For our September Musician we talked to Heather Bird. Brought up in Renwick, up in the Pennines, Heather was educated here and was in Carlisle and Cumbria youth orchestras for years.
What’s your job?
Double bassist and director of Classical Evolution
What instruments do you play?
Double bass, flute and a bit of sax.
How and when did you first become interested in music?
My mum took me to see the Halle orchestra in Manchester. There was a bit on the flute at the end of Mahler 2 and I knew that that was what I wanted to do. I started lessons on the flute but I was too small so I played clarinet for a year. I was so happy when my arms were finally long enough to reach the end of the flute!
How did you start your career in music?
I had a couple of years out after school to look after my younger brother. I was playing loads of jazz, doing a bit of teaching and then a friend advised me to have an advice audition at the RNCM where you’re told either what to work on or not to bother applying! They offered me a place there and then, which was a bit of a shock, but that’s
really when things got serious!
What’s the best thing about being a musician?
I get to play the best music in the world in amazing places. I get to work to a level of perfection and attention to detail with conductors who have such knowledge of the music to produce the most incredible sounds for audiences to enjoy. I get to put on my own concerts to bring chamber music to weird and wonderful places, to people who would never think of going to a concert hall. Watching their reaction when they hear this music and see how much fun we have is just the best! I run courses for people of all levels to learn together, and from the best musicians in the world – and we always make sure there is good food at our gigs and courses! I ask composers to write brand new music and get to perform it for the first time that’s pretty incredible and a massive honour.
But I think the best bit is probably teaching. Seeing young musicians playing, improvising, conducting, composing, working with professional musicians and having the best fun with their music is the absolute best part of my job.
What’s your most memorable musical experience?
Oooh that’s so difficult to choose just one! Probably playing Mahler 2 with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is most in my mind at the moment. I got to work with Vladimir Jurowski for 4 days. We sold out the Royal Festival Hall and got a standing ovation. It is my favourite piece in the world; it was the reason I played an
instrument in the first place so to play it like that was just the best musical experience of my life.
Do you have any other interests?
Cooking! We cook a lot! Food and music go so well together. I read a lot, buy far too many books, and when I have time, I love to come home to the Lakes and go for a bimble.
What are your top tips for young musicians?
Love what you do.
If you’re bored, stop and work out why. Practise should be enjoyable 75% of the time we all know there are days when it’s the last thing we feel like doing but it has to make you feel good most of the time.
Play with your most beautiful sound all the time!
Scales can be fun. I know, I know, I know, but really, they can. Use them to practice sound production, mess around with cool rhythms ok I know you still think I have a screw loose but I believe they are the best thing to sort out your technique ever!
Improvise to everything! If we’re classically trained, it’s often left out of our training. Do it anyway! Compose, compose, compose! Playing the first thing that comes into your head is a good thing.
Music will be with you for your whole life. It can sometimes be the only thing in your life that you can make sense of. It brings amazing people together, makes other people happy and is the most exciting, unpredictable, fulfilling journey you’ll ever have.