different experiences but the cities are only 50 miles apart. Thankfully, I have never performed anywhere I do not wish to return! All the places I have visited have been interesting for all sorts of reasons.
How many percussion instruments do you have?
The last time I counted there were over 1800. Some are very small and some are large. I own the smallest playable drum in world (from China) and I have just purchased the largest Timpani in the world! It really is fun being a percussionist!