Lots of people know, and lots don’t, that I used to play the ‘cello. I was always musical having sung around the house (annoying everyone) and then learning the recorder and finishing the books in a couple of weeks (annoyingly practising everywhere) for some reason I just got music. I could read it, I could make a decent sound from first starting and there was something in me that loved it. I wanted to play the violin but had a strange ‘hold this and we’ll see if you look right’ kind of test to have lessons but apparently I didn’t look right so I didn’t get accepted. When I was 11 a friend said her teacher was looking for more pupils, I asked what instrument she taught and she said ‘cello. I went along and kind of fell into it. I remember walking home with a borrowed school ‘cello into the living room, my mother’s first question was ‘what the heck is that??’ and then ‘So how much is this going to cost???’
I progressed quickly considering I was every pushy mother’s late starter. I did grade 1 within a year and passed with a high distinction and the comment at the bottom of the report said ‘she shows much promise’. I carried on playing, but not really practising, and did more exams, auditions for scholarships and 6 years after I started playing I took my grade 8. This I got another distinction with the comment of ‘a lovely afternoon’s recital’. I was no genius but I was quite good.
Whilst doing the odd gig and studying for A levels (still not much practise I was into having fun) Music College was mentioned. I auditioned and got in to each one of the 3 I tried. I chose the London one and one day packed up my room, put it in the car along with the ‘cello and went to London. At first it was good, I make friends easily, I went to parties, wandered around the bits of London you shouldn’t wander around as a young girl at 3 in the morning. I made contacts, I did gigs but the expectations were ramping up. I still wasn’t really practising and this had started to show. People kept telling me I had good potential and that added to the pressure but at no point did anyone sit down and say ‘Emma, do you actually want to do this?’ I think if they had I would have said no…
Playing the ‘cello for me was fun, it was easy and the only pressure I had was from my own competitiveness to get distinctions. Even then though I was still learning my scales in my accompanists kitchen on the day of the exam as let’s face it, they aren’t the fun bits to do. I had amazing teachers along the way; a pupil of Jacqueline Du Pre taught me ‘cello, Hilary Finzi (wife of Christopher Finzi, Gerald Finzi’s son. She was also Jaqueline Du Pre’s sister) coached me for 2 recorder exams, Claire Finzi was my accompanist and Teresa Finzi taught me theory. I had a countess teach me recorder and a cousin of Holst (aka ‘The Planets’ man. She was a fabulous character who mostly wore her clothes inside out) so I had the most fantastic teachers you could possibly have to inspire you. Playing in the beautiful exam room that Hilary Finzi had in her farmhouse knowing the Jacqueline Du Pre had been here wasn’t lost on me. The thing is music comes from within. The smile of your face when you know you’re going to play or that you’ve conquered a particularly difficult passage of music is what drives you to practise and no matter how good you are practise you must and for hours. I didn’t want to practise for hours. I got bored easily, it wasn’t me and I soon started begrudging it. After the first year I didn’t want to go back and after the second (of 4 years of a performance degree) I didn’t. I walked out of the College doors, looked around for the last time at the plaque outside the door and quietly said goodbye. I chose to leave and I have no regrets. At no point in my life have I ever wished I’d stayed. I disappointed my father who was convinced I was going to be a ‘cellist and I don’t think he’s ever got over that disappointment but I have no regrets. I left with a smile on my face and a huge weight off my shoulders.
I had a year off, Went to college to study an A level, learned to ride a motorbike. I worked and earned money as a waitress, pot washer, chambermaid and charity tin rattler. I started to learn to horse ride but spent most of the time on the floor; I got a puppy, lived with my boyfriend and, above all, had some time off to think. What did I want to do? I applied to Teacher training college which is what I really wanted to do when I stumbled into Music College. I had to get the ‘cello out of the cupboard, dust it down and start to practise again. I was lucky in that although my exam results weren’t great my ‘cello playing was way above what was needed so I do have to thank the ‘cello for getting me into college. I played something not that difficult in the grand scheme of things thing for my audition and the course director loved it. I was in. I was moving to a different part of the country but I was excited.
The boyfriend and I bought a boat to live on and we took the puppy, the ‘cello (yes it came on the boat too!) and he took his motorbike. I spent 3 years on the boat and 4 years at Uni. I loved it, I worked at it and it made me smile. Working with children is what I wanted to do and I was the lucky one having found something that makes me smile, so many people I meet wander around trying to find their thing and some never do. I had lessons on the ‘cello throughout. The first teacher wasn’t up to my standard which sounds very up my own arse but she couldn’t play the things I could or wanted to and so another one was found who was fabulous. She understood it wasn’t my passion but she also got me to understand it was the way to pass my degree. My course director and I had a few chats about my struggles with practising and he said that although I played to a very high standard he thought maybe the ‘cello wasn’t the instrument for me. He thought I was destined to be a musician but needed to find another instrument. Maybe it was the violin after all and the people that made my decision for me when I was 11 got it wrong. I started to play the flute and progressed well but it wasn’t really for me.
I passed the degree got a teaching job in a very musical school and ended up conducting the 200 strong hymn practise. I had them singing and dancing to ‘Amarillo’ I had them singing in perfect 3 part harmony for carol concerts and I taught them recorder from year 3 so the year 6’s could be given music to take away, learn and play by the next lesson. They were fab; it was fab I had found my calling. Enthusing children about music is an amazing thing as it crosses all social and economic barriers. My year 6’s planned their desert island discs and we shared them in class (the deal was they could anything but it couldn’t have swear words in!) my Year 4’s had a full on battle (a la street dance) in the hall using a call and response African song. I played calypsos and rumbas and tangos to the infant children and I remember the Head walking through one day just as I had shouted ‘and BOOGIE!!!!!’ to my Year 2’s and they did. We boogied for ages before we realised. An Ofsted inspector would have asked ‘are they on task? Do they know what they are learning?’ and I would have said yes, ask them, LOOK at them they are learning that music can free you but most of all it can make you feel amazing but you don’t have to practise for 5 hrs a day or go to music college to love music. Bopping round the kitchen singing your heart out to Will Young with your baby on your hip, creating a band in the car with your 3 children (I was on steering wheel bongos…) to Bohemian Rhapsody or singing as loudly as you can to ‘Rolling in the Deep’ by Adele can be your stage and you can feel just how a solo ‘cello player feels when thousands applause. I’m happy with the first option…