Sarah was born and grew up near Hesket Newmarket, where her parents still live. She is starting out on her career as a professional Cellist and is already a successful chamber musician with a particular interest in new music. You can hear Sarah play with Flautist Meera Maharaj on 8th December – Improv Indigo @ The Great Barn, Newby
What’s your job? I just finished my Master of Music degree at the Royal Academy of Music in London – only a few weeks ago in fact! I’m now freelancing in London, playing with chamber groups such as my ensemble Platform Music: we actually had a wonderful visit to Cumbria recently where we performed at rail station platforms (of all places!) in Penrith and Carlisle, and worked with students at North Lakes School in Penrith. I love projects that bring music to the community or perform in unusual venues and break away from traditional stereotypes.
I do a lot of work with composers and new music, so some of my current projects include recording a solo work for a composer’s new EP release and a classical/jazz crossover group. Upcoming events include working with RAM Manson Fellow Matthew Olyver to premiere his new cello concerto in an exciting new group combining live musicians with a multiple-speaker and electronics setup.
I play in several other chamber groups too, such as a cello/piano duo with pianist Yuanfan Yang, whom you may remember from the BBC Young Musician Competition. The freelance life is extremely busy and varied, so one thing is that I’m never bored!
What instruments do you play?
I’m primarily a cellist but I also play piano, including accompanying professionally. Composing is a very big part of my musical life too… and I have to admit that I do sing sometimes when I’m improvising!
How and when did you first become interested in music?
I first became interested in music through my mother, an amateur cellist. I think I was always fascinated by the cello, as I used to climb onto my mum’s knee when she was practising and try to play too… Unfortunately, at the age of 2, the cello was a bit too big for me, but that didn’t stop me: I would try to play one hand at a time, and my mum would play the other!
When I was 6, my mum’s friend and colleague very generously loaned me a small ‘quarter size’ cello so that I could start playing: I still remember how excited I was waiting on the day ’my’ cello would arrive!
I was helped out all through my childhood by so many kind and generous Cumbrians: the Cobwebs community orchestra gave me my first experience of orchestral playing, and my wonderful neighbour Emma Ferrand took me on as a student when I was about 10 years old, and taught me the whole way up to and including my undergraduate degree at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Apparently when I first started learning with Emma, I was more interested in the rabbits in the garden… so I have to thank her for persevering with me!
What’s the best thing about working as a musician?
As primarily a chamber and solo musician, the creativity of what I do is one of the most fulfilling things in my work. Whether it’s actually creating music (composing or improvising), or interpreting someone else’s music, the control over the interpretative decisions and the creative interplay with other musicians is immensely rewarding and inspiring.
It’s also very exciting to be able to travel to new places internationally and meet so many other musicians from different cultures: the musicians I’m lucky to work with tend to be very friendly and outgoing people so I’ve made lots of wonderful friends and colleagues all over the world.
What’s your most memorable musical experience?
I have so many! I tend to think of recent events, so one special experience would have to be performing at a festival in Germany this month. It was held in a small town (the population is about two thirds the size of Penrith!), but the enthusiasm of the townspeople was incredible, and I performed a special arrangement of Kreisler’s Liebesleid to the sold-out hall of around a thousand people.
Conversely, some of the most memorable occasions can be the very intimate ones. I try to work with bringing music to communities in various forms as much as I can, and I have a lot of special memories from playing for people living with dementia. In particular, I never forget the elderly lady who sang along perfectly to me playing Elgar’s ‘Salut d’Amour’ and ‘Chanson de Matin’ with a beautiful smile on her face! I also always remember how much my playing meant to my grandad: it’s a wonderful gift to be able to share music and I think every musician must value those times when they’re able to touch people on a very personal level.
Do you have any other interests?
I’m a not-so-secret football fan and supporter of Manchester City (my dad’s club!). I enjoy running and I’m lucky to live next to Regent’s Park – one of the rare green spaces in London! I’m also vegan and into yoga, meditation and swimming, which are great things for helping to keep in shape: the musician’s life is actually very physically and mentally demanding, so it’s important to look after our bodies and minds.
What are your top tips for young musicians?
Again, I could give you lots! It’s important to remember most of all, why you want to make music – which is hopefully for the love of it – and not lose sight of that.
Enjoy the journey of discovery in every aspect of music-making – especially in practising! I treasure practice time because it’s that special time with just you and your instrument, when you get to develop your technique and musicality.
Finally make sure you are making music with other people! Chamber music is so important as a way to share your musical ideas and interact with other musicians, so even if it’s just reading through a piece with a friend, make the most of all your chances to share music together!