This month we’ve talked to Ella Jarman-Pinto – composer, vocalist, co-founder of vocal ensemble Carvetii Trio and founder of Eden Contemporary Music … not to mention singing, composition and theory/musicianship tutor in primary and secondary schools in her home county of Cumbria.
What instruments do you play?
Composition, piano and voice are my main instruments. I also learned the violin and can dabble on the guitar. I’m used to picking up instruments and giving them a go!
How and when did you first become interested in music?
I’ve always played music. My mum, Jilly Jarman, would have my sister and me sitting on her knee at the piano so that she could get on with her music making. A family friend who worked at our nursery told me that all the babies would be sleeping and I’d just be there singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. As I grew older I struggled at reading music so would write my own little tunes so that I could play.
How did start your career in music?
It seemed like the obvious choice. I tried to rebel against it a bit but it was half-hearted. I did the Music GCSE and A Level, and then auditioned for music colleges and went to Guildhall School of Music & Drama to study Classical Composition. There I got a crash course in a music world that I had previously known nothing about (my upbringing was in Jazz, Folk, World and Pop, not Classical) and learned a huge amount. It was a brilliant experience – difficult, but brilliant. I built up contacts there and when I left I continued to apply for schemes and courses.
Interestingly enough, a year after I left I struggled with severe composer’s block and enforced a year of no writing in order to be sure that I still enjoyed writing when I did. When my husband (Geoff Bartholomew, Jazz trumpeter) and I moved back to Cumbria we were finally financially able to concentrate on music as a career, and I got my composing mojo back.
What’s the best thing about your job?
It’s all up to me. As a self employed musician I work for myself, can make my own rules and change my career direction at the drop of the hat. There are the downsides, such as lower earnings and, as I’m discovering now, maternity and paternity benefits are less that for the PAYE employed. You are also constrained by other things, but essentially I’m doing what I love. I do consider doing something different occasionally, but I don’t know what I’d do.
What’s your most memorable musical experience?
I have two experiences that are melded into one. In 2009 I took part in the Theory of Harmolodics course at Ornette Coleman’s Meltdown Festival, Southbank Centre. It had a hodgepodge of instrumentalists and composers from different genres and dancers exploring Ornette’s improvisational theory of harmolodics, which we never actually got to the bottom of. The week was full of politics and eye opening musical experiences. It is also where I met my husband Geoff, chatting on the outside of a Patti Smith concert. I interrupted his conversation and then felt bad as he wasn’t talking to anyone. He teased me and I thought he had lovely eyes.
The second experience was part of the Meltdown Festival as well. Bobby McFerrin, a pioneering singer and improviser, was performing and I had booked my front row tickets on the day they were released. Annoyingly, Harmolodics participants got free tickets, but actually it worked out for the best. Bobby first asked dancers to go up on stage and perform with him, and then, finally, singers. I shot up out of my seat and went and sat on the stage, patiently waiting my turn. He turned to me and asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to improvise with him. I have can’t remember what happened after that, I was so nervous, but it must have been alright as he gave me a hug afterwards. Geoff was watching from the audience and often says that this is when he noticed me: ‘That girl’s really got balls!’ He then remarks that little did he know it was the most un Ella
thing that I’d ever done. The Harmolodics course was so memorable. It’s slightly weird,
but every time I visit the Southbank Centre I have to go wash my hands in the toilets
as the hand wash perfume takes me back!!
Do you have any other interests?
I love languages and the idea of speaking and understanding different languages. I did Italian at A Level and loved learning the grammar! Reading fantasy and science fiction is another pastime, although I don’t get to do it so much now. We’ve just had our second, (but first living), son, Otis, and he’s my absolute world at the moment. All other interests are taking a backseat.
What are your top tips for young musicians?
If you want, need, to do music, then do. There’s often not much money, it’s not an easy or necessarily fair industry regardless of genre, but if you have to do it, it is worth it. However, make sure you enjoy the music as much as possible. That’s why you do this job, so enjoy it. Creativity is hard as well as fun, very up and down and can be soul destroying. Take care of your mental health and be kind to yourself.