EIBF 2017: Sally Beamish & Evelyn Glennie, Mood Music: Majesty to Melancholy

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Sally Beamish and Evelyn Glennie with David Mitchell
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David Mitchell started by explaining that he was the author and not the comedian! He said that Nick Barley had told him to mention The Open University (whose event this was) but also to thank all the sponsors generally and the Open University in particular, for their support. Mitchell asked us all to note that Sally Beamish was a viola player and also a most successful composer who draws on traditional Scottish music with a Scandinavian influence, as well as jazz.

Dame Evelyn Glennie is one of the busiest musicians. One of her achievements was to mastermind the music at the opening of the London Olympic Games in 2012 where she organised a mass of drummers, all controlled by IT.

At this stage one of Sally Beamish's compositions was played. It was in fact a work that had been commissioned by Evelyn Glennie, but the requirement was to find words that be used in the composition. This proved to be a challenge, but in the end Sally wrote the words herself; they had to be spoken by Evelyn in her north east Aberdeen voice and in English.

David asked if composers used plots and in a way narrative to formulate their compositions? Sally answered him by saying that the same approach was indeed taken and that she as a composer would often introduce themes and particular phrases into their work.

As for normal conversation, Evelyn said that we often used a singing voice when talking to babies and young children - yet we did not appreciate this. Here David Mitchell said he felt really in the wrong place as he actually wanted to take notes of what they were both saying as this could be invaluable material for the next book he was writing!

It was interesting to note that for this interview, Evelyn Glennie was wearing shoes whereas previously she had played barefoot. She said at the time that this gave her a better rhythm of the music being played by the rest of the orchestra. One supposes that as she was not playing with an orchestra she decided to use normal footwear.

Evelyn Glennie was asked how much improvisation she brought into her performances. She said that it varied with whatever she was playing and interpreting for the audience. In Glennie's view the audience was critical and played a far more important part than people realised. She said that samba music was very different live - on the page of music it could look uninteresting, but when heard live it was transformed into something vibrant and living. Sally Beamish added that she felt it important that the performer should not feel restricted and that any piece should have scope for individual interpretation.

David Mitchell then drew our attention to the package under Evelyn Glennie's chair; she produced a bow and an object which she had brought with her and then asked David to describe it. He took the object and rolled it in his hands - it had a base with a capacity for some water and strings of metal were attached which tapered to a point. Evelyn then filled it with some water and used the bow to make a haunting, nostalgic sound. It was a unique object which Evelyn as a percussionist used with effect.

In questions Evelyn was asked if she ever considered music to be a "language". In her reply Evelyn thought that music had evolved over the last two hundred years and there was now a huge range of music to which people could listen. Really it depended on your own personal taste as to what you liked and what you found you could experience. She felt that music as such was different from a language - a form of communication.

Sally Beamish was asked if one had more freedom to interpret things as a modern composer? Sally thought that it was important to free up your imagination as an individual and to treat all musical composition as a great challenge.

This was a very good event and David Mitchell as the Chairman was able to get an even contribution from both the two participants. He should be used more in the Chair!